I'm good with girls and I know it. And I'm not referring only to those of marriageable age, or those dying to be marriageable again.
I can make sassy seven year olds giggle. I can soothe motormouth grannies. I can make crabby menopausal aunties bubble with chocolaty blitheness. I can even cajole snarky hormonal preteens into talking sense, if only for a nanosecond.
Despite such virtuosity, life has not prepared me for the heartburn a daughter can bring.
Before my wife and I intended to go forth (actually, I went first and she went second) and multiply, we started dreaming of little girls. I hasten to add, in our separate ways.
The missus is susceptible to nightmares that, if transcribed, could land her a plum screenwriting deal with Eli Roth (who, to the uninitiated, is the maker of the grisly Hostel flicks, which you should absolutely not watch after eating tiramisu). Not unexpectedly, she had a few back-to-back nocturnal numbers that nearly reversed her pregnancy.
My dreams, in contrast, were pure Disneyland stuff: Pigtailed, candy-lipped female infants in enormous floral-print diapers riding my back horsey-worsey style and returning paternal affection with compounded interest. I would wake up smiling and reach out to share the love, only to splash my arm in a puddle of cold sweat where not long ago my wife had lain.
Four years ago, my dream came true. Oblivious to the obstetrical panorama of my wife being sewn up, I cradled in my happily trembling hands a medically certified daughter. All those DAVP advertisements glorifying the girl child that Doordarshan had subliminally imprinted in my consciousness came to the fore, inane jingles looping.
During her five-hour labour, my wife came very close to canonising Eli Roth. But one look at our button-eyed, afterbirth-smeared Homo sapiens pup changed her forever. Her bad dreams disappeared (and with them my pipe-dream of a villa on Sunset Boulevard purchased with the spoils of the seventh, eighth and ninth sequels of Hostel).
Worse, I started to have night-time niggles of my own. My dreams are no longer about little girls, but about little boys. These guys are only about eight years old, but they pout like Gucci models and sport tanned washboard abs and tattooed triceps. You said it, Baywatch meets Rugrats. To boot, my daughter appears in a little cameo where her affections are reserved not for me but for those muscled tykes.
"The horror, the horror!"
"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."
Conrad and Poe were prescient but I have no clue if those lines were inspired by their paternal plight - if they did father little girls at all.
Seventeen years later, my daughter will turn eighteen. While that is no calisthenics even for my arithmetically challenged brain, it is enough for me to watch the movements of every young male - be he diapered or tuxedoed - with pathological suspicion.
A verse from Ogden Nash, otherwise a benign poet, has started to whistle in my head like the wind in a scary movie:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
That's cute. But wait, it gets eerie…
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.
Bang on! And speaking of bang, there must be hope beyond that fateful X chromosome I donated during a gonadotropical moment many moons ago.
While my wife is preoccupied with other, more important perils - like watching out for paedophiles - my rudimentary degree in psychology has taught me just enough to condition my little girl against succumbing to the charms of little boys.
Ergo, I have started a Pavlovian experiment. Pointing at little boys on TV, I make animated expressions of disgust. And out in the real world, when little boys try to befriend my daughter, I teach her to roll her eyes at them. When she responds favourably, I reward her with a hug, a kiss and a cookie. All of this is executed with stealth and secrecy so that the wife doesn't think - or find out - that I'm a nut.
Well, at least I try. I draw comfort from the way Nash ends his ditty:
Sand for his spinach I'll gladly bring,
And Tabasco sauce for his teething ring.
Then perhaps he'll struggle through fire and water
To marry somebody else's daughter.
As the father of a daughter, I must be battle-ready at all times. Especially now that my wife is hinting at manufacturing a sibling.
If my X chromosome kicks in again, even Ogden Nash can't help me.
This article originally appeared as a column in M Magazine (http://www.msutras.com/)