When I became a father of girls, two things happened.
Firstly, half the population laughed and rubbed their hands together, chortling that I'd get my just desserts for how I'd treated their people as a single man. When I didn't understand this at all, I asked my wife for an explanation. When I didn't understand that either, I did what we men often do. I dropped it and moved on.
The other thing was I had to decide what approach I'd take to parenting. It seemed a simple choice between two sets of values. At one extreme was "Victorian". Way down at the other end was "Edwardian".
In time, though, I opted for "groovy". I realised as the girls grew up there'd be no use fighting what the heart wanted and nature demanded. I decreed the two of them could start dating as soon as they were 30.
But Valentine's is here and I'm reeling in shock. Our daughter is only eight, but already the heart-tingling idea of love has reared its ugly head. It's only the third grade, but boyfriends and girlfriends are all the rage. In the wonderfully transparent style of that age group, the targets of "crushes" have not only been firmly decided, but formally and publicly announced.
I felt I had to step in and say something. It baffled our girls a bit, but I explained that when we grow up we usually attach ourselves to just one person.
I didn't start with girlfriends until the ripe-old age of 10. And, contrary to a wealth of public evidence, I treated women very sensitively indeed in the years before I married. And then I stopped.
No. You know what I mean.
It all started at a grade five school camp, where everyone acquired a girl/boyfriend as a grown-up thing to do while away from our parents, and with all the grace of piranhas on a carcass.
My best friend was a girl, Kerryn Johnstone. It seemed we were sat next to each other every year. I figured this was fate, that our hearts should beat as one, and that we should soar together like swans. Or maybe lobsters. It wasn't until years later I fully understood. We were sat together because of alphabetical order.
Kerryn and I decided we should naturally become boyfriend and girlfriend, or "go with each other", in the language of the time. The result, of course, was the immediate cessation of all contact. We could no longer be seen within 50 meters of each other for fear of being teased. Being romantically involved was exactly the same as locking restraining orders on each other. This went on for several weeks. It was a huge relief that our relationship finally got back on track when, also in the language of the time, I "dropped" her.
Leanne Miller was next. She'd asked me to go with her four times before I acquiesced, telling her softly that it was her "reward" for having "guts". After a few weeks of more no-contact, I knew this one had also run its course. I respected her, however, and felt it needed to be ended nicely. So I asked my mate Eddie Foster to do it.
Eddie rose to the task without a moment's hesitation. In hindsight, I wish he had hesitated, because at that moment we were a good 30 metres from our class line-up when he screamed: "Hey, Miller! You're DROPPED!", and the poor girl shrank while everyone laughed, etc etc.
In turn, I had my own heart broken a few weeks later by Sonia Favero. I loved her so, and had fantasies about her. Being 10, these consisted mostly of me picturing myself taking out the bins, without even complaining about it, at the home we would share as adults. But that ended abruptly when Sonia done me wrong with an unforgivable act of betrayal. She had her hair cut short.
Nowadays, though, even the third graders are into it. But as lunch with my daughter and her friends revealed, even at that age love is a battlefield.
One girl had been convinced a particular boy was her soul mate, and that they should be together "4 eva". But then she'd made a shocking discovery. "Was he seen with another girl?" I asked. No. Far worse. He was seen wiping his nose on his sleeve.
Another girl had even been asked out by a boy on a date! I asked what a "date" could possibly mean at that age, and was told that -- "D'uh" -- it meant a trip to the movies. This seemed very grown up, but still the plan was scuppered by a problem fairly common to the eight-year-old.
"He hasn't got any money," the friend told me. "So he said he couldn't buy me popcorn. I'm not buying my own!"
Another girl was similarly dismissive of my daughter's crush.
"He's too short," she huffed.
"What do you expect?" I said. "He's eight!"
She was unmoved.
This girl was even able to inform the group what sex is, owing to the fact she possessed the most useful of things from the other side: a big brother.
"Well, the man lies on his back and the woman gets on top of him," she said, as this dad wondered what kind of kinky films this brother was into.
"And then," she continued, assuredly, "the man puts his penis in the woman's vagina."
"And then?" I asked. "WHAT HAPPENS THEN??"
"Well ... he stays there for about an hour, and then he takes it out."
Everyone gasped. I was one of them.
An hour?! Bloody hell, I thought. Don't these people have anything better to do? Who is this bloke? Sting?
Thankfully, for my wife was there, the big brother's credibility was soon shot to ribbons by another revelation. It's a fair bet he's the only person alive who knows what sex is -- give or take 58 minutes --whilst still believing in Santa.
Then again, they're learning early these days.Suggest a correction