The greatest joys of fatherhood – besides learning that Pepperidge Farm Goldfish come in flavors like S’mores – have come from those special moments of one-on-one time with my daughter, such as feeding the ducks in the park. Or, in my case, trying to do so but failing miserably.
I recently took my toddler daughter Milly to Audubon Park, recalling memories of my mother doing the same with me as a boy. On the way over I built up the excitement, telling her how happy the ducks would be when gobbling down our deliciously stale Roman Meal bread. I held her hand as she toddled over to the lagoon. I crouched down beside her, tearing off a chunk of crust, then tossed it gently to an awaiting duck, who promptly ignored it. The bread lay there on the ground, untouched, a stain on my fatherhood. A broken promise.
A quiet moment passed. Milly then pointed at the duck and said, “Duck.” Only, as she is but sixteen months old, it sounded like a completely different four-letter word which, coincidentally, perfectly captured my frustration at that moment.
Frowning, I tried again. This time the duck waddled away, clearly annoyed. I moved down to some of the other ducks, who just shuffled away from me as well. These ducks were now making me look bad. All I had left to work with, animal-wise, were the turtles, who did in fact go for the bread. But the sad reality is that feeding turtles in a murky lagoon is not really the stuff of daddy/daughter bonding.
At this point another parent/child combo arrived on the scene to feed the ducks. Aha, I think, let’s see how far they get. The dad pulled out a bag of fresh bagel bites (or maybe it was baby croissants) and began tossing them towards the ducks. The ducks went wild and swarmed them and their fancy, boutique offerings.
Milly, now bored, begins eating our stale bread.
When did the ducks in Audubon Park become snobs? Is it a sense of entitlement stemming from the real estate prices along Exposition Boulevard? They can’t play that card; they don’t pay property taxes. But I’m not going to play that game. I’m not going to La Boulangerie to buy organic blueberry muffins in a game of one-upsmanship for duck feeding. No. Instead I responded by taking the whole family to Parakeet Pointe at the Aquarium. If you haven’t heard of this new exhibit, this is a special glass room behind the Häagen-Dazs on the second floor that is stocked with hundreds of utterly loose parakeets. Clearly we would have success feeding the birds here. I bought a stick with some bird seed stuck to it at the entrance and we all went in. I thought it was fantastic, what with all the colorful birds swarming around and shrieking and alighting on our heads and arms. Then I looked at my wife, whose face bore a peculiar expression. She announced that this exhibit was like “a horror movie” and promptly left to wait for us outside. I stood there with Milly, as the pitter-patter of parakeet droppings fell, literally, all around us, feeding a bird with a seed stick. A bird pooped on my shoulder. Milly pointed at it and said, “Duck.” Only it didn’t sound like duck, it sounded like that other four-letter word, again capturing my thoughts exactly.