Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties, Shawn Theunissen reflects on the kind of dad he’s proud to have become to his three girls (soon to be four).

Being the father of three girls (aged seven, four, and two) and another one on the way is almost always a literal picnic. A pink blanket is spread out on the floor with pink cups and saucers and hand-picked flowers raided from the garden. I am served all sorts of make-believe drinks and magical mud cakes, half-eaten bread or sticky sweets coated in sand, doll hair or whatever they landed on last. I am either Daddy, Prince Charming, a king, or a bear from some place of the imagination where everything is made of sparkly tulle and where everything is purple or the everlasting pink. It is here where I catch a glimpse of the princess heart in each of my girls. In it she is the special crowned one who goes on adventures that always end with true love’s kiss.

Imaginative beauties

Some argue that this is the deep impression that cartoons and fairy tales have left on our girls. I think not. Instead I tend to believe that cartoons and fairy tales are based on the innate ability of each girl to feel, see and experience the beauty in the world – even if only in her imagination. This is evident in my two=year-old, who can put anything on her head – from a small pot to a tangled wig or broken tiara – and twirl in front of the mirror, dancing to her own song. As a man, I’ve never known this enchanted world. Don’t get me wrong, not everything is a poof of pink, trailing the passage in the form of plastic high heels, scarves and teddy bears. My girls wrestle me and each other to the ground every day and climb the furniture as if they were creatures from another world.If anything, this speaks to the versatility of women: the soft, beautiful princess who holds her ground in battle.

Volatile emotions

They are intuitive with bursting emotion in its infancy. They have no control over these feelings nor have they learnt them from some source. I know this when my four-year-old runs crying to her room because someone has spoken “ugly to her and hurt her heart”.  I often find these complex emotions hard to comprehend – the tears, the fears, the intuition. Perhaps it’s because boys are reared to put emotions aside or are simply wired differently. I will never know.

Being Dad

All I do know is that my girls draw out of me a side that I never knew existed. This side of me seems to come so naturally to their mother. They have unlocked a nurturer to meet their own needs. I am the dad who speaks words gently when they need to feel loved. I hug them tightly, not because I need to (and every parenting manual says you should), but because I want to – because that’s who they have made me become. I speak firmly when I discipline them, even though it brings a shower of tears. In the midst of it though, I make sure that they understand that I love them – by telling them so. I hope to give them a strong sense of security where they feel safe and cherished, not rejected and loved only on certain conditions.

Raising individuals

Each one of my girls is their own person. I didn’t know this until the second and third ones came. All of them experience their feelings deeply, but each one experiences and lives out their emotions differently. I recognise their individuality and now see that for each one of them to blossom, giving them individual attention is my job. I try to tune into each of their needs in a way that I think they’ll understand. Each one is unique and so I try to bond with each one uniquely. This takes on different forms as they grow. It may be painting nails and doing make-up for one (yes, I have painted nails), because at that moment in her life, I am sharing in an experience that’s important to her. My seven-year-old reasons through everything; a keen debater and negotiator. I encourage her questions, even her debating, when the answer to her many requests is no. I engage in this tiresome to and fro because I want her to feel heard and understood.

I want to create a strong individual bond with each one, in a way that affirms who they are. When they are grown and wearing real high heels, I want them to be sure of what it feels like to be loved,  accepted and understood – because it’s something their dad gave them.

Making it up as we go along

Like most parents, I don’t always know if I’m doing the right thing. I navigate this path one tear-stained day at a time or one giggling moment at a time. I know that my privileged glimpse into the hearts and minds of these little women sparks a strong desire to protect them from the world out there. I have been told by many to be armed with a shotgun, because it only gets harder as they grow up and another male will threaten my position as the main man in her life. I don’t think of that day – instead I am swept away in a world of dancing with a princess who holds my hands tightly and sways to the music while standing on my feet.

  • This blog features in the latest MamaMagic Milestones Magazine Issue 12