The advantages of being a self-employed father with flexible work hours are cancelled out by their disadvantages. My daughter will not take “no” for an answer.
Teacher meetings, classroom exhibitions and school performances cannot be excused on the grounds of a mysterious “business meeting” at the “office” when my little girl knows I have neither. Any attempts to fabricate an emergency appointment are invariably met with a shake of the head and her saying: “That’s not true, Daddy, is it? You work at home all day in your boxer shorts.”
She must stop saying this in public places.
Not that I actively seek to avoid important milestones in my daughter’s life. Swapping the fixed income for a writer’s life of uncertain pay cheques and a fluctuating self-esteem was a conscious effort to be an integral part of her upbringing.
But deadlines still exist in my working life. They just do not exist in hers, not when there’s a school trip on the horizon.
“You must come on this trip, Daddy,” she cried. “The class is going to the Singapore Phallic Museum.”
“The Singapore what?”
“The Singapore Phallic Museum, where they show us all the stamps.”
I corrected her pronunciation of the Singapore Philatelic Museum and explained that, on this occasion, there were just one too many year-end magazine and book deadlines that could be delayed no further.
“It’s OK, Daddy,” she said, far too breezily. “Johnny’s Dad can go instead.”
The veins in my temple throbbed as I ground my teeth into enamel stubs. Little Johnny’s Dad always made himself available for school trips. Little Johnny’s Dad was a permanent fixture in the school playground. Little Johnny’s Dad was a pawn in my daughter’s emotional blackmail scheme. The ingenious minx knows how to push her father’s buttons.
A week later, I was standing beside the school bus and being handed the names of four children. I was expected to supervise around the exhibition and stop them from playing chicken with outside traffic. The teacher’s list of responsibilities was exhaustive. My initial flippancy gave way to mild apprehension.
I had a duty of care for a group of small children, only one of whom shared my DNA. This made life harder not easier. I was no longer the alpha male of my troupe. At home, I am Daddy, the swinging king of my jungle. On the school trip, I was a sideman for the male class teacher, playing Ringo Starr to his John Lennon. The sudden change in the balance of power was initially unsettling. On a couple of occasions, I asked my daughter to cross her legs and listen to the museum curator. She still fidgeted. But her teacher whispered a similar instruction and she complied immediately. I had been usurped. It was a crushing defeat.
Daddy disappeared on the school trip. A “Mr. Humphreys” replaced me; a benign, unimposing chaperone tasked with taking kids to and from the toilet. I was not an authority figure to take seriously. I was the go-to guy to playfully ignore. Kids dashed past me to fiddle with the interactive exhibits, ignoring my pitiful pleas to stop running. In one humbling incident, my daughter was part of a giggling group getting too excited in the wet market play corner. My requests to stop shouting fell on deaf ears. Then their teacher appeared. They immediately fell silent.
Sensitive Daddy felt a tad emasculated. My bruised brain was battered with questions it couldn’t answer. Why didn’t my daughter listen to me? Where had my authority gone? Why was I being ignored? Why did kids pee so much on school trips?
But as the trip progressed, I settled into my support act routine and appreciated the teacher’s influence. We had our respective spheres of influence and I had wandered into his. This was his platoon, his discipline and his rules. I was a civilian observer. Two disciplinarians would’ve been a crowd so I relaxed and enjoyed my Fun Dad Volunteer role, telling funny stories about Singapore’s history during the snack break and singing songs with them on the bus.
We enjoyed each other’s company, the school trip was educational and no one peed their school pants.
Putting my daughter to bed that night, I asked her if she was happy I went along.
“Yes, Daddy,” she mumbled sleepily.
“But you hardly listened to me the whole trip,” I whispered.
“But you were there,” she explained. “I like school trips with my Daddy more than the other daddies.”
I squeezed her so tightly I thought I might never let go.
“Next time, Daddy,” she added. “Can we take Mummy to the Phallic Museum?”
We still need to work on the pronunciation.
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.