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Turn Off The Sun, Daddy
Paul Zach
7 July 2003, The Straits Times


One morning earlier this year, my son woke up in what he would call a 'grumpy' mood.

Sean was 3 years old at the time, and had just started pre-school. The concept that he had to get out of bed at 7.30am to get to school by 8.30am had no meaning for him.

I snapped on the bedroom light. He snapped up. 'Turn off the sun! I can't open my eyes!' he cried, his eyes squeezed tight for dramatic effect.

Then, in a move straight out of the Marlon Brando school of method acting, he snapped his body back towards the pillow - and the hard wall behind him.

My heart skipped several beats at once. Fortunately, his head only grazed the wall.

That didn't matter to Sean. He played the moment for all it was worth.

'I want you to move the wall, Daddy!' he wailed. 'It's too close!'

Suddenly, I was a little envious.

One of the joys of being a father, especially for someone who has worked with words almost every day for some 40 years, has been listening to my little boy learn to use them.

Without years of reading, writing, and grammar classes to inhibit him, he blurts out one colourful expression after another.

I only wish I could dip into the same font of creativity as easily as Sean does every time he opens his mouth every time I sit down to write and face a blank screen.

Take the afternoon about a month ago when he walked into the kitchen and saw the top of the rice cooker bubbling away.

'Mummy, look. It's dancing,' he said, describing what it was doing with a much more original word than my 'bubbling'.

Then there was the time he had diarrhoea. While sitting on his Sesame Street toilet seat, he looked between his legs and with a bemused look on his face came up with a uninhibitedly accurate description of what appeared to be happening.

'I pooped pee,' he said.

There are many times Sean suddenly lets loose with long, off-the-wall monologues, not just short sentences, too.

Early in May, still three months short of his fourth birthday, he suddenly told me: 'Mummy and you have to get married again because you have to have a baby girl and a baby boy so I can feed them baby food.

'And they'll crawl round and round and then I'll rub them and put them by my bed so they don't run away, and they grow big and can all play with me.'

Now my wife and I had been discussing the possibility of trying for a sibling for Sean, but we had no idea that he had already worked out a role for himself in the process.

I was even more amazed about a week later when he called me to remind me that he wanted a brother or sister, then went on to explain how it was done.

'The guy puts the baby in Mummy's belly and the doctor takes it out,' he said. 'Then we can take him home.'

How someone so young came up with such a good grasp of a mystery I didn't figure out until I was around 14 years old, I have no idea.

Another delight of fatherhood is experiencing a child discovering his imagination; it's much more rewarding than reading a boring Booker Prize novel.

The other day when Sean had not quite finished his drink I asked him: 'Sean, are you going to finish your Ribena?'

He looked at me and, with a cheeky smile, said: 'No, Daddy. This is wine. I'm drinking red wine.'

On Monday, he carried a box game upstairs and pointed to what had been his bedroom. 'This is Dr Seuss' City, Daddy. We play games inside. Come inside and play Dr Seuss' game with me.'

While most of what Sean says brings wide smiles to the faces of my wife and I, other things turn us into mush.

On one occasion when we were late for something and my wife was still in the bedroom and I was threatening to leave by myself, Sean, from the top of the stairs, said: 'Your heart wants to wait for Mummy, Daddy.'

No poet could have put it better.

Just what we had been missing during the long years we were not parents suddenly became movingly apparent to us.

There's something else that Sean has been saying now several times a day for more than a year that never fails to make my day.

As I work nights, it is especially touching on the rare occasions I am around to tuck him in at bed-time.

He looks up into my eyes and says with total conviction: 'Good night, Daddy. I love you.'



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