Phil Dunphy is my spirit animal. As delusional as it may sound, I’d like to think that I have a lot in common with this fictional father. We both run our own businesses. We revel in bad puns and clever wordplay, much to the chagrin of nearly everyone around us. We are passionately dedicated to our families; they mean the world to us.

And we both think we’re way cooler than we might actually be.

My Daughter Is My Best Friend

The thing is that both Phil and I want to be best friends with our kids. We want to be buddies. You see this in particular between Phil and his son Luke, at least for the first several years of Modern Family. Maybe that’s a common affliction, emboldened and reinforced through tickle fights, roughhousing… and tea parties (with my daughter, not with Luke).

There are few things in this world more rewarding than the purity of a child’s laughter. There are few things more intrinsically reaffirming than seeing a smile on your kid’s face. And it gives us an excuse to be a little silly, to escape the confines of conventional adulthood, if only for a moment.

But is that really the right perspective?

As kids, we’d encourage one another to get into trouble, to break the rules, to push the boundaries. We got ourselves into all sorts of mischief. As a parent, I’m supposed to discourage such behavior, aren’t I?

Cool Dad, Bad Cop

I’m not your friend. My first responsibility is that of a parent, as a protector and mentor, as much as I just want to be the cool dad. Not that I want to be a helicopter parent or anything. I’m learning to let go, but she needs to know who’s in charge. We are not equals. At least not yet.

For at least the first year of my daughter’s life, my wife was more stringent about the details. Here is the feeding schedule. We have to use these diapers and this lotion and that baby balm. She should sleep by this time and we should give her this as her first solid food. These are the expectations.

And while my wife is still on the ball with that kind of stuff, more and more, I’m becoming the “bad cop” of this parenting partnership. I enforce the rules.

These days, I’m the one saying Addie needs to nap by a certain time. I’m the one who says she can’t have dessert until she eats more of her dinner and that we should start the bedtime routine by such-and-such time. I actively fight against too much screen time. I take away her toys and tell her she has to leave the playground now.

Playing by the Rules

If I were “just her friend,” I’d let these things slide. Of course, she can have ice cream for dinner. Of course, she can stay at the playground and watch TV for as long as she wants. Why not? I want to do that too!

But I’m not “just her friend.”

And sometimes that means I have to be the bad cop.

I’ve become the stickler for rules, for structure, for a predictable schedule, which is perhaps ironic given the more flexible nature of my career as a work-at-home freelance writer. Maybe this is because I’ve grown accustomed to having full control over my environment and my daughter has thrown that sense of control into a tail spin. She’s clearly knows who’s boss (and it ain’t me).

But I can still be the cool dad, right?