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I had one of those dad moments of clarity today that I experience maybe once every couple of years.  I’m currently looking for an illustrator and had been having difficulties with one particular applicant whose work I really liked.  Despite the fact that I am – technically – the employer, her responses to my requests for more information or examples of her work have been met with the same kind of derision as if I’d been propositioning her.  I asked her if she could provide a sample illustration, to which her simple reply was “No, that’s just silly.”  I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.  I’ve never sat in an interview, been asked if I can provide an example of why I’m a good team player and replied “Don’t be stupid!”  Although I’ve thought about it.

I mentioned this to my wife who pointed out that – as the illustrator is Eastern European – it’s just a language thing.  At which point a light bulb went off over my head.   I suddenly realised that this explains pretty much every dialogue I have with my children.  I’ve always thought they were difficult or challenging, but viewing everything as a language problem makes so much sense.

My son refuses to show any public displays of affection towards his father and when asked for a hug or a peck on the cheek gives a very simple “no”.  I now realise that it’s not a simple rejection, it’s as complex and loaded as my Hungarian artist’s interview response.  It’s not because he’s being unaffectionate, but because there are a million and other things he wants to say, he just doesn’t have the words to say them.  Thus, he stops at “no”.  Yesterday, my five year old daughter was clearly upset but was unable to vocalise just what was causing her tears.  Now I realise that when she comes crashing through the door at the end of a school day, teary-eyed but unwilling to reveal just what it is that’s bothering her, she isn’t being uncommunicative, she’s just too young to process the complex emotions she’s starting to experience.  So trying to assemble those emotions into coherent sentences is beyond her.

Viewed through this perspective, it’s easier to be more understanding and more patient.  To give my artist of few-words a second chance.  To nod sagely when my son refuses affection, aware that at some point he’ll be able to express the reason why – my stubble, my cologne, the disappointment at having me as a father.  To bide my time for my daughter and be there when she needs me to be, but not to push if she’s unable or unready to communicate.

Of course, when my wife walks through the door and I ask if she’s okay and she responds “no” I’m experienced enough to know that’s the complete opposite.  That rather than being unable to communicate properly, she is able to load a single word with a myriad of intentions, a sledgehammer of contempt and loathing in two letters.

There’s a lot to be said for not being able to communicate.

 

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For anyone who remembers the film Independence Day, there’s a scene where Will Smith flies a tiny speck of a spacecraft into the mothership and as he passes deeper into the bowels of this cavernous vessel we discover that he’s surrounded by countless armies of terrifying, merciless aliens, as far as the eye can see.  That’s pretty much what it’s like for any man who ever has to enter the playground at pick-up time.

I’m not saying mothers are terrifying, merciless aliens, but  the response to a man’s presence in the playground is generally greeted with a similar level of suspicion.  Being a stay-at-home dad is a bit like being guilty of a crime you’ve never committed.  We’re the coffee fondant in a bag of Revels.  I’ve spoken to other fathers and they feel similarly.  Of course, being men, we don’t bond over this experience.  We don’t clump together in one corner of the playground against the rampaging hordes like a scene from Zulu.  We share a couple of lines of dialogue, discover we don’t support the same football team, acknowledge we have nothing in common (other than a scrotum), and then we never speak again; merely nodding each day like gentlemen.  Then, we try to remain as still as possible because like the T-Rex, a mother can only spot you if you move.

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m the work-at-home dad, the response is invariably “oh, that must be nice” or “lucky you”.  Which is strange, because the response to a mother is usually “that must be hard work.”  And I totally understand.  Because it is hard work.  It’s incredibly hard work.  Emotionally and physically.  And only through my own experiences do I realise this.  It’s what has made me truly appreciate my own mother, or my sister (who has three children, which is more hands than I have and therefore a logistical nightmare as far as I can tell, especially when crossing roads).  Except, the implication is that it’s clearly not hard work for dads.  Because we sit in front of the television, a beer in one hand, the remote in the other, while our children are in the back garden riding a magic unicorn and being entertained by fairies doing Riverdance. Or, even worse, the implication is that it’s not hard work, because we just don’t care.

