‘LUB YA DADA!’
Up until a few weeks ago, I would only hear those magic three words from my two-year-old daughter as a result of blatant manipulation. Delicious treat or remote control in hand, I’d ask her if she loved me and, of course, she was always keen to confirm that was true.
It’s shameful, I know, but she’d left me no choice.
Her older brother remains hugely affectionate and demonstrative. In the early years, if I ever feigned tears he’d be straight over to cuddle me and salve my fake upset. There, there, Dada.
Little Buddha had never fallen for that ruse. In fact, a few months ago, I hid my face behind my hands and pretended to cry and she just laughed at me. I tried once more a short while later and she passed her rotten tissue to the Duchess and calmly observed that ‘Daddy is sad’.
I think she meant the other meaning of the word.
We often tell people that our son is ‘quite sensitive’. We describe our daughter simply as ‘nails’.
So, when a week or so ago, she asked for cuddles and told me she loved me, I was ecstatic.
Her timing was impeccable. The night before, I’d been catching up with one of my favourite programmes. No, not the History of Wood Carvings on BBC 4. Nor the Lives of Russian Sea Otters on National Geographic. Actually, it was Friday Night Lights on Sky Atlantic. Dawson’s Creek meets Any Given Sunday. My guilty pleasure – and the basis for the Duchess’ rebuttal to my abuse about her fixation with the young people of Essex.
Anyway, over in Dillon, Texas, Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tammy had bid farewell to their eldest daughter, Julie, as she set off for college. As she drove out of their street and headed into the blue yonder of her adult life, both parents were left staring into space. Coach Taylor, a redoubtable man, looked broken. Tammy, a formidable self-starter, looked lost.
I imagined having to do the same for my little girl and promptly shed a few tears.
I felt silly, of course. Not due to the tears. But the fact she’s not even two and a half. Yet, despite her showing all of the qualities of someone who’ll have no problem in the world, I feel really protective about her. I know I always will, in ways different to her brother.
Yes, it’s a form of sexism. Yes, she’ll probably despair of me as she hits her teens and I seem to give her a harder time about her extra-curricular activities. I can’t help it. My mates warned it would be like this – the father-daughter dynamic – and I can feel it already.
She’s certainly growing up fast. The other week, at a supermarket, an older girl asked her friend to be careful near my daughter. ‘Watch the baby,’ the girl said. My daughter furrowed her brow and said firmly to both girls: ‘I’m not a baby. I’m Betty Boo!’
A week later, she came downstairs having chalked red circles on to her cheeks and applied some lipstick. ‘What have you been up to, Betty Boo?’ the Duchess gently asked her. ‘I’m not Betty Boo,’ she shot back. ‘I’m a lady!’
See what I mean? By the age of 10, she’ll be shinning down the drainpipe and my Friday night tears will be for real.
What do other Dads with daughters think: am I over-protective or is this a primal instinct that we all have to contend with as they get older?