THERE comes a moment in fatherhood when you can’t hang onto the dream anymore. You have to accept she won’t instinctively cling to your finger or run to you with her arms outstretched at the sound of your voice. She’s not Daddy’s baby anymore. She’s a big girl and wants to be treated as such.
My moment arrived when my daughter’s first tooth fell out. The literal and physical embodiment of her ‘babyness’ had been forced out. This was a major milestone. I was going to savour the moment and cherish it for posterity.
And then she swallowed the tooth.
She’s growing up, but she’s still daft.
After days of tooth wobbling – not helped by the curious girl constantly flicking at the unstable enamel – she decided to have an ice-lolly from the freezer. By the time the ice-lolly was gone, so was the tooth.
When my oblivious daughter stood up and presented me with her first gap-toothed grin, panic reigned in the living room.
“I’ll search the sides of the sofa,” my wife shouted.
“It’s the literal and physical embodiment of her ‘babyness’,” I cried, throwing cushions over my shoulder.
“If you don’t find my tooth,” my little girl interjected. “I’ll still get money from the tooth fairy, right?”
Being the melodramatic Meryl Streep of fatherhood that I am in such situations, I wondered aloud about the dangers posed by a jagged milk tooth tumbling down a five-year-old’s oesophagus. Would she choke?
She has trouble keeping down sweetcorn.
Most of all, this sentimental father wanted that tooth. We all did. This was her first tooth, her first obvious step towards adulthood; that gummy gap representing the gulf between being a baby and becoming a woman.
I did some reading. Apparently, this was not an uncommon occurrence among lively teeth-wobbling terriers. So I did some basic research of a small child’s digestive system in the desperate hope that milk teeth take a freakish detour away from the stomach and are eventually expelled through the ear.
But of course they are not. The human body is a one-way system not a roundabout. There’s only one exit. And congestion at the exit could take up to 48 hours to clear.
For the next two days, my wife and I wore rubber gloves and impersonated bluebottle flies. Tears ran down our faces. Sentimentality had nothing to do with it. The stench singed our eyebrows.
Periodically, our daughter would walk into the bathroom, peer over her creation and cheerily say: “Have you found it?… No? … Never mind, Daddy. I will make a fresh one after my rice and tofu.”
Two days passed and we found nothing. We gave up. Our 48-hour window in the digestive system had closed and I felt my nasal septum was rotting away.
My daughter wrote a heartfelt, handwritten letter to the Tooth Fairy, explaining the unfortunate circumstances. The trusting Tooth Fairy must have believed her because my wallet was $10 lighter the following morning.
But my baby now looks different. Her face shape has altered. Her smile has obviously changed. Her school bus could squeeze through the gap in the bottom row of her teeth.
Since the tooth debacle, I’ve found myself staring at her when she prances about the living room singing Let it Go (I could murder those Disney songwriters).
She’s suddenly taller, ganglier, clearly developing her father’s lanky Olive Oyl frame. Her hair is longer and less wispy than before, moving away from the bleach blonde of her baby days and towards light brown, again like her father.
And she looks at me differently now. Her eyes penetrate me. Her self-awareness is obvious, her intellect unmistakable. Her head nods, but her eyes clearly say: “Nah, you’re talking rubbish there, Dad.”
She’s almost ready to go toe-to-toe. My word was once absolute and irrefutably correct. Now it’s debatable and uncertain. She’s already challenging me, discovering that I do not have all the answers (which I most certainly do not of course, but it was rather pleasant when she believed I did. It was like being an omnipotent dictator without the need for secret police or labour camps.)
She’s just growing up.
It’s time to farewell the tiny, cherubic, submissive, unquestioning, devoted, baby-toothed bouncing bundle of joy and welcome the tall inquisitive, argumentative, humorous, gap-toothed young lady into the family.
Who knew that the most exciting change of fatherhood would be change itself? Nothing ever becomes routine in our family because the family is always evolving. No two days are the same because our daughter is never quite the same girl from one day to the next.
One day, she is smiling at me at dinner with an adorable full set of milk teeth. The next, I’m on my hands and knees and going through her dinner in the toilet bowl.
It’s such a gloriously unexpected, eclectic journey of discovery for me and my growing girl.
That said, if she swallows the second tooth, the Tooth Fairy isn’t coming back.
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.