I was in the supermarket recently, pushing my son in the buggy, and a delightful lady behind the counter peered at him and said “so how come you’re with your daddy today?” At which point, if he’d been smarter, he’d have said “because I spend every day with daddy.  Because we’re not living in the Victorian ages.  Oh, and by the way, you do know they abolished slavery and man landed on the moon?”  But no, he just held up his Peppa Pig toy and said “piggy” which didn’t do either of us any favours.

This odd double standard is no more in evidence than at the aforementioned school pick-up.  The fact that I’m in a playground to pick up my 5 year old daughter with a 2 year old son trailing me should be sufficient evidence that I’m a dab hand at this parenting lark. That it’s not completely new territory.  However, I do get the sense that my son is watched like a hawk by other parents, fearful that I’m not quite up to the task.  Certainly, in a way that no other mother would experience.

Let me give an example.  There is a ramp in the playground.  No higher than 5 inches off the ground.  Every day that I have collected my daughter from school for the past year, or thereabouts, my son has considered it an absolute necessity to climb to the top of this gargantuan ramp and take a death-defying leap.  Every day.  That huge, yawning, 5 inch drop.  A bit bigger than the height of a baked bean can.  And every day he leaps to his near-certain death with the same careless joy, god love him.  There is nothing in my life that I do so frequently and with the same level of enjoyment (no making up your own jokes), so I envy him this unmitigated pleasure.  I know, in the unlikely event he hurts himself, he’ll jump right back up and do it again.  Because … well, simply because I spend more time with him and therefore know him better than any other human being, bar none.

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But here’s the thing.  While their little angels run around the playground, bulldozing everything in sight, beating each other to a pulp, running, jumping, bullying, teasing, stabbing, shooting, decapitating, disemboweling, committing acts of patricide, setting fire to small animals – or, in one particular case that never seems to raise a single eyebrow, one child regularly parks his scooter by literally launching this five-kilo hunk of sharp metal through the air and over the heads of the other children, only pure chance preventing it from cracking a skull and releasing gelatinous brain matter, while the mother looks on and laughs, every, single, time  – while all that is going on, the absolute second I turn my back on my son and he has taken that first tentative half-step up the ramp, there will always be a mother or mother’s mother darting towards me, desperate to warn me of my son’s impending doom, her voice full of censure at my negligence with words like “You should keep an eye on him.”

And that stings.  I know their hearts are in the right place, but the implication is one of fecklessness.   Of disengagement.  The suggestion is that as a man I can only get emotionally engaged by videos of J-Lo or Mad Max and that as a father, I am a lesser parent, with a dangerously laissez faire approach to parenting.  In truth, I’m a pathetic excuse of a man where my children are concerned.  I worry about them every waking moment; and quite a few sleeping ones.  If I’m walking home with them and they’re two steps behind me, I’ll look back every second or so because I’ve convinced myself that in those two seconds, a car is going to whizz by, snatch them up and by the time I look round again, they’ll have vanished, never to be seen again.  Which, it would appear, is what’s fully expected of me because, as a man-parent, I am apparently little more than a ball-scratching oaf (granted, the other 95% of the time that’s true).    The only reason for this view is that as a father, there is the immediate implication that I am less able.

The fact is, times have changed.  I’d never belittle the pain and exhaustion that my wife has experienced as a mother.  There are elements of parenthood where the strain and responsibility will always fall on the mother and she will always have to endure certain unpleasantness.  Consummation, for starters.  Nevertheless, in the long-term, many fathers are just as involved and adept at parenting, but we still seem to live in a comic book world that views every dad as a cross between Homer Simpson and Harry Wormwood.

In the meantime, I can only dream of a time when the wives will be out hunting antelopes, and us men will be sat at home, breast-feeding our babies.  And I can tell you, if any son-of-a-bitch raises an eyebrow and tells this man he can’t get his capacious and hairy boobs out in public, I will kick his ass.

 

(As a side note, my favourite part of this blog was that, as I added the photo of Homer, my son, who was sitting on my lap, pointed to the screen and shouted “It’s granddad!”)

 

IMG_3440.JPGIt’s an indication of the length of time between blogs that my last saw me as a young, dashing, carefree father of one.  And now I’m a not so young, not so dashing and not so carefree father of two.  Who rarely has time to shave.  Or wash.  Or change his clothes.

