Harlequin, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-83499-3
Contemporary Romance, 2002
“A brand-new Daddy School title”, the book cover says. That is usually enough to make me do the sign of the cross – or the finger, depending on my mood – at the book, but dang, did I see that lovely photo booth candid reel functioning as a border on the cover? How sweet. Never mind that the two lovely folks in those candids look nothing like Brett Stockton and Sharon Bartell (more like a Suzanne Brockmann clone and a toyboy, actually), they are so sweet.
I hope I won’t regret this.
Okay, I don’t completely regret this buy. Judith Arnold has a lovely way with comedy and courtship. The opening chapters where millionaire Brett is all grumpy about his photo being shot, until photographer Sharon steps in, makes him laugh, and snaps a candid – those really put a smile on my face. Brett is a carefree, happy-go-lucky guy who has no problem asking Sharon out for a date, except for one thing.
Sharon is a single mother (she’s a widow) to a two-year old Spawn of Satan.
Brett doesn’t like kids. He can’t stand them. His taking care of brats in his younger days have given him a phobia of kids. I can relate. Still, there’s something about Sharon, even when the Spawn of Satan is doing his best to drive Brett crazy.
This is where the author hits the home run where I am concerned. Brett is a charmer. He’s so precious. There’s nothing like a well-moneyed hunk bending behind to win the woman he’s so in love with that he enrolls in a Daddy School to be a good daddy for the Spawn of Satan.
But this is also where the story derails and falls apart, unless the reader has a very high threshold for simplistic, saccharine preaching about the Meaning of Fatherhood or something like that. I don’t. And this is what I have to endure once Brett goes into the Daddy School:
“How many of you have ever spent such a long stretch with your children that after a while you forget who you are? It’s almost like – what do they call it in science fiction movies? A mind meld. You suddenly realize you haven’t a lucid adult thought for the last ten minutes. Your mind is completely wrapped around whether your son is going to spill his milk, or whether your daughter is going to keep up with that awful whining. Nothing else exists in the world – or in your head. Your child has taken over your thought processes.”
Come on, Ms Arnold, who are you trying to fool? “The relationship between men and their children is so complex, so heart stirring,” you say in the foreword. Hmm. From Somebody’s Dad, I can sum up your “complex” relationship in four words: Have Money Will Daddy. You think Brett can enrol in a Daddy’s School if he’s a struggling butcher living in the seedier side of downtown? You think Brett can buy both Mommy and Spawn of Satan lovely gifts and read many, many expensive popular parenting guidebooks if he isn’t a millionaire? Somebody’s Dad is as complex as scratching an itch in the groin.
Still, it’s nice that Sharon loves her dead hubby. And it’s nice that she’s not an irritating whiner in need of Prince Charming to shower her with money – okay, maybe she is, but she doesn’t act as if her life revolves around a rescue fantasy, at least.
But the story is surprisingly repetitious in too many areas. I am told again and again and again in the beginning that Sharon hasn’t been dating since she married (and lost) her husband, for example, that after a while I get irritated. Okay, I get it. Same with Brett’s attitude towards kids. I get it. I wonder if the author is pressured into writing this book. The writing in too many spots goes around in circles, giving me the impression of halfhearted storytelling.
But Somebody’s Dad valiantly drags itself to the finishing line, cancer-amputee-marathon-runner-wins-first-place melodrama style, solely on the strength of Brett’s personality and Sharon’s sensible head alone. The Spawn of Satan has his moments too, although there are times where I swear there’s a 666 glowing from the back of his skull. While it may not be an original and fabulous book, Somebody’s Dad has enough inspired moments to make it one fine way to spend an afternoon catching up on the funnier side of life.