I don't get out much. It's partly because it's an effort getting a babysitter and partly because by the time the kids are in bed I'm too tired to go out. Then again, it's not like I went out much before we had kids. I'd rather settle down in front of the TV anyway. Having kids is merely a handy excuse to surround the TV with gadgets.
This being the case, my social life is somewhat limited, but every so often a couple of friends, Mike and Rob, come round to play computer games and we blast each other to pieces while failing to talk about anything very significant. Mike's the minister at our church. He's around fifty and has two kids but they've left home. Rob lives round the corner. He works in the IT department at LBO. I did some of his training and he now has my old job, meaning I feel both sorry for him and somewhat responsible. He's not quite thirty yet.
Sarah has been having to work late again so I organised something for the other night. Rob arrived just after the kids were in bed and made straight for the beer. I asked him how his week was going and he launched into the details of a technical problem he was having trouble with. Vaguely familiar acronyms and jargon spewed forth from his mouth for several minutes. I nodded and smiled. It was like listening to Fraser witter on about Pokemon but I cared slightly less. I drank my own beer and then suggested to Rob that he replace the flux capacitor and then reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. He wasn't impressed.
Mike arrived. I asked him how his week was going. He shook his head. "Three funerals and a finance meeting," he said gruffly. "Let's shoot things."
I handed him a beer and ushered them both up to the lounge. "Watch out over there," I said, pointing to a discoloured section of carpet. "There's a damp patch." Rob began edging nervously round it. I rolled my eyes. "Don't worry - it's not radioactive or anything." He didn't seem reassured but found his way to a seat and we launched into a game of TimeSplitters 2. (We can't play Wii Sports anymore because Mike's been banned for breaking light fittings on two separate occasions. He kept taking it all a bit too seriously).
Everything went as normal for some time: we discussed the weather and football, we drank beer, we moaned about the news and every so often someone got shot. We briefly attempted to make sense of the Scottish election results but then turned our attention to inventing plausible explanations as to why Alex Salmond has a pair of slugs where his eyebrows should be. This kept us amused for a while but, when the ideas began to run low, Rob changed the subject in an unexpected direction.
"So what's being a housedad like?" he asked.
For the past seven years, Rob has been doing his best to ignore the fact that I'm a full-time parent. It's like I'm on some kind of indefinite holiday and he's always hopeful I'll be back at work on Monday. The closest he'd previously come to expressing interest was to say, without a hint of irony, "It must be nice to sit at home all day eating biscuits." I looked at him in astonishment.
Showing greater presence of mind, Mike took advantage of the distraction and fragged me at close range with a shotgun before asking, "Blue line, then?"
"Er, yeah," said Rob, turning to him in surprise. "How did you...?"
Mike shot him in the head with a missile-launcher. "Professional hunch," he said. "Are you still playing, Ed?"
"What?" I'd re-spawned and was standing around waiting for ballistic death to come find me. Oddly, I was no longer looking through my character's eyes but I could see him from a third-person perspective and he was getting larger.
Then I realised I was looking at Mike's corner of the screen.
It was my turn to get an explosion between the eyes. "Would you stop that?" I said.
"You can't talk and shoot at the same time?"
"Not when a friend is sharing about how his life has changed forever."
"What?" said Rob. "What do you mean my life has...?" I shoved an enormous gun between his shoulder-blades and pulled the trigger. "Hey!"
"So..." Mike let the pause linger as Rob's character re-appeared close at hand. Sensing what was coming, I charged over to get in range. Nonchalantly, Mike said, "Are you going to get married then?"
Rob stammered. "Er..." Mike and I both let rip at what seemed like the same moment and a hail of bullets turned Rob into sushi. Unfortunately, Mike was credited with the kill.
"That's not fair," I grumbled, banging the controller against my head in frustration. "And neither's that," I added as he shot me as well. "I'm annoyed now. I'm going to hunt you down and batter you to death with that shotgun."
"I want to see you try... What were you saying, Rob?"
"Er... I hadn't really thought about getting married. I'm not sure I'm ready for that."
"What do you mean?" said Mike.
"It's a bit of a commitment."
I snorted. "You've bought a house together, you live together, you sleep together, you're going to have a baby together. You've merged your CD collections! Exactly how much more of a commitment do you think getting married would be?"
"There's a bit more to being married than that," said Rob defensively.
"I don't know..." I said and went postal with a flamethower. "There's a public declaration that you're going to make things last but there's actually quite a lot less denial."
"How do I know it's going to last?" said Rob, turning crispy.
"If the two of you decide that it's going to last and always work to achieve that, then there's a good chance that it will last," said Mike.
"It's got to be worth a shot, hasn't it?" I added. "Let's face it, you're married already, apart from the legal safe-guards in case it doesn't last. What have you got to lose?"
"I don't want to rush into anything," said Rob, running round a corner into proximity with a proximity mine I'd left lying around. He swore. He blew up.
I laughed for at least two good reasons. "At the point you two got a mortgage together, you were still playing Tomb Raider Chronicles - that's six years and an entire console generation ago! Think how long that's been. Glaciers get together and laugh at how slowly you move."
"Well," he muttered, "there's the expense as well."
"I'll waive my fee," said Mike.
"Sarah still has her dress. Wouldn't take much to make it fit Kate."
Mike nodded. "And the Millennium Centre is cheap to hire."
"I'll do the catering," I said. "I've had plenty of practice with birthday parties. Cocktail sausages and Hula Hoops for everyone. Fraser and Lewis can get a production line of cheese sandwiches going. Marie can help decorate the cake. You don't mind bright pink icing peppered with chocolate buttons and fingerprints do you?" Rob scowled at me. "What? It'd be a talking point."
Mike calmly sniped us both. "I think what Ed's trying to say is that the party doesn't have to be expensive and shouldn't stand in the way of the getting married part."
"Maybe... You still haven't answered my question, Ed. What's it like being a housedad?"
I thought for a moment. Mike took the opportunity to batter me to death with a brick. "Well," I said, re-spawning far away. "The hours are long, the holidays are rubbish, the pay's a joke and there's heavy exposure to toxic biological waste. On the plus side, there's plenty of fresh air, exercise and hugs, relatively little stress, strong job satisfaction and an army of amusing minions. You also get to play Hungry Hippos and call it work."
Rob perked up. "Really?"
"Yep," I grinned. "And Mario Kart."
He shot me a sideways glance. "Really!?"
He looked suddenly suspicious. "Is that why you're grinning?"
"No, I'm grinning 'cos I've stuck an explosive mine to your crotch and you haven't noticed."
He had just about enough time to say, "No way!" before his corner of the screen erupted.
I feigned a wince. "That's got to smart."
Time ran out and the game ended. Mike had won by an absolute mile but at least I'd beaten Rob by a point. I did a little dance to celebrate. Unfortunately, I stepped in the wet patch and had to go change my socks.
Rob cheered up a bit at that...
We had some more beer and the conversation returned to normal. It was a good evening. I don't think Rob knows what he's got himself into yet, though. I might let him look through some of these letters, if that's OK with you?
Hope you're well and staying sane. Marie's convinced that you live in this computer. Have you got any photos of you and the family I can show her?
Yours in a woman's world,
PS Slug suggestions welcome.