My son Hardy and I have been fighting about clothes. It is December and the weather has turned much colder but he refuses to wear anything warm. He likes his short-sleeved shirts and thin pants. Winter coats are bulky and feel “horrible.” Hardy recently turned six. Horrible and gross are his two favorite words.

Yelling at him each morning to wear his winter coat has become as much a part of our routine as my coffee and his buttered toast. While buttering his toast, making sure the globs of butter are thoroughly and absolutely melted before presenting it to him, I try to think of a new plan. But I have nothing and the clock is ticking. School started 10 minutes ago.

I stand in the doorway holding his coat open for him like a matador facing down an angry bull. It’s a great-looking sheepskin coat, reminiscent of something McCloud might wear, the western detective-turned New York city cop in that 1970s sitcom. All Hardy needs is a mustache and cowboy hat to rock it serious old school.

“Come on,” I plead. “It’s freezing outside.” I point out the window. A thick layer of frost covers the grass, the trees appear to be shivering in the wind and two rabbits hop by wearing thick, purple ear muffs. At least that is what I tell Hardy to get his attention.

“Where?” he asks.

“Ah, you missed them. But they were seriously cold.”

Hardy shakes his head. “Lord Voldemort doesn’t wear a coat,” he says.

I shake my head. “Not a winning argument.”

“Why not?”

“Choosing evil incarnate as a figure of comparison is never the right play. Now enough of this. I have my coat on.”

And I do. Buttoned all the way to the chin, hat snug, scarf encircling my neck, mittens at the ready, I am the picture of weather preparedness. I am also starting to sweat.

Hardy gives me the once over and curls his lip. “Gross,” he says.

Now I am mad. I want to take him outside and rub his face in the frost. That’s what we did to jerky kids when I was young.

But I’m not young anymore. I am a dad, which most days feels like some foreign being, as if my true self has been kidnapped by aliens and in my place there is this dad creature. Someone who must constantly check his own feelings at the door. Someone who, on his best days, remembers when dealing with his children to STAR (Stop. Think. Ask questions. React).

Okay, I read a lot of parenting books. They hover on my nightstand like buoys as I try to stay afloat during the moment-to-moment storms of parenting.

I take a deep breath but it doesn’t really help.

“Do you know there are kids starving in China?” I yell in exasperation.

Hardy gives me a dumbfounded look. “You want me to eat my coat?”

Just then Hardy’s sister Eirene, aka Pickle, shows up. She is two and a half. About a month ago she stopped answering to both her name and her nickname. Now she will only answer to Big Hardy. My parenting books do not have any chapters on this phenomenon. In any case, her brother is not amused.

“Please, Pickle,” I say to her. “Not now. We’re busy.”

“I am Big Hardy,” she corrects me. Usually a goofy kid, she adopts a deeper voice and more serious tone when exploring her brother’s persona. She walks forward with purposeful steps and bites Hardy’s coat. He screams.

“What’s the matter?” I say to him. “I thought you didn’t like your coat.”

“But it’s mine,” he wails. Pickle stops chewing the coat for a moment, distracted by a piece of wool caught in her mouth.

“Okay, okay,” I say. “Enough. No more fighting.”

I pick up Pickle and turn to Hardy. “Here’s the deal. I’m through telling you what to wear anymore.”

“What will I wear then?”

“Whatever you decide.”

Hardy smiles and for a moment I feel my anger rise again. Damn it, the kid won and that means I’m not being a real dad. Then I remember that no, being a real dad doesn’t mean winning or imposing my will. It means creating enough space for my child to grow into his true self. At least that is what one of the books said and it sounded plausible at the time.

“Poke your nose out the door,” I say to Hardy. “Then decide what you want to wear.”

Hardy walks slowly to the door, looking back at me as if he doesn’t really believe what I just said.

“Go ahead,” I urge. “It’s your decision.”

Hardy opens the door. He spends a long time sniffing the air. The heat is escaping but I bite my tongue and stay quiet.

When he finally closes the door, he’s smiling big.

“It’s bathing suit weather,” he says.