Last night, some scratchy static in my dad subconscious alerted me to go about being a dad with extra care and gentleness. Most parents know of our children’s delicate talent for beckoning us to attention with tantrums, yelled commands and rushing tears. Other times, there is no trumpet that alerts a parent to go softly.

I know that the parenting cues can be miniscule. You are forgiven for missing them, and I am still a long way off being qualified to spot them. I am still learning to hear the warning nano-second of silence that would typically be occupied by the whooping carry-on of my daughters.

I am still not attuned to the near-invisible flicker of broken eye contact, which is sometimes my daughter’s only technique to communicate the drama-heavy fallout of two friends during a school ground spat. My dad intuition is given random training drills to discern when going off to the sofa to read means, “Please Dad, I need a hug” or “Don’t be weird, Dad, I am just stretching out on the sofa to read.”

Without my children alongside every day, I miss the Olympic-level training regime needed to perceive their microscopic cues that could alert me to parent with extra doses of care and kindness. Yet, somewhere in the grand design of the squillions of bits and pieces that make me up to be a loving dad, it might just have been one solitary cell that made enough noise to trigger some extra care last night.

Whatever it was, I wasn’t especially conscious of it.

Over Dinner

My daughters and I were face to face again after six days sans hugs. I know that those first moments back-together-again can be a bit tentative for single parents as we meld our way back to one another. In the swarm of simultaneous sameness of school uniforms, I can instantly spot my Miss 8. I am on her school ground turf. Her environment of peers has its own etiquette which — although unwritten — decrees that a run-up hug from dad is uncool. Miss 12 wasn’t far behind. The resumed togetherness was soft and blissful.

Yet, somewhere in the bliss was an intuitive tip-off to apply the best of my dad skills. I set the dinner table deliberately. Most often, placemats are skipped over, lest they intrude too much into the time we need for homework and hugs and the routine of unwinding after school. I set our knives, forks and spoons with the precision of anticipating royalty. I lit a candle.

Miss 8 and Miss 12 took their seat to place their orders: “Please, Dad, could I have my vegetables in a separate bowl?” (Apparently, there is nothing to be gained by fusing the delicious flavours of hearty beef casserole and dumplings with the flavour of steamed broccoli and cauliflower.) A maître d’ wouldn’t typically dine alongside my two esteemed customers, but my dad-ness trumps any other restaurant convention.

We sat and held hands for a moment. I gave thanks for the flavours and smells of our meal. I gave thanks that we get to eat while so many suffer with constant pangs of hunger. I said thank you that I have been entrusted to parent two immensely precious girls. I realise in hindsight that I was able to craft a setting that allowed my girls to be told they are precious, and I believe that they saw it in the extra touches of care.

Then, we ate. We chatted and smiled. And, without warning, there was a gush of tears. Through the upset, I listened to my daughter’s version of a group assignment which had stirred an emotive misunderstanding. Friendships had been dented.

Our dinner table setting transmogrified from being a functional piece of furniture into a safe haven for caring conversation. The sturdy timber of our table was now a soft centre-point for the upset of school to dissipate and convert back to smiles.

One day later, the processing bit of my brain still can’t explain why I made an extra effort to set our dining table so delicately.

I trust that I cast an unspoken signal to my daughters that I love them wholeheartedly. I want them to be shown they are greatly valued, and I will always care for them. I take the lesson to keep demonstrating that our family is a safe place for all the bits of us that make us fearsome.

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Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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