You’d think I’d be an expert at this by now, but it’s not like riding a bike.  Having a second child is just a reminder that you didn’t really know what you were doing the first time round and that there were a whole host of things you’d meant to look up in those ‘how to be a perfect dad’ books that you’d been given as a gift; but which still sit untouched on a shelf somewhere.

Nevertheless, the best part of being a father of two is the discovery that your first has survived your incompetence.  I used to listen, with wonder, to tales of child savants and how they’d cut their first tooth at the age of three months, were sprinting round the garden at six months and could already recite the entire contents of Wikipedia by the time they were one (I might be exaggerating for effect) and I immediately assumed that I’d accidentally broken my child.  In truth, it’s only this second time round that I’ve realized it says a lot more about our obsessiveness as parents than it does about the children.

I made the mistake of responding to a parent (who was reeling off such accomplishments), that my best friend from infant through to high school had been a consistent high flyer throughout his early years, always coming top of our class, was a brilliant violinist and accomplished sports-person, but had made a couple of those “wrong” friends when he was 16 and was dealing narcotics by the time he was 18.  I was trying to emphasize that these early accomplishments really are quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but I’m not sure I got my message across.  Said parent’s jaw remained open for a few seconds, before she nodded with a blank “get away from me” smile and trotted off as quickly as she could.  But I certainly don’t recall a Presidential nominee being asked whether or not it was true that his first tooth had come through when he was 18 months old and if he therefore considered himself a suitable candidate for the White House; and I’ve never been asked at a job interview how old I was when I first took my first step and been immediately discounted because I was still crawling at one.  But parents seem to be obsessed by these ‘goals’.

I always used to think it was competitiveness, but if being a second-time dad has taught me anything, it’s that it likely has nothing to do with competition and everything to do with fear.  It’s an obsession with ‘the norm’ and tick boxes that allow us to ensure our children are developing normally and will hopefully live happy and normal lives.  It’s strange, as adults, that we can be so naive and not realize that there’s no such thing as normal; and that these barometers of development are a fantasy.  Indeed, I have friends whose children have neurodevelopmental disorders, physical disorders, emotional disorders and I can say – without exception – that those parents are the best parents of the best children I know (and by best children I mean the kindest, the friendliest, the most fun).  Maybe it’s because these parents don’t sweat about the small stuff anymore or maybe it’s just because they’re great parents; like the chicken and the egg, we’ll never know which came first!

So, maybe, the obsession with what’s ‘normal’ isn’t about the children, maybe it’s about us.  Maybe it’s natural.  But maybe we should be looking at other goals.  About their first smile.  Their first laugh.  Their first unselfish act.  That first moment of true kindness.  I’m no liberal earth mother (and, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m still waiting to exhibit my first moment of true kindness) but maybe I am a little wiser than I thought.

But definitely older.  Much, much older.

Judgement Day has arrived.  Our evil electronic overlords are rebelling.  At least, that’s the only explanation I can find for this darned computer refusing to obey its master.  Thanks to a recent tennis elbow operation I am banned from using my right arm for two months (yes, I’ve heard all the jokes) and have been forced to type using voice recognition software.   In truth, voice recognition is something of a misnomer.  The manual claims that VR is speedier than touch typing, but after a week or so of hair-pulling and blue air I’m convinced I could probably type faster by beating the keys repeatedly with my flaccid penis (I believe this is how Jeffrey Archer writes all of his novels).   I had expected certain irritating drawbacks to my enforced convalescence, but there is one, involving my daughter, which I hadn’t anticipated. 

The Sausage has changed.  At first there were small signs. She was becoming a little more belligerent than usual; more likely to answer back. She was becoming more physical too; more likely to prod, poke or push. But the worst part is that all of this seems to be directed at one poor individual: yours truly.  It could have been any number of things.  The imminent arrival of a sibling (mere days away).  The shift from terrible twos into pure feckin evil threes (that’s the technical term).  The influence of rogue elements at nursery.  However, I think I know the true cause.  Disappointment.

