I’ve always thought of myself as a happy-go-lucky type and the first two words that sprang to my friends’ lips when asked to describe me today were “funny” and “laid back”. Of course like everyone I am prone to be unfunny and not at all laid back at times, but generally I like to think they’re right.
My own memories of looking after my sister’s children are ones purely of skipping and singing silly songs and laughing a lot.
So when our daughter turned to my wife last week and asked her, “why doesn’t Daddy smile?”, at first it made me laugh and raise my eyes skyward, shaking my head in the manner of “oh, the things that children say”, but after a while it shocked me and has given me real pause since.
In all our family pictures, there I am mucking about, pulling funny faces, laughing and smiling. But pictures capture a single moment and do not tell the story or indeed paint a thousand words. The camera can and does, maybe not lie in that moment, but perhaps cast a concealing sheen over the truth.
And so I have revisited my role as an Uncle and dredged up other not so glorious moments where I was impatient, grumpy, angry even; a lot of them. And revisited, taking off my rose-tinted Daddy specs, how I have been of late as a father. Impatient, grumpy, angry even. It’s trying dealing with a small person developing a will of their own, stepping out of the era of complete malleability and obedience and into the “No!” era. I’m not coping well with that. The first “No!” was funny; the ten thousand following, not so much.
I am ok with being a good-enough parent, but “Why doesn’t Daddy smile?” isn’t good enough. Not by a long way.
I’m in danger of being remembered as the Dad that never smiled, the grumpy one, the frustrated one, the no-fun one, the one that shouted, the one that had lines etched deep into their ageing face that in others were laughter lines but in him ones of fatigue and misery.
And so I resolved to make a conscious change. I came home from work today and instead of flopping down exhausted onto the sofa, instead of nodding absently, not really listening to the chattering child, instead of saying “Bed. Now.” in a raised voice, I spent 30 minutes playing hide and seek. My hiding places were ingenious and she just hid in the same place each time, so I won hands down, in case you were wondering.; she might be only 3 but she’s just rubbish at this game. But we laughed when we found each other, we laughed when I caught her peeking while she was counting to ten, we laughed when she found me trying unsuccessfully to fold my six foot frame into her minute play tent. We laughed a lot. We tired each other out. And when I said “time for bed”, we stopped our game and we smiled at each other. For a long time. Nobody captured that moment, but it will be etched in my brain for the rest of my life. And I hope that image of my smiling, loving face might, just might, stay with her too.