Children are our teachers, too. They provide us with invaluable life lessons. They take our hands and navigate a path through parenthood.
Daddies learn from their daughters.
And this particular parent has learned that when his back is turned, his little girl dives into the chocolate biscuit tin.
The moment someone grabs my attention, she’s in that fridge and gorging on something unhealthy.
I get off the phone, turn around and stare down at my daughter, illuminated by the open fridge door. Various upended tubs, sauces and creams surround her on the kitchen floor; the last of six pots of strawberry yoghurt dribble down her chin.
Like a bear with a honey jar, she is content. I examine the empty fridge and curse myself for turning my back on her. I also curse the fact that I do not keep takeaway food menus on the fridge door.
I go hungry. She burps and goes into the living room, leaving a trail of cheese crackers behind her.
Another paternal lesson has been learned. I must teach my little girl the concept of self-restraint. I must also get a padlock for the fridge.
But that’s what we do. My daughter and I teach each other.
Our reciprocal relationship is mutually beneficial. I pass down any knowledge or wisdom possibly gained from my 37 years travelling around the globe.
And she shows me how to be a more patient father by jabbing me in the face repeatedly with her finger.
Impatience has long been one of my less attractive character traits.
But my daughter is steering me towards a new age of enlightenment by poking me in the face to get my attention when we are waiting to cross the road.
Her continuous poking will either cure my impatience or cost her a finger.
Not satisfied with the face poking, she also works on my impatience when I’m on the toilet.
Now most adults seek solitude in the bathroom. Parents often go there to find peace.
My girl, on the other hand, prefers to bang on the bathroom door repeatedly and shout: “Daddy … Daddy… Daddy… Daddy … Daddy…Daddy!”
In my earlier, unenlightened days, I’d rip the door from its hinges and scream, “What do you want? At the very least, you had better be on fire.”
But my daughter usually replied, “No, Daddy, I wanted to show you this picture I made for you.”
And with that, her work was done; her lesson objectives immediately fulfilled. The impatience no longer throbbed away at my temples.
Her selflessness topples my selfishness every time. Her patient heart will always trump my impatient mind.
She had a drawing waiting for me. That was all that mattered. For her, it was worth the wait. Patience is her virtue. Now I’m trying to make it mine.
Like most children, my daughter is the most gifted of educators. She teaches with her eyes. For her father, she conducts wordless workshops on managing aggression.
She usually begins the workshop by spilling her arts and crafts paints all over the tiled floor.
Then she inadvertently walks through the paint, leaving red footprints across the living room. And then she rubs her hands in the stuff and leaves our apartment looking like it staged the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
I wander into the living room, spot the horrifying blood-red foot and handprints everywhere and grab our daughter to make sure she still has all her limbs.
Then I check she didn’t bring a friend round for a play date when I wasn’t looking and turned into that Chucky doll.
Finally, a combustible mix of relief, fear and frustration creates a cocktail of aggression that spills out.
I shout at her.
My daughter doesn’t cry. She doesn’t even speak. She just stares at me. Her sadness shouts loudest. She teaches with her eyes.
Almost immediately, the aggression subsides. I’m overcome by an unexpected serenity. It’s like an old Jedi mind trick (she’s about the same size as R2-D2 and twice as clumsy.)
It’s just an accident, I hear myself cry. It’s only a bit of red paint. It will all come off with a damp sponge.
The aggression is gone, but her lesson will stay.
We clean up together and we hug.
And then I glance up and wonder how the hell she managed to get red paint on the ceiling.
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 02-10-2012.