Dad tales: 'My wife and I are competing for our daughter's affection'

Laurence Mackin would do anything for a hug from his daughter. The trouble is that his wife would too. 


My child is not a hugger and my wife and I are becoming more competitive and devious about how we wring hugs out of her.

There are children in this world who can easily be classed as huggers. My child is not among them.

She is a little ball of sunshine most times, and, like many children, it’s a fairly simple routine to get her to crack a smile. While cruising 'round the neighbourhood, she’ll wave at anyone on the street, firing out “Hiyas” like little friendly bullets, with the confidence of someone who knows everyone’s business.

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When I was young and growing up in the countryside, getting anywhere took an age as my father would have to stop-and-chat with everyone he met (one afternoon in the Irish countryside would give Larry David an aneurysm). Now I am old and in Dublin, getting anywhere takes an age as my daughter attempts to stop every person on the street, with an outstretched hand and a tiny roar of a greeting.

There is no shortage of friendliness there. And strangers don’t have to work hard to get a decent reception. (I also don’t think there is any lack of charm and am on the record as saying she is the cutest baby in the world. This is currently a matter of some dispute before the courts, but I’m confident our position will be vindicated in the face of opposition from some people who for legal reasons I can’t name, but who are known to have frankly inferior babies.)

I have seen people lie on a sofa, say, and watch a film with their toddlers in their arms. I wonder what that feels like.

But when it comes to physical affection, or indeed staying still, she is not one of life’s touchy feelers. You can just about get her to sit down and read a book, but it will be on her own terms and the three acts better be wrapped in 30 seconds. Also, do not expect pages to be read sequentially: why do all of your narratives have to be so linear, idiot tall human?

I have seen people lie on a sofa, say, and watch a film with their toddlers in their arms. I wonder what that feels like.

If my daughter wants something, she’ll obviously point towards it. So in order to get an accidental hug, I’ve taken to putting things she wants behind me, in sight but over the shoulder. Out comes the arm, and I can sneak a cuddle in before she’s realised what’s happened. Sometimes she’ll charge off in the direction of some new temptation – a just remembered toy, a raging fireplace, a busy road – and if you slide down at speed, just while her momentum is building, you can get a good two-second embrace in, while she still thinks she is moving.

Like two grizzled panhandlers, we scrabble for the gold of affection in the shallows of our daughter’s indifference.

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My wife and I are becoming more competitive and devious about how we wring hugs out of her. Like two grizzled panhandlers, we scrabble for the gold of affection in the shallows of our daughter’s indifference.

Just this week, I was putting my daughter to bed, and as I lowered her towards the cot she stretched out at most a finger in the direction of my hovering wife. With the recklessness of a formula one driver coming too fast to a corner, she spotted an opening that didn’t exist. She gave me a light forearm smash to the throat in order to wriggle into a hug while my daughter was mid-cot descent. “Worth it,” was her verdict during the choked stewards’ inquiry.

In recent months, though, I made a startling discovery which I told my wife nothing about. Most mornings I give our daughter her first bottle, and the moments after are when she is usually most content. Still sleepy and bottle drunk, her emotional guards are lowered. And rather than set immediately to the baby business of the day – climbing this large, pointy thing; emptying this bag of all its valuables; pulling these things in glass jars off this shelf – she’ll turn around and give you a full, proper hug, sometimes even accompanied by little paddle slaps on the back.

Everything was going brilliantly — and secretly — until last week, when I went abroad without the family for a few days. My wife was left in charge, but I was sure my only daughter wouldn’t betray our little moment by sharing it.

After my few days away, I barreled in the door on Saturday evening, dumping the bags en route, delighted to see the family after a short burst of freedom.

“Daddy,” shouted my daughter with what suddenly sounded like an accent.

“The morning hugs are mine,” said my wife, from behind her glass of gin.

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Parenting tip no 9

I believe it was Moses who, on his return from the mountain after his little break, declared in his famous 11th commandment: “If thou go away without a child, thou shalt bring them back a gift. Behold, little Gershom – a stuffed Mount Sinai moose.” The thing is, children are adorable idiots, and little gifts are a nightmare to find and soak up valuable time when you could be drinking, guilt-free. So instead, order a few gifts before your trip and stash them in a hard-to-reach cupboard. And then when needed, sneak them into your suitcase as if they are box-fresh from the duty-free. It’s what Moses would have wanted.

Photo: Unsplash 

Read more: 'We tried to curb the amount of toys our daughter got for Christmas. We failed miserably'

Read more: I have immense admiration, nay an almost religious awe, for parents who take young children abroad

Read more: Can parents squeeze in a swift pint with a smallie in tow?

 

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