- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 17, 2006

‘For the hundredth time, where is that battery?” My husband’s voice carries through the hallway from the den to the kitchen, conveying his irritation in every precisely articulated syllable.

I jump into situations such as this to defuse his frustration. While he pulls cushions off the chairs to find the missing AA battery that powers the remote control, I act as a sounding board for his — let’s say, reflections — on parenthood.

What should be a simple task of finding and replacing a battery often turns into a running commentary on important concerns, such as why the piece that encloses the batteries is missing from the remote control in the first place.

While he’s mulling that over, he wonders who left the lights on in the empty basement, how the dog escaped into the neighborhood without a leash or someone to walk him, and who left a half glass of milk on the kitchen counter to spoil.

There’s only one answer, of course: the children.

“If you wanted to go through life without a broken remote control, you should not have married me and had four kids,” I remind him.

“That’s ridiculous,” he grumbles.

That children break things and lose stuff confounds my otherwise rational husband. For reasons I can’t conceive, he thinks it is entirely plausible and even expected that his offspring should maneuver their bikes in and out of the garage without bumping into our cars, for example.

He seems surprised if someone shatters a dish into tiny shards or backs up a toilet by using too much tissue or writes with permanent marker on a piece of wood furniture or misplaces a pair of shoes.

Of course, this is because he’s approaching the issue from the wrong point of view. You can’t look at your children with a rational eye, expecting reason and logic in their behavior.

They are people who think a fat guy in a red suit can fit down a chimney and bring them toys, for heaven’s sake. There is nothing logical about them.

The only way to maintain sanity in parenthood is to suspend all rational thought and recognize that a day without a costly mishap is just lucky.

Of all the things about fatherhood for which my husband was unprepared, the hidden costs are highest on the list. He didn’t anticipate the reams of paper that would end up as pictures on our refrigerator, the gallons of water that would run down our driveway and into the street on summer afternoons or the juice that would trickle down the drain after a child took only a sip from a full glass.

He didn’t know about the high cost of hair accessories, the fees for late rental movies and lost library books, or the added tips he would leave to compensate overworked busboys charged with cleaning up our restaurant messes.

Despite nearly 17 years in the parenting trenches, Jim still clings to the notion that most of our hidden expenses could be avoided if our children would only (fill in logical behavior here).

On the other hand, my husband is a savvy consumer. He’s not one to make an investment without making sure he receives an adequate return. In his logical mind, if there are hidden costs to fatherhood, there also had better be hidden benefits.

Fortunately, for every broken basketball net, there are hours on the driveway playing games of one-on-one with a son who idolizes him.

For every dollar spent repairing a musical instrument, there’s a virtuoso performance just for Dad in the kitchen by an adoring daughter.

For all the mishaps that wind up in broken lamps and cracked picture frames, there’s the sound of exuberant laughter right before the inevitable thud.

For all the days filled with the stress of providing for a family that seems determined to stretch his resources to their limits, there are bedtimes with tender conversations and prayers recited softly in the shadows.

Defying all logic, fatherhood holds this sweet, unexpected irony: The more it costs you, the richer you are.

The trick, of course, is to remember this while you are hunting down the lost battery for the broken remote control or taking a cold shower thanks to teenagers who use all the hot water in the tank.

Fortunately, children have a knack for putting life into its proper perspective, and in our house, it doesn’t take much to transform dad from riled and rational to forgiving and fun. Probably this is because Jim is not about to waste the time and treasure he has put into building our family.

Loving our children beyond reason means accepting that his life is defined not by his personal achievements or the creature comforts he provides us, but by the sacrifices it takes to be a father.

Where’s the logic in that?

I guess it only goes to show that men aren’t always the rational people they profess to be.

Then again, I suspect Jim has done the math and he knows his payoff is waiting down the road. Dollar for dollar, his day-to-day investments in our children are his surest route to a lifetime of riches.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks .com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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