By Sally Jenkins
My once-besotted daughter has found herself a new hero …
“Daddy, Mr Walker can ballet dance!” Emily spins on her tiptoes, steadies herself and then stares up at me with shining eyes. “He said so at Circle Time – and he showed us in PE.”
“That’s nice,” I say.
Mr Walker is standing in the classroom doorway checking that the correct responsible adult collects each child. He winks at me and I remember the letter that arrived this morning. Emily gives him a big wave as we turn and head towards the school gate.
Pirouetting in a leotard has never appealed to me. Chasing a ball around a muddy field followed by a pint is my thing – but that’s not the way to my five-year-old daughter’s heart.
It didn’t used to matter. I was always her hero. As Emily grew from a wobbly toddler into a chattering, questioning little person she was a daddy’s girl. I was the one she ran to with a grazed knee or a tummy-ache.
When she swung on my arm and told the old lady next door how she had the best daddy in the world and that he could mend anything from a doll’s pram to the stabilisers on her bike, I would smile with fake modesty.
“Daddy’s cleverer than you!” she told her mum at regular intervals, as I shrugged my shoulders and pretended that it was of no consequence to me that our daughter thought I was the bees knees.
“One day she’ll learn the truth!” Mandy would tease after I’d been chosen to read the bedtime story yet again. “She’ll learn that you’re just an ordinary male with smelly habits and are incapable of doing more than one thing at once.”
“Jealousy gets you nowhere,” was my standard smug reply.
Will this morning’s news upset her?
But the point of denouement came sooner than I expected. It began in September when Emily started school and since then, the pedestal on which I stand has diminished rapidly.
Perhaps this morning’s news will compensate for my lack of ballet skills or will it just upset her?
Mandy and I have agreed that I will retrain for a new career so that Mandy can eventually work part-time.
Mr Walker has two cats!” We are now walking down the road, away from Mr Walker’s lair but still his presence is all around us. “So why have we only got a goldfish?” Emily demands.
“Cats take a lot of looking after and they’d be lonely when we go on holiday.”
“Mr Walker’s cats have a cat-flap and they go in and out of the house by themselves.”
“It sounds as if Mr Walker’s cats are as clever as he is,” I say.
“Don’t be silly, Daddy. No-one is as clever as Mr Walker!”
We continue in silence for a while.
“Why don’t you go to work?” she asks suddenly. “Daddies are supposed to go to work.”
Is my five-year-old daughter accusing me of laziness?
“Mummy and I decided our family would work better if she went to work and I stayed at home to look after you.”
“But Mr Walker looks after me now – so you can go to work.”
I have to learn how to do my new job
I’m about to mention the letter confirming my work placement when she darts off to stroke a cat. I’d been worrying about telling her, thinking she’d be upset about having to attend the after-school club. It seems my worries might be groundless.
“I am going to work,” I say to her when the cat disappears. “But first I have to learn how to do my new job.”
“Mr Walker is very good at making people learn – even the naughty boys who want to play football all the time.”
I ignore the insinuation that I might be one of the naughty boys.
“Actually,” I say, “Mr Walker knows all about my new job.”
“You see!” She is triumphant. “Mr Walker knows everything!”
“I’m going to be a teacher. Next term I’m going to help Mr Walker in the classroom before I go to college for my training.”
Emily’s face is a picture of amazement – and then she suddenly looks aghast.
“But you don’t know how to ballet dance! You have to know for PE.” She grabs my hand. “Quick, let’s get home and I’ll show you.”