Thanks for the compliment … I think

2008-01-15 00:00

Like many fathers of young daughters I have always enjoyed an incredibly close and special relationship with my daughter, Josie, who is now seven years old.

My wife, Shelley, prefers to describe it as a “mutual admiration society”, and I suppose she has a point. Josie routinely tells me that I am the “strongest, cleverest, kindest dad in the world”, and “the best dad I ever had”. Of course these compliments are returned in kind, smothered with loves, hugs, kisses and confirmation that Josie is also, “the best daughter I ever had”. Shelley’s stock reaction to these touching father-daughter moments is to roll her eyes heavenward. Jealously can be an ugly thing!

Of course, in mutual admiration societies blind spots for faults and limitations pretty much go with the turf. I know that mine for Josie is somewhere near the size of the DRC, and hers for me is probably not much smaller. I first realised this when Josie was about four years old. She was chatting away to me while busy drawing contentedly on the walls of her bedroom with a set of coloured crayons. Shelley walked in and, seeing the multi-coloured mural in progress, yelled at her to stop.

“Leave her alone,” I quickly interceded. “Stopping her will interfere with her creative growth.”

“Her what?” Shelley came back at me, incredulously. “You have got to be joking!”

I know that my two sons, Thomas and Francis, know that their early creative (and other) endeavours never enjoyed the same kind of latitude that Josie’s do. I love both of them dearly and spend an enormous amount of time with both of them playing sport and doing guy things, so I am hoping that they both just put it down to what it really is, a father-daughter thing.

I have also been hoping (and sort of expecting) that my relationship with Josie will pretty much remain unchanged until Josie becomes a teenager and things inevitably get more complicated. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and our little praise-singing duet has already run into some content issues.

A few months ago Josie saw a picture of blond superhulk Springbok flank Schalk Burger in the newspaper and, pointing to it, commented, “You used to look like him before …”

I waited for her to complete her sentence and not without some expectation. I knew Josie had seen photos of me when I was at university, when my hair was a lot blonder and a lot longer, and when I was a lot fitter too. So I was waiting, quietly confident for something positive to follow.

“Before your teeth went yellow,” she said matter-of-factly. Well, to say this was a letdown is to put it mildly. My heart sank. Even though I know my family tree hasn’t been blessed with great pearly whites I prefer to think of them rather as ivory or eggshell white. I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of Josie’s declaration.

Seeing my disappointment, Josie quickly scrambled to make amends. She must have thought it was the blandness of her compliment that was the cause of my dismay, because after thinking carefully for a few seconds she pointed her finger in the air in a Eureka-type moment and exclaimed confidently, “Gleaming yellow teeth!”. Talk about pouring salt on to wounds. But Josie’s intentions were so obviously clear and so generous I had to laugh and thank her for being so kind.

Mightily pleased with her remediation efforts, Josie made sure that her latest formulation would not be lost by immediately including it in her praise-singing repertoire at the end of which it still proudly sits. So now I am not only the “best, strongest, cleverest, kindest dad in the world”, but I also have, “the most gleamingist yellow teeth in the whole world” as well.

Of course, as misfortune would have it, Shelley was in the room and witnessed the whole thing. And if you have ever wondered whether it is possible for someone to almost collapse with laughter while choking on poetic justice at the same time, it is. I have seen it for myself.

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