While I have no favourites among my three children, I can’t help feeling my daughter’s tops when it comes to showing affection for me
Once, my daughter Natasha brought home some of her latest test papers. Seeing how my daughter who was 15-years-old then had been kept busy with regular squash training and her friends, I prepared myself for the worst. Her results held no surprises – she just about scraped through for all her tests.
This time, I spared her the usual lectures. She was grounded until her grades improved, I told her. Cancel the Saturday tea you had planned with your schoolmates, forget the movies with your friends and no going for a drink at the foodcourt after squash training sessions.
But for her, the most severe punishment was being banned from the church’s youth activities which take place after Sunday service. It was something she looked forward to every week. She did not protest.
A while later, I saw her in the room. On the table was a textbook and next to it a small pool of tears. Her eyes were red and I watched as they welled up and cleared suddenly as the tears ran down her cheeks. There was a steady regularity to it – drip, drip, drip. I walked away.
I caught her later in front of the computer chatting with her friends on MSN Messenger. She looked relaxed and I thought it was a good time to talk to her. ‘Tash,’ I started, ‘you know why I have to punish you.’ But before I could go any further, her eyes filled up again as I reminded her of her punishment – drip, drip, drip.
I walked away only to come back a while later. ‘Okay, I will give you one more chance,’ I told her. ‘The next time you do badly, you will be in serious trouble.’ I had once again succumbed to my daughter’s water torture. Her tears never fail to break my heart.
I sometimes wonder if my sons notice that their sister gets away with lighter punishment. Like many parents, I try to be fair in dealing with my children. But the way they react, respond and relate to me, the differences in age, and that one of them is a girl, influence the way I respond to them.
Natasha, for instance, never grew out of the spontaneous way she had shown love and affection from the time she was a child. She would hug me, put her arm around my neck and hold my hand. On the other hand, my two macho sons Shaun, who is 17, and Marcus, 13, have become more conscious with age.
Given a choice, they would give me a handshake. My daughter’s response to a situation is always more emotional. She shows more empathy, kindness and warmth. I get totally different reactions from my sons and daughter when I shout ‘Moron!’ at some lousy driver who had cut into my path and had forced me to slam on my brakes.
My daughter would say ‘Dad, do you have to?’ ‘But Tash, he cut into my lane, I was forced to brake suddenly. He could have killed all of us.’ ‘I never said he was in the right but still there is no need to call him a moron’,’ would be her reply.
She doesn’t even accept my argument that it is therapeutic to yell that way. My sons: ‘Who is the moron, Dad? This one? This guy in the blue car?’ And they would gawk at him as I overtake the moron’s car and burst out laughing.
Natasha is also different in the way she jumps to the defence of anyone who, in her eyes, had been wrongly accused – the rude salesgirl, the conman of a salesman.
Why do you assume the salesgirl was rude to you just because you were dressed like a bum? She might have been in a hurry, she’d tell me. The salesman did not take you for a fool and tried to con you. He made a genuine mistake.
But you should not speak to him in a mixture of Hokkien and Malay and pretend to be a low-income earner to get a better price, she once told me. My sons would be party to any stunt I try to pull off with sales staff to get them to reduce their price. Given this varying behaviour from my children, it becomes difficult not to react differently to each of them and to be mistaken for being inconsistent.
My sons feel Natasha gets away with murder, while the two older ones think the youngest one needs to be thrashed and I have to remind them to be merciful. And the two younger ones feel their big brother is given too much leeway in far too many areas.
I have been asked on many occasions which of the three is my favourite. I get a look of disbelief when I say: ‘No one. They are all the same to me. I would say that I prefer the way one of them does something, and the other, something else. And when it comes to showing Daddy affection, Natasha just comes out tops. A father-daughter relationship is just different. It is hard to explain.
Recently, I started on the morning shift after being in the late one for a long time. This means that instead of working from 3pm and not getting home till at least 2am, I was now able to be home by about 7pm.
I took my family out for supper one day, something that I was never able to do on a weekday unless it was my day off. As I was driving back, my daughter told me: ‘You know Dad, I like it when you are on the early shift and home in the evenings. The day doesn’t feel like a school day.’
Why can’t my sons say sweet things like that to me? Sigh.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 31-01-2012.