My daughter’s bedroom is boiling hot since she refuses to open the window. The floor is covered – covered! – with scatterings of clothes that have been momentarily considered and then abruptly disregarded. But what makes packing for her two-day school trip to the Lake District a particular nightmare is the standoff between us over appropriate footwear. I insist on her sturdy trainers (excellent for long country walks, outdoor activities and all-round comfort). She wants her almost worn-out Converse (fashionable and, er, that’s it).
By the time my husband, Martin, gets home from the office and pokes his head around the door, both of us are steaming with rage.
I present my case – and pretty reasonable it is too. Sophie, however, begins to sob, running to her father and coiling her shaking body around him while offering evidence of my “meanness”. What does Martin do? Compressing his lips into a thin line (I know that look, it shouts, “Forgive me but I’m helpless”) he cuddles his precious little girl and tells me he’ll sort it out.
Soon I can hear helpless giggles, interspersed with Martin’s doting patter. (Result? Converse and Sophie one, Mother nil). Seeing as Sophie was born 11 years ago, I should be used to this scenario. Because, frankly, my husband loves our daughter more than he does me.
Angela with her daughter, Sophie, and husband, Martin, whose releationship makes her feel jealous at times Photo: Image courtesy of Angela Epstein
It’s not that he doesn’t love me: after nearly 25 years of marriage he remains a warm, affectionate and committed partner. But where Sophie is concerned, everything is on a different scale. He is liquid to her every demand. And boy does this tiny, manipulative despot know it. Ever since she was born, arriving after her three brothers, it’s been abundantly clear that my position as number one female in my husband’s affection has been permanently displaced.
Still, perhaps I’m in good company, judging by the constant stream of pictures of an adoring David Beckham with his daughter, Harper – also born after three boys. “She’s not going out,” Beckham has said. “She’s going to be like Rapunzel – up in the tower.”Like the Beckhams, Martin and I were astonished when our daughter arrived. Again, to quote the footballer: “After having three boys, you just assume that you’re going to have another boy, but when we got told she was a little girl, it was amazing.”
I think that in Martin’s case, the situation was compounded by the fact he is one of three boys. Throughout the pregnancy he’d expressed his yearning for a little girl, and has been baffled by and besotted with his princess ever since. Take the other day, when Sophie burst into the playroom modelling a pair of expensive shoes she’d found in my wardrobe. I told her to put them back, fearing there might be damage (both to her and the heels).
Back-up from her father, however, was non-existent. “That’s so funny…” was all he could muster.
Harper Beckham shows her love for her dad at a basketball game in America Photo: Splash News
Perhaps, like Harper Beckham, it is Sophie’s femininity that tethers her father’s unflinching devotion and fills his heart like nothing else can. Sophie is the ultimate girlie girl, and he seems to revel in the dolls, ribbons, nail polish and random sparkly things that clutter her room – even if the little magpie has surreptitiously acquired some of them from me. (Again: “That’s girls for you,” he shrugged.)
I should point out that Martin is also very devoted to our boys, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling frustrated at how easily Sophie manages to manipulate his bottomless devotion.
How she can go on a simple errand to the supermarket with him and return with handfuls of hair bobbles, comics and (on the last trip) a garish pair of pink and gold flip-flops. (“She said she needed them,” Martin said, feebly. I replied that I need a new pair of Kurt Geiger boots – could he sort that too?)
But for now, I’m biding my time. It won’t be long before the storm of adolescence blows through our home. Will her father still take her side when the mood swings kick in or the hinges on the doors all need replacing from constant slamming? I’m sure the love will still be there. But only a sympathetic wife will be able to offer consolation.