Neil Humphreys – Nothing Beats Being Called “Daddy” the First Time

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Milestones make parenthood. They are timeless, unforgettable Polaroids of my child’s development. They are little vignettes of life itself.

They also mean I no longer have to wipe her backside.

Paternal milestones big or small are always a cause for celebration.

I will always remember the first time my daughter waddled into the living room, auditioning for March of the Penguins, her trousers around her ankles, used toilet paper in her hand, as she proceeded to bend over and display the clean fruits of her labour.

That may not be a cause for celebration for you. For me, it meant my employment as Number Two Bum Wiper in the Apartment (both literally and metaphorically) was coming to an end.

Another hurdle had been cleared, another marker put down by my daughter on the road to independence, each one just as memorable as the last.

When she uttered “Daddy” for the first time, I almost cried; mostly because she said it shortly before she said “Mummy”.

My wife still swears this isn’t true.

By a miraculous quirk of fate, our daughter uttered “Daddy” and “Mummy” for the first time on the same day. It was Boxing Day, a day after Christmas, and no present will ever top that one.

As much as the occasion was joyful, our initial reaction was one of relief. For a while, our daughter said “more” and nothing else.

What had started as a cuddly, adorable Oliver Twist was fast turning into a grubby capitalist, constantly demanding “more”, forever demanding a bigger slice of every pie.

We were going to consider adoption if her next words were “hedge funds”.

Fortunately, they were “Daddy” and “Mummy”, or “Mummy” and “Daddy”, depending on which parent you speak to.

On a gloriously sunny day, she toddled over to me and mumbled, “Daddy”; just like that, the easiest, most natural thing in the world.

She pulled my heart from my chest and held it in the palm of her hand.

And then she reached into my wife’s heart and whispered, “Mummy”.

That’s my interpretation of events and I’m not backing down. We still argue over this.

There is no disagreement over the first time our daughter pulled herself up and stood unaided.

She was wearing a diaper. She was still alarmingly bald. She looked like a drunken uncle trying to lift himself onto a coffee shop seat.

Her athletic feat was achieved around the time Brad Pitt’s movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released.

In the film, Pitt is made up to resemble a bald, wrinkled man-child struggling with his physicality.

That was our daughter.

We have so many photos of Benjamin Button standing up against our sofa.

As a keen student of anthropology, I was proud to witness the human evolutionary process. Then I removed every sharp object from our shelves.

Her first day at kindergarten was a particularly poignant milestone because it was one father and daughter shared together; just the two of us.

We held hands all the way to the classroom, where she said: “You can go now, Daddy.”

I thought something died inside. My confident little girl was killing me softly.

Then she came home covered in paint and I wanted to kill her.

Daddy’s kiasuism* also contributed to another rare milestone for a three-year-old ang moh* born to two parents from an East London housing estate – her first Chinese nursery rhyme.

I now hear Liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ, liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ in my sleep.

Sung to the tune of Frere Jacques, Two Tigers is now my daughter’s shortcut to sweeties.

A lovely auntie who sits beneath our apartment block gives her a chocolate each time she sings a Chinese nursery rhyme. My shameless girl is now a Mandarin jukebox for Mars bars.

And if I find myself singing Liǎng zhī lǎo hǔ one more time, I might seek medical attention. It’s getting embarrassing, especially when I do it on a packed bus.

But I remember them all.

Her first crawl, first solid food, first steps, first day at playgroup, first day at school, first Chinese song, first time she swam underwater without going anywhere and the first time she swam underwater and actually went somewhere: I was there for them all.

Milestones happen only once. Obviously. That’s why they are milestones.

On average, I write between 2000 and 3000 words a day, 30 columns a month, almost 400 articles a year and the odd book or novel. I cannot remember them all.

But I will never forget the day she first said “Daddy”.

My work can be edited, changed or re-written, but I can’t re-write or return to a missed milestone in my daughter’s life.

When I discovered I was no longer on bottom-wiping duties, believe me, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

*Kiasuism means the fear of losing, derived from a Hokkien (Chinese dialect) term.

Ang-moh literally means red hair in Hokkien. It refers to Caucasians.


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 title,Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore, will be released in June 2012. 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.



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