All too soon, my daughters will farewell school. I’ll likely be gathered up into the frenzy of leaver’s dinner preparations and all the tizz and fanfare of the valedictory revelry. Ahead of all those shenanigans, I have five and eight years to keep our dad-daughter relationship complete, to steady them lovingly through the teen turmoil and set them safely into adulthood. How hard could it be?

Coffee seems to be the contemporary ritual for chatting over such heady issues. I sat opposite a teacher at my daughter’s school. We were planning a Father’s Day activity. Into the mix of conversation, the teacher related a survey question that is offered to the Year 12 students of the all-girl high school – “Which male was the biggest influence on you through school?”

Steady Presence

Of all the replies over the years, the one answer of “the groundsman” grabbed the teacher’s attention. I’ll call him Joe. The story goes that the girl’s dad skipped out when she was about two. Through her growing up, men were never part of her connections. I suppose she must have wondered about these creatures that were everywhere yet nowhere for her. The only male who cared to ask, “How are you?” or lead with a chipper “Good morning!” was Joe.

I see Joe a fair bit. Quite apparently, he gets things done, because the school grounds are well-kept. Sometimes, you might wonder how. A time-and-motion study could possibly uncover him being slowed up by his habit of stopping to pay genuine attention to people.

“Good morning! You good?”

“How are things in high school?”

For a child who does not have a feeling of place, someone even bothering to ask can spark their sense of being worthwhile. And surely, feeling safe and valued and worthy of being loved is a hearty ideal for our children.

Take the Time

The next morning, I set about mustering my daughters towards school while managing the logistics that go with it. In spite of plenty of practice, our school mornings are typically a bit frenetic.

As our morning rush hit its zenith, Miss 8 sidled up to me. “Daddy, I got this book from the library. Would you like to have a look at it?” In the background, my teen was starting into the buzz that comes with the prospect of being late for catching up with friends and being agitated by, “Where’s my homework book? There’s no milk! My socks are still wet! I don’t have time to make my bed!”

I am on my own, so simultaneously problem-solving and tuning into Miss 8’s book is near impossible. Ironically, the book was the sequel to My Dad Thinks He’s Funny. I spared a glance at the cover and made a fleeting remark on one or two of the quirky animations. But, she stuck around, her wide eyes telling me that she anticipated I would read it through rather than give it a cursory glance.

Something told me that she needed to be reminded that she is worthy… not by being told so, but by being shown. As I turned each page slowly, we simultaneously cringed, then laughed at the atrocious dad jokes. Miss 8 cuddled in tighter. Another page turn, and she snuggled. She crept onto my knee with a new page and an epic joke – “Would you like lamb for dinner? No shanks!” As the last page closed, we were burrowed in closely.

That was a few days ago. Tonight, I rang to check in with Miss 8 and dropped into conversation that I enjoyed slow-cooked lamb shanks for dinner. She told me, “Just like in the book.” People like Joe are dotted everywhere. Their style is the inspirational reminder to stay simple when giving a sense of worth to my daughters in our precious moments of connection.


Photo by Greta Hoffman.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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