Rocking out for my daughter

When a bunch of healthy, well-adjusted adult males gather to belt out a floppy-headed boyband's cheesy song with gusto, there can only be one reason for it: True love.

That's how I found myself among more than 10 fathers who volunteered to perform One Direction's That's What Makes You Beautiful at my elder daughter Faith's primary school during its recent Children's Day celebrations.

It was hard, very hard, on us. Not the performance itself - after all, it's only a mindless pop ditty with all the complexity of bubblegum.

I'm referring to the sacrifice of our manly dignity. Not only did we agree to do the song item, we did it entirely of our own free will.

At neither gunpoint nor under duress, we subjected our ears to the One Direction song, not just once but oh so many times, reminding me of how suspects at Guantanamo Bay were tortured by having heavy metal blasted at them.

Torture, too, was having to submit our mouths to singing the silly cookie-cutter boyband tune.

I had it slightly easier - I played my ukulele, along with a bassist and a guitarist. Woe to the singers, who had to perform hand movements. Super Junior? More like Super Seniors.

Embarrassing? Heck, yeah. But we'd do it all over again for our daughters. This is nothing compared to how we would feel when our kids tell us we embarrass them, which could happen sooner than we think.

We fathers know there may not be many years left in which our fast-maturing girls actually enjoy being with their goofy dads, instead of feeling utter humiliation to be anywhere near us.

Immediately after our performances, most of us were in a contemplative mood.

In our WhatsApp chat group, L posted: "They are only small children for a little while. After that, they will start to spend more time with their friends. This is the only time we have to make a meaningful and lasting impact in their lives."

Everyone else felt the same way. G shared a link to a YouTube video of the 1974 folk song Cat's In The Cradle, a cautionary tale of a neglectful father who is ultimately neglected by his son in the twilight years.

When kids grow up, there are no warning signs. Their birthdays mark only the passing of years - not the maturing of their spirits, not the deepening of their characters, not the stretching of their wings to take flight from all that they think is childish.

It was not so long ago that Faith loved hearing me read to her a popular series of children's books about a dog called Hairy Maclary.

When the play based on these books finally came to Singapore, I naturally bought tickets to it without hesitation.

But Faith refused to watch the show, which took place last week. "It's for babies," she protested. "I liked the books only when I was much younger."

So only Sarah, my younger daughter, went to the play with my wife, and we gave away the other two tickets.

On the bright side, I now enjoy reading to Sarah the shenanigans of Hairy and his friends, such as Hercules Morse and Muffin McLay.

When even Sarah comes to think she has outgrown these books, I would be loath to give them away, for they hold such dear memories for me. Ironically, it is I who don't want to outgrow the books.

It is not just our children's emotional and intellectual growth that catches us unawares; their physical development is also indiscernible to us from day to day.

One day, Sarah can walk under a kitchen countertop; another day, she bumps her head against it. One outing to a playground, she needs me to carry her up, down and across obstacles; the next time we go to the same park, she's doing it all by herself and is all eager to show off her newfound agility to me.

Fortunately, I was around to witness Sarah's playground feats as well as that of Faith, who recently climbed up to the second highest point of the huge spacenet at Pasir Ris Park all by herself.

I remember clearly that on our previous visit to the park some months earlier, she stood nervously on the shaky lowest rope and declined to climb the net at all, even though I said I would climb alongside her to ensure her safety.

Who knew that, two months on, she would much rather not have me by her side as she scaled the net on her own?

I bet most parents didn't know, once upon a time, that it is a privilege, not an imposition, to have your child want or need you regardless of your busy schedule.

At the moment, my two kittens are still, thankfully, in the cradle.

Faith shows no signs of wanting me to stop reading to her every night, even though she can read chapter books independently. While she would often read silently ahead of me as I recited the story aloud, she seems to really enjoy the routine and time spent with me.

And there are quite a few years left before she would feel embarrassed about her dad pretending to be a boyband member.

When she heard one of her classmates singing That's What Makes You Beautiful, she told the girl proudly: "My father was in the performance on Children's Day."

The girl's reply to her is priceless for all the fathers to hear: "Really? I wish my father was in the performance."

andychen@sph.com.sg