Without a dad around, my daughter needs her doting grandfather

Fathers be good to your daughters,
Daughters will love like you do.
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too.
— John Mayer’s “Daughters”

If you know anything about my dad, you know that he’s your stereotypical Jewish mother caught inside a man’s body. That’s a good thing, considering the fact that I don’t really have a Jewish mother. It’s all up to my dad.

He dotes on his 6-year-old granddaughter on Monday afternoon when he picks her up at school: They drink Slurpees together at the latest kid’s movie, shop for school clothes and eat chicken noodle soup at Saul’s in Berkeley.

My dad has been the key man in my daughter’s life since she was born. He’s the one who dotes on her, the one who gives her what her biological father has never been able to, because her father hasn’t been in our lives since she was 7 months old.

An affectionate, chubby, red-cheeked 66-year-old with a strong Boston accent, my father is a pro at making up silly songs spontaneously and speaking in a gibberish that only the two of them understand.

But also, like your clichéd Jewish mother, my dad has had his share of boundary issues. He calls me every day. He’s known to be overprotective — and sometimes overbearing. I am forever grateful to him for being so involved in his granddaughter’s life, but I’ve wished at times that he’d let me — the grown-up — have a bit more space.

One recent afternoon, I am in the midst of a cluster of moms at my daughter’s school as they find fault with their husbands:

“He has no patience for tantrums!”

“Doesn’t he know any better than to offer cookies while I’m making dinner?”

Without thinking, I jump right into this mother-moan session: “Oh yeah, I have those same problems with my dad.”

The mothers stop talking. One of them kindly nods her head at me.

That must have sounded really weird. My dad is not my husband. But, goodness, sometimes he acts like he is.

How did our boundaries get so blurred? Maybe it all started when he kindly stepped right into his grandchild’s life to be the male role model every child needs.

When she was a baby, he strapped her into the Baby Bjorn for long walks. He’s spent every Mother’s Day with us for the past five years. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, he still swings his first-grade granddaughter onto his shoulders for a ride.

But most of all, my Jewish dad gives to my daughter unconditionally. It’s more than just reliability and affection; I know that he will never walk away from Mae as her own father did. It all seems like the perfect deal, right?

Not quite.

My father likes to call the shots. He doesn’t think she eats enough. He says that I do not discipline properly. He doesn’t want his granddaughter to wear hand-me-downs. (After much exasperation, I’ve finally concluded that this is not really about clothing. He comes from a line of Jewish Polish refugees who dressed in second-hands, and anything new and stylish gives him a certain pride.)

When he feels out of control on the inside, he wants to control everything around him. This can really rile me up. Although I often want to yell “Time out!,” I take a deep breath. I dread losing yet another important man in our lives.

After my last spat with Dad — when he told me, once again, how embarrassing it is that his granddaughter wears used clothes and I told him to “please go home now” — I tucked my daughter under the covers and kissed her forehead. I knew that I’d always be there for her.

It’s just you and me, I thought.

Then the phone rang.

“I’m sorry,” my dad said. “I’ll try to be more careful about what I say.”

I let the incident go, feeling grateful to my dad for giving my daughter what her biological father can’t — and for helping me to understand that with or without a dad, we’re doing just fine.