I’m not sure if you “father” a son in the same way as a daughter. I mean, not in “that'' sense; that is the same, isn't it?
I mean that the role you play, the things you say and the way you behave, might change just a little depending on to whom you are being father. I am sure this is not politically correct, but I know that I will always be a very slightly different dad to my daughter than I am to my son. There, I said it.
Boys and girls are different - whether nature or nurture is a discussion for another time. I was raised by my mum and I have an amazingly resilient sister. My wife was one of six children, five of them girls, and the people that I am still close to from 25 years ago are women. Wonderful, strong women have been prominent throughout my life. And to be honest, when my daughter arrived, perhaps because of this, I felt the pressure even more than most to make a success of being her dad.
Before I share what Daisy has taught me about being a dad, it would be good to have a little background...
Daisy is 16. She’s gone from being Dora The Explorer to Hannah Montana to miming to Glee to wryly laughing at Modern Family, via an addiction to Master Chef (she’s becoming a great cook) and heavy doses of Brooklyn 99 with her brother. Daisy is strong. She is sensible. She’s bright, articulate, has an exquisite ability to roll her eyes with just enough disdain that I see it and understand her point of view. She cares about stuff and gets angry about injustice. And spends half her life on her bloody phone. She didn’t get to sit her GCSEs this summer. She didn’t get to do the whole ‘long summer before sixth form’ thing, and her tickets to the Reading Festival 2020 will go unused. This bloody virus seems to have played havoc with so much for so many, and in so many ways. But for the time being she seems to have side-stepped a goth phase. Am I oversharing?
It’s time I face up to the fact that my little girl is now, to all intents and purposes, a woman. How did that happen?
Anyway, here’s the thing...she now has a boyfriend. A serious one. Like seeing-him-almost-every-day serious. He’s a nice lad. Slightly weird hair, an overreliance on sportswear and over designed trainers, but a genuinely nice young man. I might say that I almost like him.
This, dear reader, is a pivotal moment in the journey of a parent. It somehow comes loaded with a deluge of cultural references that make you both super-aware and super-sensitive simultaneously. There is expectation directed at you by almost everyone else in the equation - wife, kids, friends with daughters, friends without daughters, colleagues. It’s inescapable and the nature of the expectation varies wildly. And you desperately don’t want to avoid any of these well-laid traps. You just have to walk your own path here.
Now, I believe firmly in parenting by listening to your children. Not by waiting for them to say stuff, but by tuning in to them and their context. And, if there’s one thing that Daisy has taught me, it’s the power of honesty in the well-being of a parent-child relationship. And the sometimes uneasy bedfellow of honesty is trust.
A man I like very much (he’s one of my favourite Americans) and the father of two girls, once said to me that “You can’t keep a shotgun over the mantlepiece”. When he said that to me a few years ago I laughed. But now I fully comprehend this euphemism for trust.
The little girl that I would watch Dora with, that I played Barbie with, that I climbed trees with, that I have sought to protect since the day she arrived, needs my trust if we are to continue to have a relationship that is good and strong and valuable.
All I can do now is be there. No longer a participant, but now a facilitator. Owner and operator of Dadcabs.
They say that “if you love someone set them free”. I didn’t think this was about your kids. It’s scary. Knowing it is time to loosen the reins and let her do her thing. It is massively difficult for me as a dad to Daisy to step back, and maybe for other dads too, but it’s what needs to be done if the trust is to stay.
And if they break that trust, well, that’s where that unconditional love comes in, doesn’t it? You pick up the pieces, you don’t judge, you make damn sure they know just how badly they just fu*€ed things up and you reset.
Of course, it’s never that straightforward, but at least that’s the idea.