A father’s fall from a state of almost perpetual grace

2012-07-05 00:00

LIKE many fathers, I enjoy a wonderfully close and loving relationship with my daughter. Josie is 11, and until recently she has been like my own personal praise singer. I have been called the best, kindest, wisest, strongest and most handsomest dad in the world — many, many times over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my wife Shelley has taken a somewhat different perspective on all this. When she hears the “you are the most wonderful, wise, clever ... ” dad routine coming on, she often sticks her finger in her mouth and pretends to throw up. Jealousy can be an ugly thing.

Even though I have been basking contentedly in a sea of adoration for a long time now, a few months ago, and quite unsolicited, Josie added to my already full and incredibly generous pantheon of praises. But this one deserves special mention, not because it is the most recent, but because it must stand as one of the most complete and gratifying compliments a daughter can give her father.

Alternatively, its magnitude could be gauged by Shelley’s reaction to it. When Shelley heard it her eyes rolled back and her finger immediately disapeared down her throat, only this time I thought she really was going to throw up.

Josie had told me that when she started looking for a boyfriend or a husband, the perfect partner for her would be a “mini dad”. Perhaps only two words to the average onlooker (and instant nausea to a wife and mother), but to me this was auditory arcadia.

I mean, what more could a father ask of a young daughter? Not only have I managed to raise a daughter who feels confident and secure in herself, loved and valued, but who also believes that when it comes to men I am the gold standard — my work is done!

I thanked Josie for the compliment, congratulated her on a wonderfully inventive turn of phrase, and, of course, praised her excellent judgment. Shelley had meanwhile taken a break from peeling potatoes to hold her head and plead for someone to bring her a bowl.

But, of course, the problem with occupying any type of high ground is that while the view may be great, it’s a long way down. And the problem with reaching a pinnacle is that regardless of whether you move forwards, sideways or backwards, you can only move down. I was soon to experience this all first-hand.

About a month ago, on the way back from school, Josie told me about a class mate who has a stern and imposing father. She asked me if I, like him, would be able to protect her from unwanted male attention when she got a bit older. Before I could answer she suggested that maybe I needed to, “bulk up a bit”. Now I know that she was at least half joking and teasing me, and that she got the line from a TV sitcom — but still.

Unfortunately, there was more, and worse, to come. A few days ago, Josie was sorting through some family photographs and came across some pictures of me in my 20s. Looking up from one of them she commented that I “looked a bit, well, feminine”. I raced over to where she was sitting to see for myself. “I was young then,” I explained. “Maybe you are confusing feminine with fresh-faced and vital,” I suggested. “Maybe,” she conceded, but she wasn’t entirely letting go. “Maybe you’re right, but come on, you do look a bit feminine as well, just a little bit.” Shelley overheard this, and well, let’s just say that if laughter could break windows, hers would have.

So all this from someone who not so long ago had called me a “Bar One man” for going into the garden at night to investigate what our dogs were barking at. I was clearly no longer considered the gold standard of masculinity.

Josie will be a full-blown teenager soon, so I know I will be in for a lot worse. And, anyway, my fall from a state of almost perpetual grace hasn’t been a top to bottom thing, and I know that it is healthy and age appropriate. And if the truth be told (and the mountain metaphor extended), while in Josie’s psyche I am clearly no longer a permanent citizen of Cathedral Peak, I still do spend most of my time in the Northern Drakensberg.

Patrick Makkink

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