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Wired for love

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

I was lying in bed next to my 18-month-old daughter recently, as she stroked my lips with her fingers, drifting off for her afternoon sleep, and it struck me the only other people we share such intimacy with are our lovers.

One of life's sweetest pleasures has to be cradling your partner, staring into his or her eyes, perfectly comfortable in your bubble of delight - and it's as infants most of us first experience this bliss with our mothers, fathers or primary carers.

For that reason, most people probably can't remember those earliest moments of love but there's no denying we spend a large part of our lives grasping to re-live such transcendent connection, acceptance and adoration.

I know that, when I face my daughter, our heads sharing a pillow, the two of us looking into each others' souls, I can't help reflect on the girlfriends I've done exactly the same thing with, chasing a feeling undoubtedly first evoked by my mother.

"I'm wiring you up for love," I think as I watch my little girl and wonder if she'll have a strange predilection for men with beards when she grows older because she seems so taken with my stubble at the moment.

Or maybe she'll be creeped out by men with facial hair? I'm not quite sure how it works - but I do know something's going on that's been happening for hundreds of thousands of years and it's both humbling and thrilling.

Humbling, because, despite our generation's clarion calls of individuality and independence, you realise when you have a child and are swamped by pure love that we're really just superbly wrought machines programmed to reproduce and protect our offspring.

Thrilling, because, even under the weight of millennia of blind instinct and evolution, we still get a choice as to what sort of parent we will be.

What's sobering to me, though, is that, as a father, I may also provide the blueprint for how, why and who my daughter will love.

We've all heard the saying that little girls want a husband just like their daddy, or boys are searching for a replacement mother - but it must work the other way too - where kids are so traumatised or disgusted by their parents they seek the exact opposite of them in their lovers.

Do you know a girl whose father was sensible to a fault, conscientious, perhaps even boring, yet she can't seem to go a month without smooching the most dangerous, unpredictable dude in a crowded bar?

Or perhaps a woman who dates only sensible, conscientious bores because her father was dangerous and unpredictable? Or maybe one who loves footballers because dad was athletic or digs librarians because the old man was a bookish nerd?

I'm buggered if I know how the blueprint is actually drawn, but I do know I want my daughter to at least trust and respect me, and to then take that trust and respect into all her interactions with men.

I was talking to a young Fairfax reporter recently about "the perfect father" and, when I nominated Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, she surprised be by saying: "My dad was like Atticus Finch."

"How?" I said to her and she replied: "He was really interested in everything I did, he listened to me and came to all my hockey matches."

Can it be that easy? I should have asked her if she also dated men like Atticus Finch. Or bikers and drug dealers.

It all makes me wonder if the cliched mistrust fathers have of their daughters' boyfriends is spawned by one uneasy realisation: that it's dad's own virtues and flaws that have helped conjure the pimply creature on his doorstep, asking to take his "little" girl to the movies.

WAIROA SPORTSMEN'S LUNCH

If you live in Sydney and would like to help out the incredible Wairoa School in Bondi, read on. Wairoa School provides educational programs for students with moderate to high support needs. Their programs help students with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, who may also have additional support needs related to autism, physical disabilities and/or sensory disabilities. This Friday, September 30, at noon, there will be a fundraiser and lunch at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi. Tickets are $75. To book email pete@beachroadbondi.com.au or phone Sarah on 9365 45 69. I'll buy you a beer as well.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

0 comment so far

  • loved this!

    Commenter
    *
    Date and time
    September 26, 2011, 1:29PM
    • I think it is that easy. I have great admiration for my father, and I have been considering why that is. All I have come up with so far is that it is about who he is, not what he has achieved.

      Traits my father shares with Atticus Finch - He takes everyone, even children, seriously and considers their views. He has a rock solid moral frame of reference which comes from within himself not from constraints of law or religion. When he disagrees with someone he plays the ball not the man. He has a great sense of humour which is never based on belittling someone or laughing at their misfortune. And like Atticus he never brags about his mastery of the masculine arts, though I am sure he has never shot a gun he could re-wire, re-plumb and re-paint a house in his spare time.

      He has always had high expectations of me, not in terms of what I will achieve but in who I will be. Linked to the checking in topic of last week those expectations are deeply embedded in me and inform my contemplation of myself.

      As an aside I doubt that I ever shared a pillow with him even in the earliest years and we certainly never had afternoon naps together. He worked long hours and apparently mastered the art of sitting me in the crook of his knee to have a bottle so that I didn't get in the way of him reading the paper on the rare occasion he was available to help - hardly the stuff of modern 'bonding' obsession.