Whatever obstacles life has thrown at me of late, the one constant has always been my daughter.  The simplest things have always impressed her. The fact that I can reach a branch way above her head, magically turn bread into toast or open automatic doors with nothing but my Jedi powers. To her, these are all the gargantuan feats of a Colossus and her admiration is like a dazzling burst of sunshine on my dark ego.

That was, until one recent morning when she woke and decided that I was the most tedious, annoying and uninteresting person in her entire life, bar none.  Granted, most other people share this opinion, but hers is the only opinion that matters. If I turned Peppa Pig into a bacon sandwich and brutally murdered all four members of the Teletubbies (and don’t think I haven’t thought about it), she couldn’t possibly despise me more.   

It wasn’t a gradual change, it literally took place overnight.  More pertinently, it coincided with me being rendered half a man (and I was only about seven eights of one in the first place).  Ever since the procedure, she has been aggressive and unpleasant towards me.  I’d like to say that, in return and as the mature adult, I’ve remained sanguine, realising this is just a phase.   But I haven’t.  I’m a man and therefore I’ve done what most men do in such instances; I’ve sulked like a teen.  In truth, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around.  Three things define me (writing, sport and fatherhood) and having been prevented from participating in the first two, the latter was my only respite.  I could just about cope with tennis breaking my arm, but I wasn’t prepared for my daughter to simultaneously break my heart. 

The problem is simple: I’m no longer her hero.  I can’t pick her up.  Can’t push her on a swing.  I no longer serve a purpose.  I am, in short, a disappointment to her.  I’m sure this crushing realisation – that daddy isn’t some omnipotent deity – comes to all girls in time.  I was just hoping for a few more years of misplaced idolatry before she realised the truth.  Seeing the world – and me – for what they truly are has proven too much for the sausage and her recent rebellious streak is the result.

Clearly, the responsibility of pulling her back from the abyss and helping my daughter regain her misplaced faith in how the world works rests with me.  A world where fairies dance at the bottom of the garden and fathers are demi-gods.  I have to reassert my mythical status.  To achieve things she believes are impossible or the acts of a divine being. 

Accordingly, I’ve done the only thing I can in my current state.  I’ve typed this entire blog using my flaccid penis and I shall shortly commence writing the world’s first children’s book using the same method.  It’ll have to be a short book as I’m starting to feel a little light-headed.  And I still can’t quite figure out how to work the mouse.  As for upper case – let’s just say, it’s unlikely we’ll be having any more children.

Today, I answered the door in an apron and slippers. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just how I roll.

I’d completely forgotten that I was in my stay-at-home-dad attire. It’s taken me fatherhood to realise I need neither gadgets, gizmos nor labels to prove my manliness. Only a certain man can pull off the apron slipper combo. I’m sure George Clooney wears an apron from time to time and he’s probably got a stellar collection of slippers (albeit his probably aren’t from Marks and Spencer’s).

To walk through life with your head held high, the strap of an apron tied around the back of your neck, well that’s the mark of a true man. A man who has been around the block. A man who has seen it all. Is confident in his own masculinity. Can wear a pink shirt and say “yes, this is a pink shirt, it’s not salmon or cerise, it’s pink!” Can refer to Ryan Gosling as “hot” without fearing the repercussions (apparently society deems that three man-crushes are permissible before your sexuality is put into question – well I have five, so up yours society! ) A man who has finally realised that practicality and comfort are the boss to so-called cool. There was no D&G label on my apron. I wasn’t wearing Versace espadrilles. But still, as I swung open the door and greeted the postman, I felt like a god amongst insects. If Liam Neeson wears an apron to rustle up a bacon sarnie, or Arnie dons a pair of fluffy bed-socks first thing of a morning, I’m sure they feel the same.

At least, this is how I felt until my daughter intervened. After I had collected a parcel from the postman (still in apron and slippers – me, not him) the sausage took one look at me, cocked her head to one side and said: “you look like mummy.”

My apron is now in the bin. My slippers in a drawer. I hate my life.

These are strange times. Everyone over the age of about 12 is currently being investigated as a potential paedophile. Especially if they’ve ever worked at the BBC. Yet even the word paedophile itself is taboo. I’m not saying it’s up there with the N word or Y word or that paedophile comedians should liberate the word by using it in their stand-up routines; but it’s one of those explosive combinations of letters that make people uncomfortable. Like mental health. Or disability. Or kumquat.

