How is it possible to be immensely proud and completely mind-numbed at the same time? I don’t know how my partner copes with the relentless domestic routines and drudgery just to keep the wheels on the bus going round and round.
I like the fun stuff – all the play and buffoonery that you can get away with when the kids are young (but not, so I’m told, when they are older. Then you’re just a dick). I’d always hoped no-one would notice the fact that throughout my life I’ve been an immature, selfish, socially inadequate individual. Men don’t discuss this sort of stuff with each other, but I can spot this trait in other dads – and there are quite a few of us knobhead dads out there. We’re not bad parents and it might be a form of denial, but we try to keep secret many of the truths about being a dad. We’re terrified that we might be outed as the adult-sized children that we are in reality – in my case, a cynical seven year old trapped in a thirty-seven year old body.
So here are a few of my musings which I wouldn’t actually say – particularly in earshot of other parents (and by other parents I mean mums).
I love my kids. I dislike other people’s kids
There, I said it. But I bet you’ve thought it too. Some of my kids’ small friends are really very likeable, and it’s heartwarming to watch them playing together. But others are horrible individuals to whom I find myself taking an irrational and instant dislike. Who hasn’t clock-watched on a play date, willing the little git’s parent to swing by and take it home?
Why should we have to like biters, bashers, whingers or stomach-churning green bogey snotters? I’m sorry sunshine, you may be just three years old, but I’m just not feeling the love here.
I can’t stand sharing. I’ve always detested it. So while I’m morally bound to teach and enforce the virtues of sharing to my children, if another kid at one of those hideous soft play areas makes a grab for one of my children’s own toys, I have to contain my rising panic. With razor sharp thinking, masked by an affable dad mask, I have to decide which of three things the miniature thief is going to do and how I’m going to deal with it. Crucially, I don’t want to end up looking utterly pathetic in front of other, far more manly fathers. Will the thief break the toy, lose the toy or refuse to give it back? Do I have to nicely explain to my son to ‘share’, when he has actually been the victim of a crime? Trust me, negotiations at the office are never this tricky.
Making friends with other dads is awkward
Women are different. They thrive on chatting to other mums when their children strike up friendships and start playing with other kids. But I find myself wincing when my own children (rather selfishly) discover new playmates and I’m forced into embarrassed conversations with other dads. I don’t know if it’s being British, just immature or whether there’s testosterone involved, but it’s uncomfortable. I prefer to make my own friends, not be force-bonded into small talk with someone who’s equally awkward standing next to me.
Often as not, my child’s pitiful attention span usually saves the day. They’ll wander off, allowing me to make my apologies and mercifully put the small talk out of its misery. But sometimes, I’ve had the misfortune to be dragged into the kids’ game, where a pair of socially-misfitted grown men end up playing a make-believe with each other. Several times now, I’ve found myself cringing with self-loathing hours after a trip to the play park on a sunny Saturday morning.
I still find bigger kids intimidating
Whatever our age, as adults we’re still carry some of the anxieties and fears from our own childhoods. So when you’ve taken your little one to a playground, and a mob of bigger, older, and more boisterous kids start marching your way, something inside you comes to the fore and you relive this scary moment, as if you were once again little yourself.
Right now it’s not a fear of being roughed up, but that you, the dad, might have to dad-up and tell off other people’s kids. Even worse, they’ll probably see you as the sham of an adult that you are and laugh in your face. That’s frightening stuff – again worse than anything that goes on in the office.
I’ve become emotionally involved in kids’ TV
Why does kids’ TV love to portray men as idle, feckless idiots? Incompetence in the workplace is personified by Postman Pat, who, on a daily basis, manages to lose the post. Once, when he was looking the other way, a horse stole a parcel from the back of his van.
Daddy Pig is a complete buffoon who purports to be an expert at everything, yet whatever DIY job he’s tasked with, he manages to cock up every time. Even for grownups, Homer Simpson has a litany of failings, and is generally depicted as a dad with the brainpower of a gnat. He stuffs his face with doughnuts, drinks too many beers and is generally a bad influence on his kids. Dad characters in TV commercials are also portrayed as daft, bumbling and stupid. Why does it have to be like this?
But I have to say, when you see yourself so tragically reflected in the characters on screen, it’s hard not to get emotionally involved.
Swearing at your child is cathartic
And justified, particularly when they’re being unbearable. Obviously you wouldn’t do this to their face, but behind them using your fingers. I’d go as far to say that you’re not a proper dad until you’ve flicked a V at your kid’s back and mouthed at them to ‘eff off’. It’s particularly galling when other parents coo over and complement your delightfully mannered children. Little do they know.
Lego isn’t as much fun
Lego today is big business and the projects are massive. It’s no longer tinkering about with bits of Lego from a toy box as it was back in the day. Today, I am not only the lead investor in a major construction project, but also the foreman. It all starts as a community project where I’ve been commissioned to head the building of a sodding 581-piece Batmobile. Three days and £59.99 later, when all the helpers have simultaneously kept up the pressure and lost interest, it’s done. Lego – bigger, shinier projects, but no longer fun.
Dads never lose their competitive edge
Whilst standing at just two feet in height, and gazing up at you with the kind of dewy-eyed love that could break even the the stoniest of hearts, there is more satisfaction to be gained from nutmegging a toddler in the back garden, than a 75 kg IT consultant on the five-a-side pitch. You may try to resist it in order to spare their little feelings, but the urge is always there. You just have to give it your all and annihilate your children in every form of competition – whether it’s a race to the end or the park, a pretend light sabre duel or a particularly heated round of Hungry Hippos. Sadly, Dad still likes to win – it makes him feel… masterful? Or young?
Childhood is but a nano second in a lifetime. I’m not that far from watching my sweet children morph into moody teenagers and having to step back and give them space. As dads, we have to be careful not to live vicariously through our children. Mindful of our own shortcomings and failings we must be careful not push our dreams onto them, in the hope they will fulfill them for us. Instead, we must treasure our time with them, however dull it may seem. Their innocence, vitality and joy will soon be replaced by a sense of entitlement, hormonal surges and a need for independence, when we will become cashpoints that also dispense advice (that isn’t listen to). It’s harsh, especially for us ‘dadchilds’ who grow old physically, but are forever emotionally content as seven year olds. These are precious times. We must relish them.
We’ve recently signed up to GoMunkee. It’s encouraging us all to do more and see more with our children. There’s a heck of a lot of stuff out there – it’s a real eye-opener. And there’s so much for dads to see and do with their kids (which they’ll really enjoy) as long as they’re not taking on parental FOMO.
By Louis Hampson