Wired for love

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.

Is it a dad's own virtues and flaws that help conjure the pimply creature on his doorstep, asking to take his 'little' girl to the movies?

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.


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.