The Reluctant House Dad: The hidden benefits of a blended family
Two years ago, our already complicated family became even more complex. As modern families go, we were already nicely blended compared to many others that have been fragmented by divorce.
I was - and still am - a stepdad to a Tweenage girl, a dad to two sons of my own and – unusually, I'm told – I got on with my stepdaughter's real dad like a house on fire.
We'd have a beer, talk about football, discuss plans for the daughter he had with my wife before I met her. I'd drive her to his house every weekend, we'd attend her netball matches together, and he and his ex-wife would go along to their parents' evenings together ( I hope you're keeping up).
At times, the logistics were very stressful, but there was a lot of good will on everybody's part to make it work by simply putting first the girl who was the hub of the family wheel.
And then, two years ago, her father became a dad again. For the first year, the impact this little arrival made on our arrangements was minimal.
As a baby, he didn't know nor care who his family were, as long as he was fed, changed and cuddle on a regular basis.
But then he started to become aware of his big sister and, more than that, territorial towards her.
His little brain couldn't compute why she was around to play with him at weekends, but then had to be mysteriously spirited away by a couple of strangers i.e. me and my wife, for the rest of the week.
He'd kick and stamp his feet, throw himself to the ground, and have the mother of all tantrums, imploring his sister not to leave, and giving us the Devil's look in the process.
As far as he was concerned, we were kidnapping Big Sis and he wasn't going to stand for it. This behaviour extended to whenever their dad arrived to pick up his daughter.
He'd remain steadfast in the car, refusing to enter the kidnappers' lair, possibly because he feared he'd never come out again. So instead, Big Sis would go down, try to (unsuccessfully) coax him into a wave, and then drive off.
This all left my two sons bemused, especially the sensitive older lad. At the time, he was eight and he'd express bafflement that he'd barely met his own Big Sister's Little Brother.
"But he's part of our family," he'd say.
And with this sense of poignancy, he took matters into his own hands.
One day, when Little Bruv and his dad showed up to get Big Sis, my son went down to the car to greet them. He opened the door and climbed in, started telling jokes, being a clown, making the Littlest laugh. Then he'd coax him to come and look at his toys, and eventually he succeeded.
He took him up to the room he shares with his own little brother and together, the three of them would play with Lego and battered old Iggle Piggle and Macca Pacca, and all in all, have a great time – to the point where Little Bruv had a meltdown when it was time to LEAVE our home!
That's the way it has been ever since: my sons regard Little Bruv as being as much a part of our family as they do Big Sis.
That's the brilliant thing about kids, isn't it? They don't discriminate or judge. They just want everyone to be happy.
And there was no better no better example of this than last Saturday. The night before, I'd been to the Parentdish-sponsored MADS Blog Awards.
I don't get out much, what with being a reluctant house dad and all that and, to be honest, I was a bit anxious about meeting so many super-talented bloggers.
And there's only one sure-fire way of dealing with stranger anxiety: get as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible, which (in common with quite a few people there) I did with a certain aplomb. Champagne, white wine, red wine, quaff, quaff, quaff, until I could pretty much drink no more.
I somehow managed to get home in a taxi then, after falling though the door at 1.30am, I crashed onto the settee in my suit, and there I slept for a couple of hours.
But at 3.30am, the call of nature rang its bell and I heaved myself up from my prone position, staggered to the living room door, then fell face first into the cheap plastic wine rack I'd bought and assembled from Ikea some years before.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of wine on that rack – and pretty soon, there was a lot of wine on the carpet. And a lot of broken glass and shards of plastic rack, too.
I did my best to make it as child-safe as possible (for I knew they would be getting up a lot earlier than I would be a few hours hence) and then blundered into bed, with blood on my hands, which I transferred to the pillows and sheets, and pyjamas of my previously slumbering wife. Not happy. Not happy at all – especially as she had to go into work that morning, leaving me in charge of our brood.
After spending much of Saturday morning licking my wounds in a dog house of my own making, my stepdaughter's dad turned up with Little Bruv to collect Big Sis.
"Oh dear," he said, shaking his head with empathetic pity. "We've all been there."
And then he made a gesture that I will remember for a very long time.
"I'm going to take my two to the cinema," he said. "Would yours like to come, too? Give you a bit of head space to recover?"
But even better was the reaction of Little Bruv: he started cheering. No longer did he resent sharing Big Sis with her 'other family' – he was positively cheerleading the move.
Of course, I accepted, and off they went: my two sons, their big sister, their big sister's little brother and the latter two's dad. One big happy very complicated but very blended family.
And I went back to bed!