Speaking to supporters on Father’s Day (June 20), US President Barack Obama said that the job of being a good father was one of the most important in the world. “As the father of two young daughters,” Obama said, referring to Malia, 11, and Sasha, 9, “I know that being a father is one of the most important jobs any man can have.”
This fatherhood business is important and complex in ways that nothing else is — or could be. It’s important, without one feeling self-important about its importance. It’s too full of vulnerability and anxiety, and, at the same time, filled with joy. It’s the most rewarding job one can do —without being paid for it, or without hope of being paid back for it; it is its own reward.
It teaches you the fun of utter absorption in the moment. It is a mood-altering drug. It is phenomenally important because it teaches you the value (no, the necessity) of infinite patience. Seeing oneself reflected in a growing child’s eyes is a way, as Jorge Luis Borges said, “of growing old in so many mirrors”.
I realised this again one day last week after I had got home after a cumulonimbus-cloud day at work to find our eight-year-old daughter, her brow writhing, her eyes narrowed, waiting to speak to me about something she called “very important”. “Baba, we have a jingle competition at school.”
“Mm,” I said, aiming my shoe at the cupboard and imagining it was someone I’d had a conversation with a little while ago. Bang went the next one, imagining it was… etc.
“And I am the house captain, Baba, and we have to do this.”
Dearly wanting the drink that I was denying myself because I’d stay up for the World Cup game that started at midnight, I said, stifling a groan, trying to smother the hangover of swirling, incandescent anger: “What’s a jingle competition?”
And the cumulonimbus day began to turn into a cirrus day. It transpired that each house had to write a jingle, set it to tune, and perform it. The one that drew most applause would win the competition.
Oishi needed my help in writing the jingle. She had already done some, and wanted me to see what worked best. Although this column is predicated on self-indulgence, I shall stop short of passing on a jingle written by an eight-year-old. It needs to be said, though, that it was for “a new fruit drink”.
Soon, she was setting out formations for the mime and dance, who’d stand where, who’d do what. She needed to write an introduction (I offered help, but she declined) and, most importantly, plan a meeting for the following day in which each student would be told her duties.
“The vice-captain of our house won’t come tomorrow,” Oishi said. “I don’t know what I’ll do.” She sighed. And then said: “This being captain, Baba, is too much hard work.”
No, I wouldn’t have known that.
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