Father and Daughter Story
When she is born, she is four pounds and see-through, and I am terrified. My wife’s vagina is smeared over 50 towels on the floor, and she is shaking. Across the room, our daughter guppies silently in a Perspex box, purple and writhing like a baby bird. A wall of strangers are wrangling her tiny body into life. Two hours later, she tries to suck my man tit and my wife and I laugh and cry all day.
The rash on the baby’s face needs a lot of cream, so in the first few weeks she is greasy and grimacing, but I am destroyed by how beautiful she is. Early on, one of my friends says she looks like Hitchcock and I hate him for at least a month, because the baby has done witchcraft on me and I am not the same person. I prowl the parameters of our muslin nest, primal chemicals raging to protect the tiny pink marsupial wriggling at its centre. I know better than to tell my wife how incredibly erotic I find her right now.
Even when the baby is bigger and chubbier, she is so delicate. I’m worried I’ll accidentally hurt her with my big, meaty hands, so I am extra gentle with her, and it makes my wife crazy happy. Once, she comes downstairs to find us reading on the sofa and she swoons so deep she actually roars.
When our daughter is a bit older, she starts playing the recorder, and though she’s awful at it, we encourage her, sitting with her until she’s accomplished even the tiniest, most mundane achievement. Sometimes when she’s practicing upstairs – really blowing her little lungs out over Hot Cross Buns or Three Blind Mice – me and her mum can’t help but break our hearts giggling.
What gets me is that no one is ever honest about how hard it is. The lack of sleep. The boredom. The morning cartoons (all shit). The school assemblies at which I have to listen to some other prick dad perving on the teaching assistant, or talking about his loft conversion. Shit. In my mind, I’m always rising from my chair and inflating my chest, and everyone’s jaws are dropping in slow motion, and I’m booming at said prick dad: “YOUR KID WILL GROW UP TO BE A CU—“ . But then my little girl gets on stage and plays the recorder very badly, and I am so proud that I’m bursting and there’s no one in the room but her.
My daddy says I was born early because I got bored inside my mummy’s tummy. My daddy has big, warm hands and he strokes my mummy’s hair when she is in the bed. At bedtime, I put my head on my daddy’s shoulder and he reads me books and does the voices. I like Tintin the best. My daddy has a furry chest that tickles my chin like wiggly worms. I can hear my daddy’s heart beating inside, and he says it is the footsteps of a big bear far away, but I know he is fibbing.
My daddy is the cleverest person in our house and he is clever about animals. He tells me science stories about the light-up fish in the deepest bits of the sea, that have sparkling tentacles and eyes that flash in the dark. And I ask him questions like how heavy is an aeroplane, and he always knows all the answers.
When I am five and a quarter years old, I learn to play the recorder. It is hard, but my daddy says it is okay for things to be hard, and he says that I am good at it. When I am five and a half years old, we get a new dog called Snowy. Daddy says that when we are not in our house, Snowy and Mummy get up to all sorts of mischief. My daddy does voices for the dog and sometimes puts a hat on him and Mummy laughs.
When the dog has his operation, Daddy gives him ham sandwiches like he gives to Mummy. It is funny when he rolls up the ham and plays it like my recorder. My daddy says I’m not allowed to pick up Snowy like normal because his tummy hurts, and then Daddy shows me how to stroke his fur very softly without touching the poorly patch.
By the time she hits puberty, I am the oldest, fattest, most embarrassing person EVER TO
HAVE EXISTED, and I boil vegetables like a loser.
My daughter now also has zero tolerance for my wardrobe, which is comprised of almost solely Marks & Spencer’s grey cords and shirts and, if serendipity has recently smiled upon me, a pair of sale-purchased trainers from Next. I delight in telling her that one day she, like me, will experience the liberation of not giving a single shit what anyone thinks. But my joy is unfathomable to her, and one morning she storms out of the house when I pliez in my Y-fronts.
When she brings her first boyfriend round to meet us, I can tell instantly that he’s a prick. My wife asks me to justify my opinion, but I don’t need to. You can just tell from the way he walks that this kid is half-baked, probably with a pugnacious, half-baked father that spent too much money on cars and not enough time with his boy.
When I catch The Prick macking on my daughter in the conservatory, my wife tells me to take a walk. At dinner I don’t say a word. This makes our daughter so furious, she flicks a sheet of lasagne at me then stomps upstairs. I pat the dog on the head as he eats the pasta from my lap and tell him he’s lucky he’s a eunuch. Later, my wife and I get tipsy and talk about our own first dates. We have the best sex we’ve had since before our daughter was born.
Dad doesn’t get it because Dad doesn’t get anything, but if you boil the broccoli for like, five hours, you’re going to destroy all the antioxidants, and I keep telling him that Mum needs the vitamins, but he shrugs it off or makes a joke or something. As if I’m blind, and I can’t see that she weighs, like, two stone now.
One morning, we have this big argument about my stupid school shoes, which I hate because all the other girls have Kickers, and I keep getting cussed ‘cause even when I roll my skirt up, my shoes still give me giant man feet. I try to explain this to Dad, but he’s just standing there in his stupid, gross Y-fronts, not listening to me, saying some crap about how bushy eyebrows are beautiful. I slam the door in his face ‘cause the kids at school call him a gypo and I’m scared I’ll tell him.
When I’m 15, I finally go out with the boy I love. I let him give me love bites, even though I think it’s gross, ‘cause he says it’s the best way to show people how much we love each other. One time Dad catches us kissing in the conservatory, and he acts all scandalised for, like, days, but it’s only ‘cause he’s not getting any.
I’ve got another dog, but it’s not as funny as the first one. Plus, my wife’s not here to howl with me over monstrous dog farts and sunglasses on muzzles. I never got him spayed either, so he humps gloatingly all over the house. I look frail and pathetic now, and it’s excellent because I get away with plenty that I never got away with before: two puddings after dinner, slippers in the street, trousers with no pants.
While bringing news from the modern world one day, my daughter explains the concept of ‘working it’, and I ask her if I’m working my liver spots. Without answering, she smiles and presses her head against my chest. I squirm, because I couldn’t get into the bath that morning and I’m embarrassed to have someone so close. But she shushes me – says she’s listening for something.
I know because of the kinds of questions she asks that she’s not quite ready to be the boss, but I have no answers. She’ll realise when her kids have got wrinkles of their own that there’s a kind of foreverness to being a parent. You’re never not shitting yourself that you’ll break them with your big hands, and you’re never not crying at the back of assembly. And, as I sit here watching the sycamore from the window, I’m still right back at the beginning, standing in the hospital in the long silence, waiting for my baby bird to breathe.
Dad takes twice as long as everyone else to eat his meals now, and I get really ratty with my kids when they whine for dessert before he’s finished. His hair is completely white, and he likes it – says he’s going for Glenn Close in Air Force One. His ability to consistently keep his references at least 15 years out of date is an enduring phenomenon.
When I think back, I can see how me and Mum and Dad changed imperceptibly from moment to moment, like rock carved by water. Drip by drip. My friends and I are turning 40 this year, and now parents are people with toad hands and dewlaps. How? We sit in the pub scaring each other for hours, because we don’t know who we’re going to be in a few drips’ time.
One day – mid-way through a science story about a marine invertebrate called the sea squirt – Dad says, very quietly, that I’ll never not be his daughter. And happiness hangs unspoken between us, like floating luminescence filling the darkest bits of the sea with its light.
Photograph by Creative Commons