Neil Humphreys – Mirrors of Me

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She looks at me with those eyes. Her mother’s eyes.

She smiles at me with that smile. The heart-melting one. I tuck her in tightly and she squeezes me. The never-let-go one.  And I succumb, as I always do. I kiss her lightly on the cheek and I say: “You really are the most perfect, wonderful little girl aren’t you?”

And she replies: “You really are the most perfect, wonderful little girl aren’t you?”

“Now come on, don’t start that again.”

“Now come on, don’t start that again.”

“Stop playing the parrot game and go to sleep.”

“Stop playing the parrot game and go to sleep.”

And the moment’s gone. I had wanted the moment to never end. She wanted to play the bloody parrot game.

Initially, the game was fun; a shared experience between daughter and Daddy. After a while, I contemplated gagging us both.

Instead, I tried to turn the game into a positive force for good with a little subtle brainwashing.
“Come on, eat your dinner,” I would begin innocuously.

“Come on, eat your dinner,” the family mimic would shoot right back.

“We must not drop litter on the pavement.”

“We must not drop litter on the pavement.”

“We can clear our own trays at hawker centres.”

“We can clear our own trays at hawker centres.”

“West Ham United are the best football team in the world.”

“Neil … stop it!”

My wife always spoils my fun. In fairness, I do usually end up sounding like a government campaign.

But there was a method to the dinner table madness. According to brain research, there are special cells called mirror neurons. We mimic the behaviour of others – sometimes literally, as in the parrot game, and sometimes subconsciously, as in my daughter witnesses me swearing like a drunken sailor because I cannot find the remote control. She decides to repeat me verbatim at a later date when she cannot find the remote control. She is informed that such words are unacceptable. I am informed that I will be spending the rest of the evening in the doghouse.

I hold up a literal mirror between Daddy and daughter when we play the parrot game, but the other mirror, the one propped up by our shared DNA is much more profound.

She doesn’t need her mirror neurons to hit overdrive to behave like me. Sometimes, she is me.

Her eagerness to help the less fortunate is a source of tremendous paternal pride. She witnesses Daddy giving a couple of bucks to the tissue sellers and wants to do likewise. Her big mouth then informs all and sundry when there is another in the town centre.

“Daddy, there is a tissue seller,” she bellows. “I need to give him some money, Daddy, remember?”

“But I haven’t got any change this time,” I hiss, peering up at the crowd around us.

“It’s OK, Daddy. You’ve got lots of notes. I’ll give him some of those notes, Daddy.”

She has an eye for those around her; the hawker centre cleaners, the downtrodden maids, the rubbish chute workers, the gardeners. She sees them all. She speaks to them all. She gives sweeties to them all, which costs me a small fortune.

Her social compassion is the paternal mirror that I am most proud of. Fortunately, she doesn’t yet struggle with the anger and frustration that stubbornly clings to my social compassion. She peeks into Mummy’s mirror to avoid that stuff.

But she has certainly inherited Daddy’s hyper-sensitivity. It’s a positive. She cares about others. And it’s a negative. She cares about others too much sometimes.

One of the reasons why I no longer drink alcohol is that I was the world’s most irritating drunk. I wasn’t belligerent. Nor did I weep bittersweet tears into the bottom of a glass. I just wanted to be everyone’s best friend. I was a dog with his tongue flapping, desperately looking for someone to throw me a bone. They did not throw me a bone. They usually threatened to throw me a punch.
I still see that guy in my daughter’s playground every morning.

She seeks to be everyone’s friend. She wants to be all-inclusive. She strives to bring everyone into her fold. And, in life, not everyone wants to be brought into the fold.

Some kids just want to sit in the corner of the classroom and eat their own hair.

But I’m deeply proud of her social compassion and sensitivity towards others. Damn it, I’m proud of myself. She gets this from me.

Of course, before I get a chance to bask in my parental glory, a little female voice in the living room will shout: “Where the f*** is the remote control?”

She also gets this from me.

We’ve really got to stop playing the parrot game.


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 14-11-2012.

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