A widowed father on the life lessons learned by raising 3 girls

9 Sep


21 August 2015, Mamamia

A widowed father on the life lessons learned by raising 3 girls

When Joseph Wakim’s wife died of breast cancer in 2003, his three daughters were 11, 9 and 4 years old. Despite well-meaning friends, family and even strangers telling him he would need help to bring up his daughters, Joseph followed his heart and did the job his way, trusting that he – and the girls – would know what to do. In this exquisite extract from his memoir What My Daughters Taught Me he describes the precious life lessons they taught him along the way.

In my mind’s eye, I lifted the sledgehammer and swung it over my shoulder. It was time to smash the rusty shackles that had tied my feet for so long to prescribed gender roles. They held me back from the intuition mothers exuded when they entered a room. Without a word spoken, mothers effortlessly read a room, gauging its temperature, scanning their children’s faces and measuring their heartbeats.

They glanced at the gap between a child’s lips and realised that child was seething. They watched the chest rising and falling, how fast and how deeply, and realised that a sibling tiff had just finished. They noticed if there was no eye contact between the siblings and how slowly they blinked. They saw one vertical line on a brow and realised that a child was worried. They sensed discomfort by how the children crossed their legs.

This was the language of love, a language that should not be the monopoly of mothers. It is a language that we men can reclaim and relearn, as it lies dormant within us, waiting to be brought back to life. I was sure that whoever gave women this gift would not have bypassed fathers, in case they ended up like me.

My fellow man and I were not predestined to enter our family home as dopes. Our intuition antennas are inbuilt and just need to be raised. All we need is to learn how to turn on the switch.

This is not getting in touch with our feminine side. This is getting in touch with our inner self. We are not shackled to Banni Adam, but have always been part of Banni Hawa (the children of Eve). It is odd that we fathers see ourselves as men-tors to our daughters. I was so hardwired that I spent years thinking it was me doing the teaching, but in fact it was often the reverse, just as Michelle had intimated.

My daughters stretched my imagination to straddle not only traditional gender boundaries but also generational boundaries. They gave me permission not to act my age. They gave me permission to be childish and not to suppress our ageless yearning for play and story-telling. This is not getting in touch with our inner child, it is getting in touch with our inner self.

We men miss out on so much if we remain shackled in the prison of traditional gender roles. I have discovered all this by circumstance and by accident, but other men can discover it by choice and live a richer life. It does not mean becoming less complimentary to one’s spouse. It means sharing more and being more of a well-rounded role model for one’s children. Sure, I could have outsourced the traditional women’s work to a paid maid from the start, but this would have been skirting the real challenge. ‘In-sourcing’ within myself not only completed my family, but completed me. Freed from my shackles, I could now spread my wings and emancipate myself.

It was time for a mishwar to celebrate . . . everything. My three ladies fought over the mirror in their bathroom. Yes, even a trip to a restaurant was a special occasion. I grabbed the keys and yelled, ‘I thought you were “flawless”!’

As the chorus yelled back, I bolted out the door and waited on the front lawn.

When they emerged and strutted onto the ‘green carpet’, I asked, ‘Where am I driving you?’

‘Who said you’re driving?’ asked Michelle.

‘I’m driving,’ offered Joy.

‘You’re on your Ls!’ replied Grace.

‘So what, I need to learn, don’t I? That’s why they’re called Ls!’

While they were debating, I sat in the driver’s seat and started the car. They fought for the front passenger seat and Grace won. I crossed myself and reversed the car out of our driveway, looking in the rear-view mirror. I saw my past. I saw my children. I saw myself. Was the man in the mirror their driver, their mentor, their teacher? So I once thought, before my emancipation. Now I knew they were mine.

This is an extract from What My Daughters Taught Me by Joseph Wakim, published by Allen and Unwin, .



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