The House Dad Chronicles: I wish I was a Super Dad like my kids' friends' fathers
I'm dreading the long Jubilee weekend and the even longer half-term school holidays.
For this will involve me having to play with my own and other people's kids.
Not just look after them – as a reluctant house dad, that's pretty much what I do during term time because they spend most of the day in their classrooms – but properly engage and interact with them.
I could, of course, just leave them to watch TV and play computer games all day, and if they need some fresh air, just open the door and let them play Dodge The Traffic.
But at the ages of 10, seven and four, they're not that safety savvy – especially the youngest – and he's my favourite, well, not my favourite exactly, but certainly the cutest and the most viulnerable. I'd hate to lose him.
So instead, I'd better be a More Active Dad. I've tried this role a few times over the past two years since I lost my job and my wife and I swapped roles.
There have been times when it's not too bad, but at the age of 48, I get tired, nay, bored, pretty easily.
Give me a pint, slippers and a pint of beer over hide and seek any day (a mum friend of similar age told me she once got stuck in the cupboard under the stairs, between the vacuum cleaner and the mop bucket – an embarrassment I'm not sure I've got the mettle – or the spinal flexibility – to recover from).
But I know it's coming, this weekend and this week, of relentless 'On-ness'. How those happy-clappy Cbeebies-type playgroup workers manage it, is beyond me.
"Dip a toe in the water,'" my Working Wife, who formerly occupied this role, advised.
"Take the kids and their friends out to the park. See how you get on. You might enjoy it – it'll be good training for next week."
And so, on a hot sunny afternoon after school, I became Pied Piper for the afternoon to my children and half a dozen of their friends.
We bought crisps, sweets and bottles of water and headed off to the park to play football and run around like lunatics for three hours.
Let me correct that. 'We' didn't do all that: they did.
I sat on a bench and read a newspaper cover-to-cover while the boys just got on with being boys.
My only interruption was when an eight-year-old girl tugged on my shirt sleeve to complain that the boys were chasing her.
"One day that will be the only thing that matters," I told her. Then went back to my newspaper.
Every now and then, I would look up and see my seven year-old son charging around, followed by his mates, who were all followed by my four year-old, red-faced and sweating in his frantic efforts to keep up with the Big Boys.
Theirs were the loudest voices in the playground: annoying to everyone else, but the songs of angels to my ears, because when I could hear them, I knew they were safe and I could concentrate on what was going on in Syria.
And then, suddenly, all those familiar shrieks and screams and 'GET HERS' fell quiet. I folded my paper, stood up, looked around, then found them in a huddle with a boy from their class, hovering over a remote controlled car.
With them, holding the control box, was the boy's dad. He was more excited than the boys as he flipped the switches up and down, side to side, sending the toy car whizzing this way and that.
We nodded at each other, as men who don't know each other do, then he led the boys around the park, and I went back to my newspaper.
Now, the loudest laughter in the park was from this boy's dad – so loud and full of engaged joy, in fact, that I couldn't concentrate on my paper.
So I put it down, and watched the fun. Yes, watched. Not 'got involved', just watched, from a distance, as the boys followed their new Pied Piper.
I'd seen this dad before. He doesn't have a reluctant bone in his body.
He is, without a shadow of a doubt, A Super Dad.
Unlike me, he has a proper job. But these are not the things that make him Super.
He's Super because he loves spending time with his son. He takes him tree-climbing, and kite-flying, he's taught him to ride a bike and surf a skateboard, and many, many more classic Father-Son activities.
He could be the author of The Dangerous Book For Boys (he isn't – he doesn't have time for writing because he works hard and Spends Time With His Son).
In short, he does Stuff with his lad that my dad never did with me. There are many dads like this: totally immersed in and involved with their children's lives. They get real pleasure from not just spending time with their young children but actively playing with them.
One dad in particular – the subject of this post – seems to get more pleasure than most. In his son's eyes, he is a Hero.
And I'm starting to feel that I should be just as heroic to my sons as he is, i.e. involved, i.e. take pleasure out of spending time with my kids, i.e. stop being so reluctant.
Seeing the joy my son's classmate's dad gets out of spending time with his boy, putting in effortless effort, has made me think.
I need to find joy where I only see chores; I need to see play as a pleasure and not as a duty. I need to see the situation I'm in as a gift, not a curse. I need to see the world through the eyes of my children.
And so this Jubilee weekend, and the half-term that follows, I'm going to stop being Boring Dad and follow the lead of my son's classmate's Super Dad.
First stop: the fair. I might even go on the Waltzers. And if I can avoid throwing up, I'll be a real hero.
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