She sat alone in her bedroom, her back turned away from me. She refused to play, read or return to the living room. Something was wrong. I touched my little girl’s shoulder and insisted that she confided in her Daddy. Whatever the issue, a problem shared is a problem halved; I gave her all the comforting clichés I could muster.
She peered up at me, with those sparkling eyes, and fought back the tears. “But Daddy, you don’t understand,” she cried. “I’m never going to meet One Direction.”
Suddenly, I wasn’t so sympathetic.
No, I was really. I know how consuming a childhood infatuation with a pop culture icon can be. For my daughter’s generation, it’s One Direction. When I was kid, I was obsessed with Phil Parkes, a slightly overweight West Ham goalkeeper who had hair like a wig and a disturbingly old-fashioned moustache.
So I empathise with my little girl’s predicament. Her every waking thought is dominated by those wholesome boys from One Direction. That’s right. I said wholesome. That’s what they are as far as my daughter is concerned. There is no tabloid talk of band members and their affairs and one-night stands in my apartment. My girl must retain her innocence (although Harry Styles is doing me no favours. He’s like a rabbit on heat during the mating season.)
And it’s Harry Styles where we have a problem.
Before the famous, floppy-haired One Direction singer came along, Daddy could do no wrong. Daddy was the apple orchard of his devoted daughter’s eye. Daddy was the chosen one, both in a spiritual Star Wars sense and in a literal, walking down the aisle sense.
We were going to get married, just like in the animated movies. The princess always married the man she loved most in the whole world and my girl – like all little girls – only had eyes for her Daddy.
We even performed mock weddings in the living room, with me on my knees and Mummy playing the registrar, an unusual scene seldom witnessed beyond house porches in the Deep South.
Mummy, Daddy and Daughter were going to live together forever, as all married characters do in the fairytales (children’s stories rarely focus on bigamy or divorce). Everything was rosy in the Humphreys garden until that damn Styles kid came along with his delectable eyes, floppy hair and toothpaste smile, grinning into the YouTube clip and reminding insecure girls everywhere of what makes them beautiful.
And in that moment, my baby girl started to grow up. Her confused, uncertain face wobbled, no doubt reflecting the floating butterflies in the belly. Her eyes lit up as she stared, transfixed, at the phone screen. She smiled, in a goofy, ticklish kind of way.
Right in front of me, she was developing her first crush.
I could kill Harry Styles.
Before him, it was Daddy this, Daddy that and Daddy knows best. Daddy always knew best. Even when he didn’t, he still did, in his daughter’s eyes at least. Daddy was omnipotent, infallible and unbreakable; until a cocky kid with hair like a dirty mop swaggered onto centre stage singing about the Best Song Ever.
I can no longer compete for my daughter’s affections. To her, the boys are parents, teachers and spiritual supreme beings all rolled into one. All I hear now is “would One Direction like me if I did this,” “do you think One Direction would like my homework,” “will One Direction watch me from their poster when I sleep” and “will Harry marry me?”
The last one was a dagger through my paternal heart. My instinctive reaction was juvenile, nonsensical and utterly irrational.
“But I thought you were going to marry me,” I blurted out, unable to conceal the emotional torment.
“No, Daddy. I’m marrying Harry Styles from One Direction.”
Just like that. She slammed the door in my face. She was colder than Al Pacino in The Godfather, killing me softly with one of Harry’s pop songs.
Of course, I know she’s not really deserting her overly sensitive Dad. She’ll be back. And I’ll be waiting, long after Harry and the boys split up, check into rehab, appear on reality TV shows and then reunite for a lucrative, nostalgia tour.
She’s just growing up and discovering her own artistic tastes, hobbies and interests. For the first time, she’s listening to her songs, her albums, her bands. They are her musical choices, not her parents’. And these songs should be hers as they will later form the soundtrack of her childhood memories.
And for an impressionable, naïve five-year-old girl, she could do worse than One Direction.
But she’s still not marrying Harry Styles.
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 (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.