I recently dropped off the sausage at nursery (wearing my rather comfy parka jacket) and there was a new girl on the door. I was told that I’d have to wait outside because she didn’t recognise me. Responding in my cheery manner that I understood because I was, after all, “wearing my paedophile coat” I didn’t get quite the response I’d hoped for. She looked at me in the same way that dogs look at cats (distrust, hatred and feral rage all balled up in one) and replied, with no trace of humour: “Paedophiles are no laughing matter.” Most normal people would have probably left it there. Or humbly apologised, realising that perhaps, rightly, a nursery isn’t the place to joke about paedophiles. Unfortunately, I’m not a normal person. Conformity and regulation are my nemesis. And my response (“Well, they’re funnier than clowns”) resulted in her closing the door in my face while she went to get one of the more senior staff to confirm my identity. Or maybe call the police.

I thought about my behaviour afterwards to try and decide whether or not I was in the wrong. It was a very brief internal monologue. The problem is, all the while words like paedophile are verboten then it’s so much easier for the perpetrators to hide behind not only the shame of the victims, but the shame of us to even acknowledge the issue. And our fear of uttering the word. Or of hearing it. One wonders if that’s how the recent ‘cover-ups’ (I should probably use the term alleged to keep the lawyers at bay) within large media organisations took place. If you suspect someone of being a paedophile or of sexual abuse (and you’re not the victim) and even uttering those terms fills you with dread, then maybe you just keep quiet. As do all the other people who saw the same clues and remained silent. The media tells us that it was out of fear for the power these people held. I’m not so sure.

I was recently hired to write a screenplay which revolves around a female character who suffers sexual abuse during her childhood. During my research, I learned things that made my head throb with conflicted thoughts and emotions. One helpful therapist who deals in pre-adolescent abuse noted that once they’ve passed that milky-smelling phase, young children (and we’re talking toddlers upwards) give off the same sexually-charged aromas as a fully grown, sexually active adult. The same aromas that, assuming we are nothing more than highly evolved chimps, latch onto our basest animal instincts and trigger arousal, in pretty much the same way that the smell of chocolate makes us want to devour brownies. Which, according to the aforementioned therapist, can be very confusing for some people (largely men, although sometimes women) on a deeply primitive level. I actually think I shuddered (literally) after she imparted that repellent fact. I can’t comprehend it for a moment. Even standing back dispassionately and utlising the cold, scientific part of my brain, or analysing it like a writer accustomed to delving into the deepest and darkest realms of the human psyche, the father in me still stands there shaking his head. Partly unbelieving. Partly sad and disappointed that the world might possibly work this way.

But. And here’s the thing. I’ve held onto that piece of information, presented to me by the therapist, like it was a grenade with the pin out. I held it in my hand. For weeks. Too afraid to let go, lest it blow up in my face. It was just a piece of scientific information (albeit subjective). But it made me feel ashamed. Because I felt that it was something other people likely didn’t know. I was desperate to talk to someone about it, but I didn’t even discuss it with my wife. It’s such a horrible concept, however accurate, that to release it into the open would make me feel tainted by it. That to even utter such a thing made me somehow a bad person. But by opening it up here, it feels less of a burden, less something to be ashamed of. And something that I can actually discuss. Intelligently. Dispassionately. And maybe that’s why we should be more open to debate such topics, regardless of how unpleasant they might be. Because to do otherwise is the path to tragedy.

I know I try to throw a little bit of humour into what I do, but even I don’t feel comfortable following that with one of my usually trite punchlines. This has been an act of catharsis, of sorts, so I’ll leave it to a wordsmith with far more ability than yours truly to close. I give you, the one and only Tim Minchin:

I have today experienced the longest 45 minutes of my life. Yet it all started so innocuously. The words “Toddler Dance” should hold no fear for an experienced parent; but this was clearly a lesson in complacency. The sausage loves to dance. Whether or not she hears a snippet of trance on my iPod, a few bars of Vivaldi on a television advert, or the theme tune to Masterchef Australia, she will suddenly bust a move or two. Thus, it made perfect sense to introduce her to a dance class. Indeed, having been told about it the day before, it’s all she had been talking about. She couldn’t fail to love it. Or so I thought.

