I’m a big guy. I’m six feet tall. I weigh around a hundred kilos. I have broad shoulders, a heavy manly beard, and I know 17 ways to kill a man with my bare hands – and four ways to do it with a rolled-up magazine. But all of it pales away to nothing when my 20kg four-year-old daughter juts out her jaw, looks me in the eye and decides to go to war.
She seems somehow in these moments of stubborn defiance to suck in the light. The room grows quietly darker and the air becomes thin and sour in my lungs. What begins with the firm and confident jaw-jut (inherited from her mother) will end in tears (daughter’s and daddy’s) about two or three hours later. The ensuing time will be filled with threats, shouts, wails, pointed fingers, stomped feet, the odd smack, some stuff thrown around the house, a host of punishments and the most ingenious emotional and strategic manipulation known to man. By the end of the war, no winner is evident. All combatants are exhausted and usually end up on opposite sides of the house or cradled in each other’s arms.
I am smart. Whip-smart at times, oft savvy, sometimes even cunning. But I am out-thunk every time by my tiny, obstinate girl-child. After the oorlog, as we hunker down in our respective trenches, hardly daring to poke our heads above the lip of the lee of the embankment that shields us from each other’s ire, I am torn between despair (that there seems no end in sight to these daily battles), shame (in hindsightical review of all the ways in which I failed my daughter by losing my temper), rage (at the simple, beautiful, bull-headed, bottomless, head-butting stubbornness that bubbles out of her like glutinous semi-molten tar from an ageless muck-pit), and glowing pride (at my sproglet’s sheer, primitive, perfect combative charm and effortless cunning.)
What’s worse is that my daughter fights alone, standing her ground armed with nothing but her fierce determination to be seen and heard and recognised. Me? Someone’s got my back. I can tag out, take a break, plead injury and hobble off the field to rest and recuperate. I have The Wife. Without her I’d have been long lost. And yet, even together, we have met our match.
World War I was started by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. World War II began with the invasion of a sovereign nation by a maniac and his goose-stepping minions on 1 September 1939. What similar geo-political cataclysms begin my wars? Hair brushing is a big one. Bath-time has caused much spilling of metaphorical blood and less metaphorical tears. The eating of supper, the turning off of the TV, the insistence that little girls need to go to sleep whilst adults frolic and cavort into the wee hours of the night… All, and more, of these small acts of sanity and simple life can light the fuse that ignites the bomb that will wreak mayhem and devastation on our quiet suburban home. And hair-washing? Let’s not talk about hair-washing. My post-traumatic-stress is not post enough yet… [as he types, an insistent tick appears in his left eyelid, his palms become sweaty and his tongue becomes dry and swollen].
So what’s the moral of the story? What’s the lesson? What’s the point? I have no idea. To share, maybe? To let you know, if you’re at war in your home like I am in mine, that you’re not alone. That we’re not the first, and won’t be the last, to have spawned fierce creatures. That this too shall pass. That at the other end we’ll have beautiful, confident, tough-as-nails children who’ll know their own minds and have no fear of the world – be it ever so cruel and hard. That perhaps we’re lucky.
I’ve seen the other kind. The meek children. The soft ones. The scaredy-cats. And while I’m hollowed out with envy for their pliancy, I’d not swap mine in a million years. Would you?