Yesterday, I became Pied Piper for the afternoon to my two sons and three of the eldest’s 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 six year-old son charging around, followed by his mates, who were all followed by my three 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 Libya.
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 Brilliant Dad. Unlike me – since I was made redundant last year – he works, he earns. But these are not the things that make him Brilliant. He’s Brilliant 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.
But I am My Father’s Son. When I was working, I was like 62 per cent of fathers who in a survey said they would rather spend more time at work than rush home to have ‘quality’ time with their kids. My dad was part of that demographic. He’d rather pop for a pint on his way home from work than ‘be there’ for his full-on, bickering, squabbling, food-and-tantrum throwing offspring.
Unfortunately, I’m not working now, so I have no choice, no excuses about the bus home being delayed, or the boss expecting an extra 110 per cent from me at work. I’m now a full-time housedad since my wife and I swapped roles after I was made redundant last June. And I find fatherhood very trying and very difficult.
Now, my son’s classmate worships his father. This may well be because his dad Does Stuff With Him. It may well simply be because he is his dad. I hope, and imagine, it’s the latter, because I did, and still do, worship my own father. And this is the reason why: he is just himself, totally comfortable in his own skin. He has never put pressure on me or my three brothers to ‘succeed’. He has never cajoled, coerced, or even encouraged any of us to be something we’re not. He just accepts us as we are – proverbial warts and all – and if we don’t accept him as he is, well, that’s our problem.
But what he didn’t demonstrate in physical gestures, he displayed by example. He is polite, kind, well-mannered. He worked 12 hours a day doing the shittiest job imaginable to feed his family. He was – is – popular and loyal and created friendships that lasted a lifetime.
A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be. And he was. Is, albeit retired.
But since my son started school two years ago, I have come into contact with Fathers Who Are Not Like Me. They are involved with their children’s lives. They get real pleasure from not just spending time with their young children but actively playing with them.
And one dad in particular – the subject of this post – seems to get more pleasure than most. To his son’s eyes, he too is a Hero. And I’m starting to feel that I should be Just As Heroic As He Is i.e. involved i.e. take pleasure out of spending time with my son 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 today, with the temperatures forecast to hit 25C, I’m going to stop being Boring Dad and follow the lead of my son’s classmate’s Brilliant Dad.
Time to get our shorts on!