On arrival, the signs looked pretty good. She immediately abandoned me to go and play with the other children while I was left to endure the icy she-wolf glare of a dozen mothers, all of whom had come to enjoy this man-free zone (the class has been going for quite some time and the mothers clearly weren’t expecting male company). But when the class started, everything changed.

The fact that the teacher’s opening gambit was to put on some music and let the kids freestyle should have been an easy introduction. But no, my daughter didn’t want to play ball. In fact, while all the mothers danced with their children, the sausage stood on the spot, stiff as a board and immediately declared “I want to go home.” So I took her hands in mine and attempted a rudimentary ballroom manoeuvre. She instantly went limp and when I attempted to pick her up, she screamed like someone being water-boarded at Guantanamo. (Oh how I used to mock parents of the uncooperative child!)

With no alternative, I did what I would have done at home: I led by example and broke out some of my own moves in the hope she’d follow suit. In truth, I never expected my dazzling abilities as a dancer to be a curse, but so it was on this occasion. In my younger days, I spent six months on tour in a show as the only heterosexual male in a production consisting entirely of gay men. They knew how to party. Accompanying them four or five nights a week for half a year as they let down their hair, I probably shook my bon bon in more gay clubs than all of the Village People combined. Indeed, it made me the man I am today. Kind of. If there is one thing I learned from that experience, it was how to boogie. I never met a gay man who couldn’t move with the skill, grace and inherent sexuality of a python on ecstacy. After that six month tour, I had moves that make Ricky Martin look like my granddad.

Today, how I longed to be that granddad. In a dark, sweaty nightclub, my snake-like hips with their throbbing eroticism and slightly feminine shimmy are truly magnificent to behold. In a miserable church hall at ten in the morning, surrounded by mothers who have already decided I’m an interloper, my moves aren’t quite as impressive. They’re positively obscene. And I’m performing them alone. While calling out “come on sausage, move with me.” In retrospect, I can see how that might be misconstrued.

I endured this humiliating experience for the entire 45 minute lesson. My joy at escaping was indescribable. Never again. Or so I believed. My daughter and I were walking home afterwards and without prompting she turned to me and said “Daddy, I’m so proud of you.” A little taken aback, I asked her why and she simply responded “You danced daddy.” And that was it. The pain and humiliation washed away in an instant as a warm, satisfied glow flooded me from head to toe.

Of course, there’s only one thing I can do now. We’ll be there again next week. And the week after that probably. Regardless of those devastatingly agonizing 45 minutes of pure unadulterated hell, for that one spark of admiration from my daughter, well that’s worth all the accompanying pain. I’ll gladly go each and every week for that.

But I might just have to take some dance lessons from granddad in the meantime.

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It’s been quite some time; work and a near-death experience can sometimes get in the way. It’s therefore taken something quite momentous to prompt me to put finger to keyboard. And, as is the way of the internet, I’m not here because of happy thoughts.

I attended my gym recently. My gym has a crèche, which the sausage loves. They have a rather comprehensive collection of princess dresses and, as anyone with a daughter will attest, princess dresses are crack for girls. She usually throws off all of her clothes within 30 seconds of arriving, before slipping into something so hideous that even Katie Price would balk at wearing it. So, at crèche, she is happy. I am happy. Everyone is happy. Until now.

I made a fatal mistake. I took a photograph of my daughter.  In the crèche.  I fully understand that some people don’t want random strangers photographing their children; but these are not random strangers. We visit the crèche a minimum of three times a week. My daughter knows all of the other children by name. They know her by name. They embrace. They play together. They are friends. I, meanwhile, am the recognizable figure of grumpy fatherhood, often forced to read a book to one child or make choo choo noises for another. I hate making choo choo noises. In the canon of vehicle sounds, it’s the least dignified. But children have no time for dignity.

