The other day, I chanced upon my seven-year-old daughter as she stood, self-absorbed, before the mirror. I don’t think I have seen her exactly like that before. I mean, I have, but not really, not quite.
I don’t know. Perhaps it was the Sunday afternoon beer thinking, but observing her in that instant became —as is the nature of these things—somehow representative of something bigger, and more significant.
She is growing her hair, Oishi, and plans to not have it cut till the end of this year. It’s bit of an unruly tangle at the moment, not long enough at the back and a mass of intractable waves and semi-curls at the front. But Oishi is proud of her growing hair and—as on the occasion I am talking about— spends time in front of the mirror, examining how long it has grown and probably imagining what she is going to look like once it has attained her desired length.
So there she was, rapt and focused, gazing at herself in the mirror, trying to do up her hair. It struck me watching her —and she hadn’t noticed me—how suddenly adult she seemed.
The way in which she snapped on her hair band, raised her arms and deftly, swiftly, gathered up her hair, and used a smaller band (matching with her clothes, everything has to match, you see) to fashion a smart, little ponytail made me gasp.
When did this happen? Where did this come from? How did she learn to do this? (This is the one thing I can’t do for her, being utterly hopeless with hair bands and ponytails.)
And there she was, grave, poised, lady-like, and I wondered what I’d been missing for me to be so surprised by this. I can’t recall if I have said this before in this column, but I always thought —like one of my literary heroes—that having a girl would teach me how the other half live. It has, in many ways, and it did again, more renewed emphasis that Sunday afternoon.
All my women friends tell me that from here on, this is increasingly how it will be: more surprise at more things, bafflement, misunderstanding, not seeing things in the same way. Most of them say they were great friends with their fathers when they were children. And as they grew older, they got closer to their mothers; the fathers became more of an unreasonable figure of self-imposed authority.
Perhaps this is how it is with girls and their dads. I wouldn’t know. I think I shall find out. I tell myself now—and whoever else will listen to what I say—that I won’t become like that. I shall continue to try and change, look at things differently, keep up.
I am hoping for the best but I ‘m well aware it may not turn out that way. That awareness informs every moment of my experience of fatherhood.
So every instant seems precious because I know each is unique and unrepeatable. Every moment of fun is coloured as much by the enjoyment of it as by the mournfulness for its passing, never to return.
A father’s life, I tell you… But I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else.