Monday, 28 March 2016

The Girl You Think I Am

Let me tell you about Rex.

Rex burst into my life in 2005 when we bonded over our love of Goo Goo Dolls, dislike of the college bus, and the fact that we both had a free double period first thing on a Wednesday. 

He is the closest real life human being to Ross from Friends I have ever met (hence the alias), and soon became one of my best friends, favourite people and, as it turned out, fierce protector. 

If a boy so much as looked at me (and let's face it, with the bright red streaks in my hair, inexplicably round cheeks, and permanently spotty forehead, I was fighting them off) Rex was there- interviewing them about their intentions with me, visibly sizing them up and then debriefing me on his in-depth opinions on what I should next. (He was never wrong.) 

Which is why I was beside myself last week to meet his very own, two week old daughter. 

She is perfect. 

And it will come as a surprise to nobody that he is wonderful with her. 

He answered the door holding her confidently with one arm; her tiny, content face looking up at him, uncannily like his wife's mum on a teeny scale. 

I watched him for the next couple of hours as he confidently fed, burped, and comforted this tiny person, more relaxed and happy than I have ever seen him before. 

At the time I didn't think anything of it. 

It suited him. 

It seemed right. 

Already I can't remember a time that they didn't have a baby. 

(Although that may be because they've been looking after me for eleven years.) 

But in hindsight I wondered: how does he know what he's doing? 

There's so much in the press, on social media, and in general conversations about how mums deal with having a baby, how wonderful they are and how much you change when you become a mother. 

But what about dads? 

They don't give birth, and they only have a couple of weeks off before they return to work, and the hours between 9 and 5 go back to exactly how they were before. 

But the fact remains that they have also become a parent- their lives have changed forever- and they are going to be faced with new challenges almost every day for the foreseeable future. 

So how do they know what they're doing? 

On the drive home from their house that day, I was struck by the lyrics of Carrie Underwood's song 'The Girl You Think I Am'. 

The first line of the second verse is 'I've been Daddy's little girl since my first cry'. 

This, of course, immediately made me think of Rex calmly comforting his two week old daughter. 

Carrie goes on to sing about how she desperately wants to be the heroine that her father believes she is. 

Both Rex and his wife- Jiminy Cricket- have already described their daughter as strong-willed and wise. 

Which of course, she will be, because she has such wonderful parents. 

Already she is brave and beautiful, already she has turned their lives upside down and brought a new magic to every single day that they could never have predicted. 

What wonderful confidence and self-worth this little person who is already so loved by so many is going to have. 

She's going to want to grow into the superstar that her parents already see. 

I listened to the song again. 

The previous weekend my dad had come over straight from his sixth day at work so that I could do some presentations for him. 

These presentations will have been boring and meaningless to him (he didn't say this- I just know I would have been bored and lost had I been listening in his position). 

I was going to a scary assessment day a few days later and he volunteered to listen to me whittle on about various numbers and targets that would mean nothing to him so that I could go in feeling more confident. 

The night before the assessment I popped in to see him and his girlfriend. He had no doubt that I would get it. 

I had that song in my head the whole time. 

I sang it to myself on the train all the way there. 

As my shaking hands accepted the coffee they presented me with when I arrived. 

As my shakier hands pointed at the various charts and graphs I had created to support my points. 

I want to be the girl you think I am. 

I am confident that if I didn't have parents who have every faith that I can do plenty of things that I'm quite sure that I can't do, I would never be brave enough to try. 

And I can see already that Rex is going to be that person for his child. 

Another friend's husband is already proving to be the same with his one day old son. 

Another friend who is already doing an amazing job of being this person for his one year old son has just found out that he is soon to have another. 

And a fourth friend- causing ridiculous emotion on my part- has had confidence in his children's brilliance for as long as I can remember. And now the first one is due this year. 

Which is why I thought today- my own wonderful dad's birthday, and the weekend that so many of my male friends have become parents in one way or another- would be the perfect time to celebrate how brilliant dads are...

1) Laughter

My Dad is particularly good at laughing at me when I need it most. 

