There are many issues facing a stay-at-home dad. Some are practical, such as when to get sleep, where to take the kids when it's raining and how to avoid standing in puddles of pee. Others are more psychological, from maintaining a healthy level of self-worth in a society obsessed with status and the acquisition of material goods, to learning to phase out children's television before suffering excessive mental trauma. It always surprises me, however, that even with all my preparation and experience, I still face fresh challenges on a regular basis.
My current dilemma is to do with hobbies:
Try as I might, I can't keep the kid's TV out of my brain entirely and I've noticed many stories about pushy fathers teaching their hobbies to their offspring, desperate for their children to be like them. You know the kind of thing: lumberjack dad wants short-sighted, geeky son to turn off his computer and take up bear wrestling, or professor dad wants girlie daughter to cast aside her dreams of pop stardom and give entomology a proper chance... It usually plays out with the child gaining the self-confidence to argue back and persuade their parents to let them be themselves.
Real life is seldom as extreme. For instance, my dad would probably have liked me to enjoy sailing - he enjoys sailing himself and having an extra crew member is always useful. Unfortunately, I have mild agoraphobia which is brought on by a light wind and lots of open sky and that is exacerbated by engine noise. A hobby involving flapping sails, the Norfolk broads and an outboard motor was never really going to be my thing. I put up with our infrequent Sunday afternoon excursions but I didn't volunteer for them.
I have fonder memories of making Airfix models with my dad. The smell of solvents still takes me back to happy times attempting to glue little bits of plastic together to produce a vaguely recognisable representation of a ship or airplane. In retrospect it must have been torture for him as I waved a sharp knife around and then clumsily attached pieces squint.
We frequently stuck our own fingers together.
Even when I was eight, I couldn't help noticing that HMS Victory was a trifle shonky and Titanic looked somewhat post-iceberg (particularly after it fell off its display on top of the TV a couple of times). Nonetheless, I'm glad we had those evenings together. Dads sharing the occasional evening or Sunday afternoon inflicting their favourite pastime on their children is part of growing up.
Well, at least it is when the dad is out at work the rest of the week. My boys have a different experience. Just like me, they love board games involving little plastic orcs and also any sort of computer game. They're always wanting to share my hobbies.
Don't get me wrong - it's great digging out a board game I haven't played for twenty years and playing it with them. The problem is that I'm not merely around at weekends and for the hour before bed-time. I'm here all the time. They can pester me constantly and demand to play games over and over again.
Worse still, they have a tendency to beat me. I can hold my own when playing them one-on-one in a game of pure strategy, such as Chess, but in a three-player game which involves both strategy and luck they've quickly learnt that the best tactic is to gang up on me first before fighting it out with each other. I lose a lot. Although that's better than when I play them at computer games - with those, the boys have had so much practice, they can defeat me before I've entirely worked out which buttons to press. This leaves them extra time to remorselessly mock me...
Getting soundly thrashed ten times in a row at New Super Mario Brothers, despite my best efforts and spraining my thumbs, isn't fun. Having to set up an army of plastic goblins for the third epic battle of the afternoon (while also entertaining Marie) starts to wear thin. It's all a little too much like work.
I suppose, on the bright side, it's better than having to repeatedly play Scrabble or Mouse Trap with them but sometimes I'd love to slip away to get some peace. What would I do, though? My favourite pastimes are becoming subverted. I normally take a break by playing a game. What do I do to take a break from playing games?
I need to find a new hobby that I know the boys will hate, just to get some space. Let's see. What's going to put them off the most?
- Being outdoors.
- Plenty of physical work.
- A lack of gadgets.
- Wind and rain.
- Having to go a long way to get there.
- Loud engine noises.
- A high probability of getting wet.
- Lots of...
Yours in a woman's world,