As I sit down to write this, my daughter, like thousands of others, has just completed her first day at secondary school. It is a pivotal moment for all parents, seeing their baby grow into a lady, and this is one of the major life moments, the gravity of which will see her leave as a fully-grown woman to go off and follow her dreams.

It just struck me that a part of her has now gone. She was in her room, with the door open, chatting on Messenger or some such video app with a few ‘old’ friends from primary school. As I have been wont to do in the six months, when she has the phone, I sneaked up behind her and did the dad's classic rabbit ears, always to the amusement of her and her assembled mates. Tonight was different. Having now all embarked on their grown-up journey, my ‘gag’ did not raise a laugh, she looked embarrassed and I instead wandered off to fail to make the wife laugh instead.

It has happened a few times lately and an unscientific straw poll conducted with a panel of similar dads down the pub backs up my claim: we are losing them somewhat. She has some freedom now and is allowed to wander to the park to meet her mates, shoot some hoops and meander back. Strangely, difficult as it is to get her ready when there’s something important to do, if it involves her chums, she is ready and early, prioritising friendship above the practicalities of life.

Driving home from work the other day, I stopped the car by the local park to see if she was there. Spotting her some way away with some friends, I parked up, expecting a cheery ‘hi dad’ and a chat. Instead I was met with embarrassment and I finally understood how my dad felt when I was a teen. He would rock up in his gardening shoes, hair unkempt and stinking of creosote. Being too cool for school I would generally hide or grunt answers until he buggered off and now, I was there. They pretty much ignored me, and I went home tail between my legs. Fifteen minutes later she arrived home and gave me a hug and we chatted like usual, leaving me confused. But then it hit me, she was mortified to chat with her dad in front of her friends and I was no longer cool. No longer a laugh while joshing on camera, no longer funny by showing up unannounced and I simply now need to change tack.

No doubt all of us parents must adapt in this uncharted territory. Phones have had an impact. Soon it will be boys, sleepovers and eventually clubs and trips to Ibiza where the dress code would have Mary Whitehouse turning in her grave.

But then, one day after being uncool, she came home in tears. A couple of young lads near the community centre took her ball and threw it around, teasing her and initially refusing to give it back. She was upset and I threw my shoes on like raging bull, forgetting I was a teacher, but remembering I was a dad. She was unhurt, they had simply been joshing about as I used to do when I was their age. My wife calmed me down and said it would be a lesson learnt and I agree. She did, however, look at me with some level of understanding. I may no longer be cool, but all that has happened is the parental job title has altered somewhat: no longer the clown, we are now the protectors, through thick and thin, and ultimately that is what parenthood is all about.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher who lives in London Colney