There is usually a nod of feigned sympathy. If I’m lucky I get a doleful look and a sad smile. Occasionally, I’m treated to a sympathetic hand on the shoulder as friends rally around to help me deal with my loss.
It’s not easy for them either. They also struggle to come to terms with my predicament; their eyes darting around the room as if seeking a solution, kind souls struggling to find the right words, scrambling for a suitable reaction to my loss, my handicap; my unbearable circumstances.
I do not employ a foreign domestic helper.
I know. I know. The depravation must be unthinkable, unfathomable. My daughter is being raised in a Dickensian sweatshop. Her every waking moment is like an audition for Angela’s Ashes. She spilled some Ribena on the kitchen floor last week and it wasn’t cleaned, mopped and sterilized instantly. In quieter moments of reflection, I wonder if she will ever overcome the trauma.
At times, we wonder if we will ever get through this.
Friends and neighbours subconsciously take pity on us. They come to our apartment and start washing up (really, this has happened.) They recommend reputable maid agencies and cleaning companies. They make indiscreet enquiries about our financial status.
They have kindly offered to give us a breather and take our daughter away from us so many times I’m beginning to think the kid has got rabies.
In the end, this father often finds himself mumbling a mealy-mouthed, half-baked apology in way of explanation. “You see, well the thing is, it’s just that, you know, I like to spend my free time with my daughter,” I mutter. “I actually, you know, er, enjoy it, because, you know, she’s, er, my daughter.”
That’s when the nods of feigned sympathy begin, as if I’ve just declared that I’ll probably survive the surgery, but the leg will have to go.
Last year, I politely turned down yet another invitation to palm my daughter off to a third party for the weekend and the woman actually replied: “Yes, I understand, Neil. You’re one of those Dads who like to spend a lot of time with their children.”
Yep. I’m one of those freaks. Make sure you cross the road to avoid me in the street.
This deranged Daddy is in for life, a decision that was made instinctively and obviously the moment I cut my little girls’ umbilical cord. But this tacit agreement can appear to inconvenience others. Tentative enquiries about possible cinema trips or restaurant visits are swiftly followed by that nod of sympathy and an understanding reply, such as: “Oh, that’s right. You haven’t got a helper. Would you like to borrow ours? Or maybe your daughter could stay with our sister’s helper? Or maybe she could play with the traffic for a couple of hours? You’ve been with her all weekend, right? Surely, you’d want to get away from her for a couple of hours and watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”
(In fact, I was recently asked if I missed going to the cinema regularly to watch films for grown-ups since my daughter came along. This person had just watched the latest Transformers movie. If they continue to make Transformers movies, I’ll produce more children just to stay away.)
In Singapore’s relentless economy, two-income households are the norm (ours is no exception) and home assistance or a domestic helper can be necessary. That’s understandable. What’s less palatable perhaps is the post-modern assumption that some sort of cultural and spiritual nourishment of body and soul must be achieved away from our offspring.
It’s all about the “me” time. We need the “me” time, a chance to explore, entertain and titillate ourselves. I’ve already spent 40 years with “me”. I know me. I’m fed up with me. I can’t make myself laugh like a six-year-old girl standing on the sofa and singing One Direction songs in a pink tutu (I tried it once and to be honest, it was just plain embarrassing.)
Friends are often eager to take a long jump away from the kids in the evening to land in a sandpit of scintillating adult conversation, wallowing in a world of mature, like-minded intellects. That’s plausible, to a point. The last detailed conversation I had with an adult friend was about USB cables for a laptop. The last detailed conversation I had with my daughter was about how many sofa cushions I could balance on my head. I know which conversation I preferred (and I managed four cushions.)
The simple, honest truth is no movie will ever make me laugh or cry like my daughter. No night out or performance will ever be as memorable as her first rendition of a Chinese nursery rhyme. No sporting event will rival her first completed swimming length. No meal could ever taste quite like her first home-cooked feast of garlic bread and cheesy mashed potato (it’s true. The garlic stayed with me for days.)
So don’t feel sorry for this particular Daddy when he spends all of his time with his daughter most nights and weekends.
I’m missing out on everything trivial, but nothing that actually matters.
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.