A Dad’s Life: Calling time on the showreel of our family’s daily life

Tue, Apr 16, 2013, 07:00

I wrote the first Dad ’s Life column seven years ago. It featured a four-year-old attempting to feed breakfast to a one-year-old, while the latter attempted to burst her full nappy within the confines of her high chair.

Toddlers and babies and chaos and me in the middle of it with not a notion what I was doing. Only one factor has remained constant.

Last weekend, those same girls helped me mow the lawn and built themselves a series of rope swings from the tree in the corner of the garden.

The elder has been asked out on a date (although, thankfully refused – I haven’t had to deal with that head trauma yet) and the younger’s greatest pleasure is to manage gear-changing operations from her highly illegal front-seat position when we’re out driving together. The babies of seven years ago are long gone.

In that time I’ve had the pleasure of describing their development and my own regular breakdowns as related to those changes, occasionally how this has affected my relationship with their mother and sometimes, too, how all this comes together in the moulding of a family.

None of this has been deliberate or planned. I have written about one of the most common experiences that we all go through, if not as a parent, then certainly as a child. What has shocked me is that someone has been willing to pay me for the pleasure.

And now I have a vast quantity of material I can beat them with when they’re older. Hold them to ransom with when suitors are presented at the door. Laugh at and remember.

For most of the time this column has appeared it has been alongside or near the thoughts of a parenting expert. I have always been grateful for this, as without their distraction, readers may have mistakenly assumed I had some idea what was going on.

While I appreciated the presence of those experts, I rarely read a word of what they had to say. That would be like scanning a manual before assembling bunk beds. Daft. Surely you just screw the bases to the legs and the ladder will jam in somewhere. Lemon squeasy.

But if ever beaten into a corner and harassed into stating what I believed to be parenting truisms based on my own experience, here is what I would say. Don’t be afraid to apologise to your kids.

We all want to do our best and we all make an awesomely impressive balls of it. You know the scene. When everyone dear to you is in tears because some minor incident has fired you over the edge and you’ve let the resentment of a lifetime fly at them. All because a glass of milk was spilled.

When the dust settles, admit you were a tool. Say you overreacted, try to explain why, then hold up your hands and mutter sorry. You’l do your best not to let it happen again, but you can’t guarantee anything.

They like this, the brats.

And don’t listen to anyone who says they have it sussed. They patently haven’t.

Last week, between swing-building and not dating, the elder insisted I not write about a certain incident.

To me, it was an innocuous thing, something that wouldn’t have crossed my mind as even worth mentioning, but she figured I could land her in trouble. Her teacher might be annoyed, one of her friends could take the hump.

That’s when the blow landed. This has to stop now. Writing a personal column has always been something of a tightrope. I have tried to be as honest as possible but, as often as not, have embellished or left out, either to make an incident more pointed or to save the feelings of those involved.

It had to be this way. If, for example, I laid my marriage out exactly as it happened only one thing is sure. There would be no marriage.

I had promised myself from the start to try not to hurt anyone for the sake of a story and, if I did so unintentionally, which happened a lot, to make amends if possible – and, most importantly, to quit the game when the kids realised what was going on.

The jig is up. The elder is very aware of her position as source of material. I can no longer jeopardise how she feels in the company of her friends and family by continuing to write about her and her sister.

So, while this dad’s life will continue, it will only be on the showreel forever playing in my head. To regular readers, thank you for putting up with my bleating over the years. Now, pay attention to those around and about me who have some idea what they’re on about.
(Column series concludes)