DADDY’s no longer a good date. I am a spare wheel, a gooseberry, a party-pooper, an endearing, but rather pointless appendage.
For the first time, my daughter is putting her friends before me. It was a crushing blow, a dispiriting rejection, a decisive snip of the parental umbilical cord. We tried to talk about it, but she muttered something about not wishing to keep her friends waiting and absentmindedly picked her nose.
I wasn’t so sad to see her go after that.
But I am caught up in the whirlwind of play dates. My schedule is no longer squeezed around my daughter’s diary. I must also accommodate her friends and her friends’ parents, too. Every diary entry is a game of seven degrees of separation where I invariably end up amending my weekly planner to incorporate Kevin Bacon’s comings and goings.
The simplest of schedules prove to be unconscionably complicated. Just a day before writing this, I foolishly enquired about my daughter’s movements and wondered, naively, if she my might be free to watch The Croods at the cinema.
“Can’t Daddy,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I’m going to the pirate ship swimming pool at Sentosa with my best friend from school.”
“Well, why can’t you go to the cinema with me,” I cried petulantly.
“My friend’s Mummy can only take us tomorrow.”
“Oh, is that right? And why would you rather go out with them instead of me?”
“She’s got a car.”
I sulked for a little.
I only brought her into this world. I literally cut her umbilical cord and now I’m a distant second to any car owner in Singapore.
With the utmost reticence, I withdrew my bottom lip and discussed dates. I had more chance with Barack Obama. The leader of the Free World has more free time than the kindergarten socialite in our apartment.
“No, I can’t do the next day, Daddy,” she insisted. “I got a play date at Anna’s house, remember? … And then I’ve got gymnastics with Maia, and then I’ve got ballet with Sureeda. On Friday, I’m going to the Bird Park with all the girls.”
That’s how she talks now. Forget Groundhog Day. I’m stuck in an episode of Sex in the City. It’s constantly repeated as I listen to my daughter discuss her weekly plans “with all the girls”.
She’s four years old.
When she says “all the girls”, she’s referring to her classmates but it’s hard not to picture them all sipping cocktails beside boxes of Manolo shoes and discussing Mr Big.
An innately shy girl, my daughter is finally blossoming in the sunshine of youth.
This is a glorious stage in her development, watching her personality flourish around her peers. She is finding fun in being with friends away from her parents, cherishing the responsibility and revelling in her growing independence.
But the independence is coming at a cost for me. I’m jealous. I’m behaving with the tact and diplomacy of a four-year-old.
The other day my wife caught me saying to our child: “Go on then. Go and play with your little mates. I’ll stay here and watch TV on my own. See if I care.”
I’m 38 years old. But the pendulum of maturity is already swinging rapidly towards my daughter. She’s gallivanting around town with her fancy friends and I’m sitting at home with the proverbial rose, pulling off petals and muttering “she loves me, she loves me not, she loves me; she loves me not.”
And then, she comes back. She always does. She comes back to me, instinctively, reassuringly, comfortingly.
Following yet another play date with a friend, she ran into the living room recently and straight into my arms.
“Daddy, Daddy,” she cried, bottom lip quivering. “Daddy, she wouldn’t share with me. I had a toy first. I was playing with it, but she snatched it out of my hand and wouldn’t give it back. That’s not fair, is it, Daddy?”
“No, it’s not fair,” I muttered. “Your friend shouldn’t snatch your toy.”
And she squeezed me tightly; that unique, white-knuckle, neck-grabbing boa constrictor squeeze that suggests neither of us will ever let go.
I may not own the latest collection of dolls, happy meal toys, sticker books, colourful stamps or hairbrushes, clips and bobbles – her latest craze – but I do offer warmth and security. With a bit of luck, those two should never go out of fashion.
As we hugged each other, I appreciated that daughter and Daddy will always share something stronger, more honest and truthful. Our relationship was deeper than a few play dates. She was exploring her independence, but her heart still belonged to Daddy.
I was impressed with my rational, newfound maturity.
And then I secretly hoped my daughter’s friend would snatch her toy again next week.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 20-05-2013.