Dear Dave

Friday 6 March 2009

Stranger in a strange shirt

Dear Dave,

Ooh, that sounds nasty. So let's get this straight: You've got one child with a stomach bug, another with chickenpox and a stinking cold yourself. All I can really say is good luck and I hope you're all feeling better soon. Next time someone with teenagers tells you to enjoy your kids while they're young because they grow up so fast, laugh at them. Then recount the tale of what you and your sofa have been through the last few days. That should get them to leave you alone.

Personally, I like to reply that I'd enjoy the children more if I got a couple of weeks rest first and then I ask if I can come back and collect them a fortnight on Thursday. This is usually enough to induce sufficient flashbacks of sleep deprivation and slime to make whoever I'm talking to remember an important appointment elsewhere...

Maybe I'll think differently in ten years time when my children are getting stroppy because I won't let them stay out till three in the morning getting their tongues pierced. I'll gaze wistfully at their beaming baby photos and recall fond memories of cuddles and games and bouncing, and dream of easier, simpler days.

I can't entirely see it happening, though. By that point, my current housedad life will feel like time spent living in a foreign land.

I was contemplating this yesterday thanks to the Scotland rugby top I was wearing. It was the first time I'd worn it in years. I'm not even sure why I have a Scotland rugby top, seeing as I'm English and not a great fan of rugby. I spent too many school afternoons freezing to death while hoping no one was about to rip my ears off, to be able to really get into the sport now. I take a mild interest in the major tournaments but that's about it.

Still, I happened to notice the shirt lying crumpled at the bottom of my clothes drawer as I was getting dressed and it looked suddenly cosy, so I put it on.

I didn't think any more about it until after lunch, when Marie had her gym class. I had to jog most of the way to the sports centre to keep up with her on her scooter and I was rather warm by the time we got there, so I took off my jumper, revealing the shirt. The place was hooching with a coachload of Scottish fourteen-year-olds, a group of Scottish weight-lifters, several Scottish janitors, a gaggle of Scottish mums and a pack of Scottish pre-schoolers.

At that point I was kind of glad it wasn't an England top I was wearing.

I felt remarkably conspicuous, nevertheless - as if I was wearing a fluffy pink hat with tassels. Though, now I put my mind to it, I quite often wear a fluffy pink hat with tassels and I suppose it wasn't actually anything like that. It was more like wearing a fluffy pink hat with tassels without a four-year-old girl standing next to me getting wound up and demanding her hat back.

I've been living in Scotland for fifteen years now. I have a Scottish wife and Scottish children. I can pronounce Kirkcaldy, use the word dreich when describing the weather, and moan about the English with only the mildest hint of irony. If push comes to shove over independence, I'll probably go for a Scottish passport.

Whether I'd ever describe myself as Scottish is another question. I can look across the border and wonder why the English are so crazy but I can understand the craziness. If I were ever to move back, I would have a different perspective on things but I would also feel at home within days. Deep down, I'm English and I always will be.

So there I was, an English-sounding Englishman with little clue about rugby, standing in a Scottish public place, wearing a Scotland rugby top. I stayed quiet, pretended to be invisible and hoped I'd get away with it.

I guess, in many ways, it was reminiscent of my first visit to parent and toddler. As a housedad with very young children, I was a man in a woman's world. I was happy and managed to blend in eventually but it was occasionally a little strange. I could understand and empathise with everyone else's point of view but, when it came down to it, I was a dad not a mum. There was only so far that shared experiences could go on such topics as breast-feeding, useless husbands and forceps.

Now my kids are older, things are changing. There aren't many housedads about but plenty of other dads work part-time or on shifts, so there are usually quite a number of men waiting in the playground at the end of the school day. I'm not so odd anymore. By the time the children are teenagers and they can mostly fend for themselves, I won't necessarily have a particularly unusual level of interaction with them. I'll no longer be a housedad; I'll simply be a dad.

Thinking about some of the crazy, useless dads I've met over the last few years, that's a scary thought. Then again, I've often understood their craziness. As my role changes, I'll have a different perspective from men who've had a less hands-on experience of fatherhood but it won't take long to feel at home... As I said, looking back to when the kids were young will feel like remembering another country, not just another time. Unlike Scotland, Housedad Land isn't a country I'd want to settle in permanently, however. It's been a fantastic place to visit but it's also been rather tiring and somewhat sticky. Once I've left, I doubt I'll have a strong, nostalgic urge to return.

Small children are hard work. Sure, it's a good idea to enjoy them now, but there's no harm in looking forward to enjoying them later as well.

For myself, I'm particularly looking forward to enjoying them in six months time when they're all finally at school...

Get well soon.

(I suppose, on the bright side, if you're all bunged up with snot, at least you won't be too bothered by the combined aromas of calamine lotion and vomit permeating your lounge at the moment.)

Yours in a woman's world,


PS As for the rugby top, I survived without incident. It is pretty cosy, so I think I'll wear it again. Next time, though, I might accessorise using that fluffy, pink hat with the tassels. I'll be even more conspicuous but it'll be everyone else who is nervous.

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