      Commenter
      nelly
      Location
      Waiting for the home-time bell.
      Date and time
      September 26, 2011, 1:30PM
      • True true and true,
        I married a man just like my father and the day they first met my Dad bought him a schooner of New with a pink straw in it. My Dad's brew Reschs.
        Both handsome, beautiful charming and amusing men whose lives are ruled by how attractive they feel, and how well they do with the Ladies. (I am assuming Ladies)
        I have vowed to insure my daughter does not marry one like them...but I think it will be an up hill battle.

        Commenter
        Alix
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        September 26, 2011, 2:18PM
        • I have photos of me and my Dad where we do look like we are sharing a very precious moment when I was a very wee thing. I also recall the moment when that intimacy, respect and love changed. It was a statement said in humour that was a barb that stung me to the core and the barbs didn't stop coming from him after that day.

          A friend of mine wondered aloud whether that shift has influenced my choice of partners because my first example of the behaviour of men was lacking in respect and I have no doubt that it has. To what extent I am not sure. Probably instilling in me a lack of trust in the intentions of others (particularly men), a willingness to flee situations rather than negotiate peace and a stubbornness to not let go of or sacrifice what I see as being important.

          Doesn't really matter now. I haven't spoken to him in 15 years and I don't see that changing any time soon.

          Commenter
          M
          Location
          Bedlam
          Date and time
          September 26, 2011, 2:24PM
          • Everything that I try to be for my sons is about what my father wasn't. He admitted (during therapy) that when extremely stressed about his business and work when I was younger; and that he was much more relaxed with my younger brothers than he was with me and my older sister.

            And I reckon my sister married the bloke she did because of him, sought his approval by marrying someone exactly like him.

            Commenter
            slim jim
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            September 26, 2011, 2:24PM
            • I love my dad to bits.
              I think he makes me want to find someone like him in a general way - someone capable, a bit practical, active, able to show love and generous with his time.
              In saying that I don't need someone exactly like him - I don't care if he's a tradie who can fix homes or a guy that can fix computers. maybe he cant fix anything himself but will try or "sort it out" by calling someone who can.
              Think my dad mostly just makes me want to find someone he would get on with and accept as with me. Because the last thing I would want to do is disappoint him or push him away!

              Commenter
              murta703
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              September 26, 2011, 2:43PM
              • When I was growing up there was nobody I respected and loved more than my father. He had a strong sense of social justice and was a good and caring father (like Atticus Finch). He wasn't one to lecture me but he did encourage me to be fair and rational when dealing with people and not to be ruled by prejudice.

                Despite having a good relationship with my father, I made plenty of bad choices in men when I was younger. I understand a father wants to protect his daughter from the wrong kind of men but the fact is, as a young adult, I had to learn my own lessons in life. There is no formula. Kids will make mistakes no matter what kind of parents they have. Having a caring, decent father certainly held me in good stead though.

                Commenter
                Elizabeth
                Date and time
                September 26, 2011, 2:51PM
                • There is much of truth in this when i think of the women in my life and their relationship with their father. My father is a total contradiction - very traditional, studious and narrow minded in some respects and very witty, intelligent and free thinking in others - love him or hate him he is truly one of a kind.

                  I have never been even close to marriage and neither has my sister - we are both well over 30. This could be because my father set such a strong impression of a male role model with his unique ideas and temperament that no-one else even like him exists.

                  'Then again, maybe we're just too ugly to get married, or closet lesbians.

                  Analyse that!

                  Commenter
                  ali-bye
                  Date and time
                  September 26, 2011, 3:52PM
                  • Having a father set you up with such high standards can be really hard – I know I have compared every guy I meet to my Dad – not only because I think he rocks, but also because I think he and my mother have a wonderful relationship – one I can aspire too.
                    It was also really important in my 20s to realise that no one is perfect, and no relationships are perfect.

                    Commenter
                    katea
                    Location
                    sydney
                    Date and time
                    September 26, 2011, 3:59PM
                    • There's nothing quite like the love of a father for a daughter. It's one of the purest sweetest things imaginable.

                      I am fortunate enough to have a father who doted on his two daughters and treated his wife like a Queen. My fathers' life has basically revolved around caring for his mother, then looking after my mother and then us 2 girls. He has always defined his role in life as being a good husband, provider and father (which he is).

                      He has amazing morals and values and is great with people. I learned a lot of my people skills from watching him. He's a bit of a master at it and has always been a charmer.

                      In some ways I do perhaps look for similar qualities in men. I would love to be cared for the way my father cared for my mother (that is a sight to behold). Also, he always does what he says he's going to do.

                      I've never been interested in anyone who I perceive as 'dangerous' or a bad boy. I realise I need someone stable, reliable, honest and trustworthy. Or else I will go insane. But because of my father's charm I also look for someone with a sense of humour that I can muck about with too.

                      Damn.

                      Big hooray for all the awesome Dads out there. You make a huge difference to your kids lives :)

                      Commenter
                      Dramatique
                      Date and time
                      September 26, 2011, 4:05PM

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