The only people who can gain entrance to the crèche (via buzzer) are parents of children who are registered there. Most of us recognise one another. We nod. We chat. We have conversations about our children that invariably end in the phrase “tell me about it!” Unless a cunning child-snatcher has had the foresight to steal a toddler, fill in the forms and then returned to the crèche several days later with that stolen child still in their custody (and without making Sky News) then I’m not wholly sure how taking photographs can cause any harm.  Personally, I think it’s rather delightful.

By and large, I’m a law-abiding individual. So on the couple of occasions I have taken photographs in crèche, I’ve marshalled the sausage into a quiet corner and made the effort to shoo other children away in order to ensure nobody else is in shot.  My wife, who works full time, misses so many of the constant joys of our daughter’s life that I try and take a photographic record of the day, which I immediately text to her so she can enjoy them while sat at her desk and feel somehow part of these magic moments.  To prevent me from doing so is to take something precious away from my wife.

But recently, while I was in the furthest recess of the crèche, with no other child in sight and having formed a barrier around my daughter utilising barbed wire and a particularly nasty type of landmine banned under the Geneva Convention, I was reprimanded by one of the crèche staff. She told me, in no uncertain terms, to cease and desist and that I could get banned from the crèche if I continued.  After a terse discussion with the manager I was told that while I couldn’t take photos in the crèche, I was more than welcome to take my daughter into the toilets and take photographs of her there.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but my complaint was that my actions were completely reasonable and not in any way inappropriate. Apparently, what I was doing was a heinous crime while taking a child into the gentlemen’s toilets and taking snap shots is considered good, wholesome fun.  This, to quote Chris Rea, is the road to hell. Or the road to Jimmy Saville, which kind of amounts to the same thing.

I do understand some parents don’t want people photographing their children without prior consent and a 30 minute consultation with a lawyer. I even understand the reason – in the same way that the media has convinced us that anyone not blessed with perfect white porcelain skin is a potential bomber, we can now be certain that around every corner is someone desperate to snatch our children away. What sells papers is one simple concept: TRUST NO ONE. However, there has to be a certain amount of common sense. If not, George (who lives next door) and has both dark skin and a bushy brown beard –and thanks to television we know that all paedophiles have bushy brown beards – well, George would be getting frequent visits from the police for being a paedophile terrorist. That’s a terrorist who also happens to be a paedophile, as opposed to someone who blows up paedophiles. I understand the latter is positively encouraged.

So, I won’t be defeated. I shall continue to take photographs of my daughter at crèche. Even if it does have to be in the gent’s toilet. A little bit of Photoshop might be required. Or the next photo we send to granny may have more than just the one sausage in shot. If you know what I mean.

 

The father to an exceptionally beautiful little girl (well, I would say that) I’ve already thought about her impending marriage.  Or, more to the point, how I can prevent it.  Or prevent her ever having any interest in boys at all.  I’m thinking perhaps rather than kindergarten, I might send her to a nunnery.  I’m already using Pavlovian techniques and poking her in the leg with a fork whenever she sees a boy.

I have always wondered how I’ll notice when she goes from child to woman; just so I know when to start warning her about the perils of the darker sex.  This weekend, the wondering stopped.  It’s happened earlier than expected.  At the grand old age of 23 months, the sausage is now a woman.  I can only hope it’s not too late to repair the damage and recover some of her childish innocence.

This discovery began when she was watching a group of boys probably aged around 7 or 8 playing football outside.  She eagerly pressed her face against the glass of the window and shouted out “Boys!  Boys!  Boys!”  It wasn’t a call to arms or an attempt at seduction, just a word in her vocabulary which she enjoys repeating.  She does the same with the cat.  Or a ball.  Repeating the word over and over again like a form of Tourettes.

However, she then climbed onto the window ledge, peered out and strung together not only one of the most complex sentences she has ever managed to utter, but a phrase that chilled me to the bone: “Up here boys.”  My 23 month old daughter hailed a group of young men with the phrase “Up here boys.”  Now, if it were Marilyn Monroe and the boys in question were Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, I’d understand it.  The cheeky, seductive sexuality of those words in that particular order.  Coming from my daughter, it felt like someone had stuck an ice pick somewhere in the middle of my chest.

I can only hope that it was a mistake.  A chance of fate.  Three words that she didn’t quite understand which had been thrown together like pieces of paper put in a hat.  They just happened to have come out in the right order.

