Wake Up and Smell the Fingers


By Dan Bucatinsky

When I adopted my first child, everything changed.

Illustration by Gracia Lam


I’m in my five-year-old daughter Eliza’s bathroom rinsing her toothbrush when I hear her chirp from behind me on the toilet.

Even now, I’m oddly caught off guard sometimes by the title “Daddy,” as though I’m suddenly looking down at a new suit I don’t ever remember putting on. But I like it. It fits me. Makes me look thinsy.

“Yes, monkey?” I reply, distractedly.

She holds her fingers up to my face. Then come three tiny words. Oh, how those words repeat in my head, over and over again, echoing in slow motion: “Smell… my… fingers…” Nothing good ever comes after those words.

I flash to where her fingers may have been. A field of lavender would be my first choice. But that’s not likely at this late hour. Any chance it’s the perfume counter at Bloomingdale’s? No. She doesn’t have her driver’s license yet. She’s five, remember? My brain is losing its desperate battle to steer away from the more likely candidates.

On the one hand, I don’t want her to feel any embarrassment or guilt. Her body is her temple. It’s all beautiful. And my love for it, and her, is unconditional. On the other hand? Smell your own damn fingers, kid. What about me looks like I’d like to smell your fingers? Tell me now so I can change it immediately and no one ever makes this mistake again.

But there’s no time to get into all that. I find myself obliging. I hold her adorable, glitter-nail-polished fingers to my face and I smell. There’s definitely something there. Some smell. What is that? Is it ass? Could be.

“What is that, darling?” I ask, trying to hide my anxiety, although my voice is starting to climb north.

Eliza giggles. “It’s my tushy, Daddy.” OK. Not great news. In fact, I feel light-headed. But it’s not her fault. Maybe she hasn’t mastered the finer points of the bum wipe. We’re in the early days of this particular skill set, even though she is five.

“Darling, we don’t touch our bum-bums, OK? Did the toilet paper slip? That happens, sweetie, but with practice--”

“No, Daddy,” she says with a conspiratorial grin. “It’s my front tushy.”

I don’t know what happens next because I’ve blacked out. The room is spinning. All I can think is How? How the hell did I end up here, in this particular conversation, with this little girl, holding these particular fingers up to this face? I can’t seem to remember the series of events that led to this moment. Any of them. It is the same sensation I have after plowing through four bowls of cereal while watching The Biggest Loser.

Even though it feels like I was somehow propelled through time and space and then plopped unceremoniously in this moment, in this bathroom, with this funky-fingered cherub smiling up at me, I know it happened in real time. Evolving into the man I’ve become: the son, the husband, the “Daddy.” It was life, happening one terrifying moment at a time, the result of big decisions and small ones, some easy and some daunting as hell.

I guess the Big Bang would have to have been around the filming of Under the Tuscan Sun. I had two and a half minutes of screen time with Diane Lane, which thankfully took six weeks to shoot in a beautiful countryside in Tuscany. I had become quite close with the director, Audrey Wells, who was there with her two-year-old daughter. She spied me playing with little Tatiana and asked if I’d ever thought about having kids. The answer, of course, was yes. I had. But my boyfriend had mixed feelings. Don and I always managed to come up with perfectly good reasons why we shouldn’t have kids. Audrey, though, proceeded to give me an impassioned speech about “discovering the father in one another,” which really got to me. I remember calling Don from a pay phone and yelling, “I want to discover the father in--” Click. The line went dead as I ran out of minutes on my calling card.