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When dads are left in charge

I thought there might be trouble when we incorporated a man into our summer camp car pool schedule. Suspicion confirmed.

Last week, he forgot to bring home one of the seven girls. Apparently the soldier's motto "no man left behind" does not apply to 11-year-olds in Girl Scouts Camp. The kid finally realized around 5:30 p.m. that she was the last remaining camper and she called mom. When told about the screw-up, the guy's response was, "But there are so many of them!" He contended that he was 6 for 7. Fantastic. If you're talking about a batting average.

That same week, one of the moms in the car pool had to go out of the country for work, leaving her three kids at home with dad. I walked into the kitchen one night and found one of my daughters making two sandwiches for her lunchbox for the next day: one for her and one for her friend whose mom was out of town. "There's no food in her house," my daughter said. No further explanation necessary, especially since this particular father drove off from the Coral Gables Youth Center baseball fields last spring, leaving his twins behind.

Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but only one dad to lose one.

Yeah, yeah, I know that many of today's fathers are changing diapers, getting up in the middle of the night and being more hands-on than previous generations. Still, when most dads are in charge, the kids might as well be home alone. I don't have to look any further than my own turf to illustrate. I once asked my husband to watch our two toddlers while I jumped into the shower to get ready for a wedding. He promptly fell asleep. When I emerged a few minutes later, the girls had colored each others' faces and bodies in bright blue permanent marker. Years later, I still detect a tinge. Then there's the time I came home and my husband was on the phone with poison control because our daughter had guzzled a bottle of shampoo while he was bathing her.

Remember Balloon Boy? One guess as to which parent was in charge that day. Remember the YouTube hit "David After Dentist?" Only a father, when encountered with his disoriented and petrified post-dentist child, would think, "Wow, this could make a cool video." Then there's the Oregon father who was arrested last year for putting an electronic dog "shock" collar on his children, all under the age of 10. The dad told police he didn't do it as punishment; he just thought it was funny.

A dad's sense of humor is truly unique, especially when it comes to his kids. There's a father on my block whose idea of Halloween fun last Oct. 31 was to walk his kids through a vacant house and have people wearing stockings over their faces jump out at them in the dark. Another dad I know years ago dressed up like ET, went outside and tapped on the window while his daughters were watching the movie. These are the dads who keep therapists employed.

When dad is in charge the kids could have ice cream for breakfast and cereal for dinner (if they're lucky to get fed at all). No bedtimes, no baths, no homework. Clothing is optional. The only sure thing they can count on is that, eventually, mom will return. And wake dad up.