However, there have been other small clues.  Recently, when I climbed out of the shower, baring all, she pointed at my man parts, gave them a cursory prod and then burst into fits of giggles.  Now, every woman before her who has seen me naked has done pretty much the same thing.  Which would suggest she has genuinely joined the sisterhood.

This morning I decided there was only one remedy.  I bought her a toy car.  A really boyish one.  One with flames licking across the sides and huge, chunky wheels.  I thought this might counter-balance the strong sense of femininity already bursting forth.  Unfortunately, after about five minutes of playing with it, she had already taken off most of the paintwork and crashed into a wall while reverse parking.  Then she began to cry.  I asked her what was wrong and she just shrugged and said “nothing.”

Evidently I am too late. She is already a fully formed woman.

Today I discovered the meaning of schadenfraude.  Having recently railed against a certain unhinged infant and its hapless parents, I now find myself the proud owner of a devil-child.

Several recent misdemeanours had already set alarm bells ringing.  One of my daughter’s favourite tricks is to poke someone on the nose, accompanied by a “beep”; which is fine when it’s a fully grown adult.  However, when it’s a newborn, it’s impossible not to feel a little nervous.  Unfortunately, having taught her this particular trick myself, it’s definitely a case of “blame the parents”.  I recall being outraged when boisterous toddlers would approach my fragile and priceless gem when she was much smaller – simply out of curiosity or to play – and I would always consider the parents somehow negligent.  Only now, watching the sausage bound excitedly towards unsuspecting children half her size, do I understand.   You focus all your efforts on moulding a friendly, sociable child and then find this very attribute the hardest to monitor.  Control it and you are confusing them with inconsistencies.  Give it free rein and you open the gates of hell.  If I’d known parenting was this complex I would have studied.

However, yesterday it became clear that she is, indeed, possessed by the devil.  I took her to a play area with slides and tunnels and all manner of childish delights where her excitement was all-consuming.  That was, until she found a rocking horse which was already occupied.  She resolved this by pushing the other child off.  In response, I quickly removed her from the horse, replaced the other child and very calmly tried to teach the sausage the correct queueing etiquette.  At this juncture she decided to collapse to the floor, roll around and cry like a loon.  She has never thrown a public tantrum before, but taking a leaf from the book of Parenting 101, I ignored her and wandered off until she calmed down.  This would have been fine if, over the course of the next 60 minutes, the scene hadn’t been repeated about half a dozen times, just with different toys and different children.  The shame was compounded by the fact that I was the only father in a room of about 20 mothers and during my daughter’s screaming fits, tears streaming down her face and snot bubbling from her nose, she would repeat the word “mummy” over and over again.  I could feel the cold, accusing stares from the mothers who circled the room like harpies.  “What is that strange testicled creature doing here … he does not belong!”

Worse was to come when she snatched an apple from the hand of a child enjoying a quiet snack.  When I gently scolded her, she hurled it (the apple, not the child) across the room so that it exploded on the floor like a wet fruit grenade, covering children nearby with juicy pulp.  I didn’t even have to look up to know that all of the other parents were stood there, arms crossed, shaking their heads and thinking “I blame the parents.”  Sadly, if it had been someone else’s child, I would have been thinking exactly the same.

My only consolation was that, while I was contemplating our exit, the sausage pushed another child out of the way – a boy a few months younger – who then proceeded to pursue her round the play area trying to punch her.  When the boy’s mother told him off, he desisted for all of 30 seconds, before beginning the chase again; doing his best to bludgeon my daughter into submission with his tiny baby fists.  Ordinarily I would have been filled with rage at this uncontrolled beast and his negligent mother, but as all eyes now turned from my daughter to this mini Mike Tyson, I found an inner calm.  Far from being outraged, I just wanted to thank the vindictive little bugger for proving my little one wasn’t that bad after all.  Indeed, as I watched this stumpy reprobate try and apprehend my daughter, her long legs keeping her at a safe distance, like a gazelle elegantly outwitting a lion, I had an overwhelming urge to hold the boy aloft and declare loudly to the room “Behold, the true devil child!”

But, of course, I didn’t.  There is, after all, such a thing as schadenfreude.