My daughter is on her way to Turkey as I write. Only for a holiday with a friend and her family. At fourteen she is nervous but excited. I am just nervous. And a little sad I suppose. Obviously I want her to have a great time but I also know it marks the beginning of the cutting of that emotional umbilical cord. In four years time, all being well I guess, she will be off to University. And then she will, if everything goes right, and globalisation hasn’t reduced us all to indentured labourers, be pursuing her own life and career.
Part of me still wants it to be one of those seemingly always sunny, summer Sundays, back in 2004 or so when I used to take her out to the park in Chepstow and push her on the swings, bounce on the seesaw until my thighs quivered and then take her to the little shop by the castle for an ice cream. Then it would be a walk back up the hill to the car with her on my shoulders, her shouting; ‘run faster Daddy’.
But of course I would be desperately sad if we were really stuck there. Much of the joy is being part of the change and development of your child, wondering how they will turn out, what sort of character they will have, which traits will become dominant and which will be a branch line never pursued.
I have no problems with how my daughter has turned out. Of course my judgement is probably a little clouded, but I think she is marvellous. I remember the first time her mother went away for a weekend conference and left me in charge. I can remember suddenly being absolutely terrified. I had never been left alone in charge of a child before. It all suddenly seemed so serious. The nearest relative would be hundreds of miles away, many over water and accessible only by air or sea. What if the poor mite, about 2 and a half at the time, wanted her mother and was inconsolable by a hairy lump like me?
After the first hour pottering about the house, we took the high road for Raglan Castle. As we played in the grounds and she chattered away about Jeremy Fisher and the lily pads that covered the moat, I realised that not only did I love my daughter as I had from the moment she appeared in the world, but I liked her as a person. That she was fun to be with. That I enjoyed talking to and listening to this person who suddenly seemed so much more than simply a responsibility on legs. I know I had and still have a residual function as an authority figure, mentor and guide but I can’t help feeling that as she moves into her own milieu, one of the best friends I have ever had is beginning a journey that will distance her from me. And oddly, just as I made that discovery in Raglan Castle grounds, I am beginning to realise that is exactly what she needs and I want.
Yes, that selfish bit inside me wants her to stay 4 years old forever. But more than that I am excited to know how my friend will go on to enjoy her life without me hanging over her shoulder going: ‘I wouldn’t do it like that love.’