Last night, Mary and I, together with friends, old and new, celebrated our daughter Cassandra’s twenty-first birthday.
Had the organisation been left to me, I would have chosen the Bug-A-Lugs play centre in Kyneton. We could have sat around listening to the Wiggles and Hi-5, sipped milkshakes, eaten lots of iced donuts and reminisced about those glory days when we were heroes to our kids and not just some bunch of old farts sitting in a corner with our ear trumpets and blankets over our knees.
But it was not to be. For reasons that will become apparent if you take the trouble to read on, the organisation of the event was left entirely in Cassandra’s hands.
She chose a little place on Sydney Road, Brunswick, whose internal architecture and floor plan was a blend of Shanghai Opium Den and Fire Trap Chic. Horror movie posters adorned the wall: King Kong (the original of course), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (in French) and a movie called ZAAT, whose snappy tagline read: ‘It would take an Atom Bomb to wipe out the walking catfish’ – this latter, no doubt inspired by the European Carp infestation, that has proven so popular in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Everyone had a great time. Even me. And that’s remarkable because I have the attention span of a two-year-old and I’m usually pretty keen to get home. It probably helped that the place was full of nice people and I discovered that calamari is not, as I had always supposed, surplus WWII automotive accessories dipped in batter, but is in fact the invention of a culinary genius. It also helped that I was there to celebrate the birthday of the young woman who was, remarkably, born on my very first Father’s Day – a day when my emotional range expanded by an order of magnitude, and a day that would remain unequalled until exactly two years, two months, two weeks and four days later, when her brother first made his appearance.
It was expected that Cassandra’s friend and housemate, Evangeline, and I would make speeches at the party but circumstances didn’t permit. I hope to get a copy of Evangeline’s speech and either add it here or else provide a link. In the meantime, here is what I had intended to say. Some of it may not be true, but the last half of the last paragraph is incontestable:
Some of you may not know this, but Cassandra was adopted. She was the firstborn daughter of minor European royalty, but was kidnapped at birth by a band of gypsies, spirited away from the land of her birth and smuggled out to the great south land. And it is here that her story takes a turn that is almost hard to believe, for she was abandoned on our doorstep, along with a used coffee cup and a half-eaten packet of Tim-Tams.
It was a cruel fate that befell the young princess, but she has shrugged off the injustice and borne herself with a dignity and grace worthy of her royal heritage. Her adoptive family: Mary, Tom and I, have thrived under her wise and benevolent rule. True, she dispenses tough love and, when angered, her wrath is swift and terrible to behold. But when we please her, a smile, a kind word, a loving glance, bring tears of joy to our little faces.
From an early age, Cassandra, who, unlike many of her fellow royals, possesses both a brain and a work ethic, decided that an endless round of garden parties, of opening fetes, bestowing knighthoods and entertaining foreign dignitaries, was not for her. She needed a real job. Over the years, she thought about real estate (very briefly), considered opening a night club, and flirted with the idea of a legal career. It would seem that, whatever her final choice, it will involve some form of communication. She is a great communicator. She uttered her first complete sentence at the age of 19 months and apart from occasionally pausing to draw breath, she’s been at it pretty much ever since. None of us are ever in any doubt as to what she thinks. Because she’ll tell us.
An early example of this forthrightness occurred when she was around three years of age. I had taken her to the nearby town of Kyneton and as we walked along the street we encountered a couple of young urchins, playing in the gutter. Cassandra glanced across, saw them, did a double take and stared in disbelief. She was scandalised. She pointed at them and wagged her finger. “You…you naughty people. You cheeky people.” The young urchins stared open-mouthed. Clearly they had never been spoken to like that before and certainly not by some irate imperial midget. But Cassandra, satisfied that she had exercised her royal prerogative, turned and continued on her way.
And she’s been continuing on her own way ever since, with hardly a mis-step, though one rare example does spring to mind. Once, when she was around four years old, she had her friend Stephanie over for a visit and they were playing together with Cassandra’s brother, Tom. The three of them were playing dress ups and all seemed to be going well when suddenly Cassandra came to me, sobbing as though her heart would break. I put my arm around her. “What’s the matter sweetheart?” “Oh Daddy, Stephanie won’t let me marry Tom.” And it was at this point that I began to think that perhaps Cassandra was a member of the royal family after all.
It’s natural for a parent to worry about their children. We worry about them being struck by lightning or a stray meteorite or succumbing to bubonic plague, but other than these very real existential threats, I don’t worry about Cassandra at all. She has the capacity to thrive in any environment.
She once observed that my parenting style has been minimalist, but I would argue that she has flourished under my masterful neglect. And in one area I have exceeded my parental brief, and that has been in my determination to embarrass her in public, whenever the opportunity presents itself. I regard it as a sacred duty – in fact, it’s not even a duty; it’s more of a pleasure. And it’s one I intend to avail myself of as long as I have the strength and the wit to do so.
There have been times, I confess, when I have wondered whether Cassandra is not in fact the royal changeling she once thought herself to be. Like any parent, I see in my child things that seem to transcend the separate entities that made her. Perhaps she is channelling some long forgotten ancestor. Or perhaps the gypsies worked some weird sleight of hand, when they left her on our doorstep. More likely it is a magic that is entirely her own. She is smarter, more talented, more generous, more beautiful and far wiser than we had any right to hope for. And though I may no longer be the king of her heart, she will always be the princess of mine. Happy Birthday Cassandra. Lots of love, from Dad.