5. Here comes the guilt…

Where on earth does all the ironing come from? There’s mountains of it. And it just keeps growing, higher and higher, like it’s breeding, like it’s on a mission to outgrow the house.

I’m not some blokey cliche who doesn’t know how to iron (or cook, or dust, or hoover, for that matter). I know how to iron because I was taught by a professional: my mother. She did three jobs to keep mine and my three brothers’ heads above water when we were growing up. One of them was taking in the neighbours’ ironing and returning it pressed and pristine. As a result, though, she hated ironing so much, she refused to do her own family’s.

Step forward Number 1 son: me.

Shirts were my favourite – collar first, then yoke, then sleeves, then back, and finally, front, taking care to get in between the buttons. I was a dab hand at it, though my endeavours were never enough to impress my dad, who’d learned hardcore ironing during his National Service in the Army.’

‘You iron like a pansy,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll do my own.’ Without a hint of irony. Yes, we were a modern family.

But what I have to do now in my new role as a housedad takes ironing to Olympic proportions. I spent three hours doing it on Monday, an hour on Tuesday, and another hour yesterday morning – pressing school uniforms and my Successful Wife’s shirt for work.

She was dashing out of the door as I was marshalling the kids for the school run. We kissed her goodbye, then I whispered into her ear a few sweet nothings that went as follows: ‘Can you do me a favour, love?’

‘Yes, ouf course. Anything. What is it?’

‘Can you wear your shirts, skirts and trousers more than once instead of throwing them into the washing basket when they’ve not even got a single mark on them? I mean, it’s not like you’re working on a building site, or down a mine, or cleaning sewers. You sit at a desk all day. You don’t move. You don’t sweat. You don’t even splash tea on yourself. So for the love of the Almighty can you please do me a favour AND STOP CREATING SO MUCH BLOODY WASHING BECAUSE I’VE GOT BETTER BLOODY THINGS TO DO WITH MY TIME THAN WASH AND IRON YOUR GOOD-AS-NEW CLOTHES EVERY WAKING MINUTE OF THE SODDING DAY.’

Ahem!

She looked at me with her coal black eyes and said simply: ‘You’re turning into your mother. I’m going to work now.’

‘No way. No way, missus,’ I thought. ‘There is no way you are getting away with THAT one.’

And so on the school run, I hatched a plan. I’d still keep up with the ironing, no problem. But I’d skip the washing stage. And that’s what I did. I dived into the washing basket, sniffed her shirts and checked for stains, then set out breathing new life into them via the steam setting on my Phillips GC 2540. It worked a treat. I hung her freshly re-pressed clothes in her wardrobe then made myself a cup of tea.

As I dunked a chocolate chip digestive into my cuppa, I felt as pleased as Punch.

And then I started to brood. And then glower. And then a wave of self-loathing washed over me.

What had I become?

In my working life, I’d get victories from hitting targets, delivering plans, earning pay rises.

Now I’d created triumph by wanting to send my wife out to earn money for our family in a stale TM Lewin cotton shirt. I imagined her sitting in a meeting with her new bosses, with the seats either side of her empty, with the people in the room wrinkling their noses with a look of ‘What’s that smell?’ on their faces.

And I felt guilty. She wasn’t doing this job because she’d had some massive ego drive to be a high-flying executive. She was doing this because we needed to pay our mortgage, feed our three kids. Eat. She was doing this because I couldn’t get a job.

I took her unwashed clothes from the wardrobe and put them in the washing machine, switched it on and went to pick up Child 3 from nursery. On the way back, my phone rang. It was my Successful Missus.

‘I’m coming home early,’ she said. ‘I’ve had a fall. Twisted my ankle. Nothing serious. It was those bloody high-heeled boots you told me not to wear. Can you come and get me?’

Her ankle was a mess – ballooned and badly bruised. I helped her upstairs to bed, packed some frozen peas around it, then lay three-year-old C3 next to her for a cuddle.

My Successful Wife didn’t look quite so successful at this moment. In fact, she looked rather vulnerable and small. I took her a cup of tea and plumped some pillows beneath her foot. As I went to leave the room, she grabbed my hand, pulled me back.

‘I know you hate your new life, love,’ she said. ‘But I need you. I need you more than I’ve ever needed you, more even than when you were working. ‘

She looked down at our son who had fallen asleep next to her.

‘I need you for them. But I really, really need you for me. I need you to run our home and our lives. And I need you to do it without beating yourself up and feeling so sorry for yourself all the time.’

‘I know,’ I replied.

And I felt guilty for the fact that I hadn’t arrived at that simple truth myself.

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