MY DAUGHTER gives me those eyes. Her mother’s eyes. Heat-seeking, heart-melting, conscience-pricking, those eyes shoot through my anger every time. She looks up at me imploringly, pleadingly, innocently; the butter stubbornly refusing to melt. She gives me the weepy, wobbly, sad sack routine; the face that makes a puppy dog look like a warthog.
She has me in the palm of her hand, ready to flip my emotions with the effortlessness of a Cirque du Soleil juggler. I am at her mercy. I must be strong.
“But Daddy, can I please just have one more sweetie,” she cries, her eyes drooping, her lower lip all a quiver. “I’ve been such a good girl at school today, Daddy. Can I please just have one more sweetie?”
I refuse to cave. This is a slippery slope to parental oblivion. Today it’s an extra sweetie, tomorrow it’s scoring crack cocaine from a doper on a Baltimore street corner. OK, I might be exaggerating a little there. And I might watch too much HBO. But my intentions are noble. Disciplinary lines need to be drawn between Daddy and daughter. Like a cantankerous quiz show guest, my final answer must be “no.”
“I’m sorry mate, but you can’t have any more sweets,” I reply solemnly. “I’ve already said ‘no’ once, haven’t I? No must mean no. Please don’t ask me again.”
“OK, Daddy. I won’t ask again,” she mumbles. “It’s OK, Daddy. I understand. I’ll try not to cry, Daddy.”
The eyes suggest she’s caught me executing Bambi. The wobbling lip indicates she’s about to give Niagara Falls a run for its money. The crestfallen face makes it clear that I am the scummiest father of the century.
She walks away to the funeral march playing only in my melodramatic head. She takes an age to cross the living room. Snails cross football pitches quicker.
And then, quite unexpectedly, she breaks into a jolly skip, hops happily into the kitchen and, with a breezy gaiety to rival Dorothy in The Wizard of the Oz, joyously says: “Hello, Mummy. I’ve been such a good girl can I have some sweeties, please?”
At which point, I jump up from the sofa and chase our mini-Meryl Streep into her bedroom.
No one plays two camps off each other better than a four-year-old. My daughter’s wasted in kindergarten. She should be in the United Nations. She can do the Middle East until lunchtime, settle Syria in the afternoon and take care of the two Koreas before knocking off for a quiet night in with Nickelodeon.
Her ability to play Daddy off Mummy by establishing trust, setting up covert lines of communication and mastering the art of misdirection is quite breathtaking to behold.
Put simply, if Daddy or Mummy says “no”, she sneaks off to the other parent in search of a “yes”.
Sometimes, her counter-surveillance is straight out of a John le Carre novel. It’s like Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy Daughter in our house.
The double agent’s favoured tactics are the phone or the toilet. If a request has been turned down, she waits with an admirable patience and stealth cunning for either our phones or our bowels to vibrate.
Once I’m deep in conversation on the phone, she’ll mumble: “Daddy, can I have a sweetie, now?”
“Yes, yes, have what you like,” I’ll reply quickly and curtly. “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
When my phone call is finished, I discover the contents of the fridge are now strewn across the sofa, where a burping Jabba the Hutt appears to have consumed my daughter.
The toilet tactic has a markedly different modus operandi, but the detailed planning remains a source of begrudging paternal pride.
When she gets a resounding “no” from Daddy, she waits for him to go to the bathroom and then, out of earshot, approaches Mummy and makes the same demands. On a fundamental fatherly level, I struggle not to be impressed with such devilish cunning.
She’s exploring improvisation, thinking on her feet quickly and introducing deductive and inductive reasoning. If Daddy is sitting on the toilet reading a magazine, for instance, he cannot hear his daughter sneakily asking Mummy for sweeties.
Parental textbooks might consider such devious scheming to be deplorable, but I secretly find the ingenious plotting most admirable. If she takes the cunning required to earn a couple of sweeties into school and, later on, her workplace, she will be one hell of a sneaky force to be reckoned with.
But I still don’t trust her when I go to the toilet.
Neil and his daughter have just written their new children’s book together. It’s called Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: I Trapped a Dolphin but it REALLY Wasn’t My Fault.
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 29-04-2013.