I think this is going to be about friendship and autonomy.
For nigh-on twenty years Nik and I have passed all our decorating, and odd-jobs, to Paul Elliott. Paul is primarily a decorator but has loads of transferable skills and turns his hands to many other trades (free plug: 07779132539). He has been responsible for the decoration and redecoration of two of our homes. He does a lot more than it says on the tin. His first task for us was to hand-strip the old Edwardian rails and banisters in our last house. They had accumulated layer after layer of paint. Maybe, with hindsight, Paul regretted agreeing to take on that contract as it took him a long time and lots of scraping to complete the job. But he'd warned us it would take time and the results were spectacular.
Each year since, Paul has been called back at least once to do something or other for us, most of it interior decoration. We became friends. He coped with the onset of a bad depressive episode for me and I coped with his singing and jokes. It was a match made in heaven and we three became friends. Then we got to know his wife, Pat, who has had her own troubles to bear and has done so with humour and dignity. They were delighted for us when Nik became pregnant and more so when they actually met little Angharad. Even before she had had her open-heart surgery, aged 16 weeks, Angharad loved to be held by Paul and would gurgle away and pull at his laughable attempt at a beard, taking great pleasure in this. Pat assures us that Paul is not and never has been a child-magnet and that his inclination has been to leave them well alone.
Paul has taken to ringing us these last couple of years to ask if it's OK for him or both of them to call around to "see the little one". We always say "of course" (we quite like seeing them too!) and Paul and Angharad bond immediately. An example: she was really excited that Paul was calling in this morning and had been looking out the window for him. When he arrived at the gate she shouted out "Paul" [sounds like 'paw' in Angharad], made the finger sign for 'P' and then stroked her chin (being the sign for Paul) and ran to the door happy as Larry to see him.
It's always this way but I thought about it properly today. It's easy as a parent to think of one's child as "my daughter". It's factual of course, but also a little bit proprietorial. It maintains our parental responsibility over them, it maybe keeps them dependent upon us over and above their basic needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs). It carves in stone that parent is protector and child is protected. But of course what we are doing as parents is preparing our kids to get away from us, to enter the world and make their way through it. To love them and give them opportunities and help them develop skills and philosophies of their own.
Paul doesn't come to see Angharad because he's my friend or Nikki's. He comes because he is Angharad's friend. They have a relationship that is their own and equally valuable to them both. It has little to do with Nik or me except that we facilitate it and value it. We see the same things with other friends and their families too. But it's today I'm thinking about it so Paul gets the mention. So don't let me get away with whining, when Angharad eventually chooses a partner and/or moves from home; I've got long enough to come to terms with it now I've recognized that Angharad has already started down that road.