When Dale told me he was going to the toilet and got on the plane without me, leaving me to run to the gate as they called my name over the tannoy at the last minute?  When I accidentally sat in on the wrong funeral? When I drove directly over a roundabout because my driving instructor told me to 'go straight over'? 

None of them were funny until I told my Dad and he laughed hysterically. Suddenly they did seem more funny than mortifying. I mean, I'm not denying that they are mortifying. But the fact that he laughed also made them funny. And less horrendous. 

He also makes me laugh a lot. Inadvertently, most of the time. 

Nothing makes me happier than catching my brothers' eyes when my Dad uses a word in the wrong context, or gets something slightly wrong. (Anyone else's parents fans of the Black Eyed Beans?) 

2) Shared Interests

My brother Mowgli said that his favourite thing about our Dad is the fact that they have so many shared interests. I assume that, by that, Mowgli meant he really appreciates that his Dad brought him up to love football more than life itself. 

Mowgli watches, plays, bets on, talks about, dreams about, decorated every bedroom as a child around, football. And that passion definitely comes from our Dad, who introduced Mowgli to a healthy interest in sport at a very young age. 

But I also feel similarly. One of my favourite things about my Dad is our shared love of chocolate, The Apprentice, Ant and Dec, Christmas, and moaning about how rubbish The X Factor has got as we settle down to watch it for the seventh week in a row. 

3) Inspiration

When I asked one of my best friends whether she had anything to contribute to theme of this blog, she replied simply 'my dad is the best person in the whole world.' 

She then expanded on that by saying that he is creative and kind. When she was pregnant the whole family referred to the bump as 'Steve.' Obviously, they were never going to use that name for the baby, so when she was born, they abandoned Steve, and so her dad made them a fairy door for the garden (something that he does regularly), and wrote 'Steve' on it, because now the baby is here, Steve needs somewhere to live. 

She also commented on how wonderfully positive he stays no matter what's going on. He is always smiling, and that's inspirational to her. 

Me, Mowgli, and Chip are also lucky that our parents happen to be the nicest people in the world, and therefore have had being kind inspired into us. Which leads me to...

4) The Little Things

My Dad would do anything for anyone. He comes from a whole family of selfless people. Both of his parents and both of his sisters would do anything for anyone too, which means that for a long time, Mowgli, Chip and I took this to be the norm. 

It's only as I've got older that I've realised that driving all the way to Coventry and back twice because I had more stuff than I could fit in the car was actually a huge thing to do. That dropping me off to my new job in Portsmouth in 2011 was actually quite a long way out of his way. That allowing me to have a sixteenth and twenty first birthday party at home was actually quite brave. 

A few weeks ago I got all the way into work before I had realised that I didn't have my lunch with me. I had either left it in the car, or at my dad's. My car was parked a bit of a trek away, so I called my Dad to check whether I had left it there before I went all the way back to my car. 

He had it. 

It was fine- the centre I work in is inside a Sainsbury's so I would be able to buy lunch later. 

Forty five minutes later- you've guessed it- my Dad was standing at the front of the centre, waving frantically with one hand and holding my lunch up in the other. 

Chip later told me that he had reminded Dad that I work in a Sainsbury's and told him it would be ridiculous to drive my lunch all the way there, but he had brushed it off and insisted. 

5) Support: no matter what

Almost everyone that I have discussed this with has said that one of the best things about their dad is that despite not always agreeing with them, or thinking what they're doing is right, they always have their dad's support. 

One friend commented that her dad always goes above and beyond to make her happy, even if he can't understand why it would make her happy- the knowledge that it would is enough for him. 

And, of course, the final one that I discussed at length above- belief. Belief that you are going to change the world. Belief that you can do anything you put your mind to. Belief that you are going to take the world by storm.

So I will continue to watch with awe, pride, and gratitude as my friends produce these little superstars, will continue to be grateful every day for my own wonderful Dad, and will continue to work hard at pretending to be as brave, clever, kind, and strong as my parents insist that I am. 

And I will continue, of course, to listen to Carrie Underwood. 

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