Dear Dave

Tuesday 29 December 2009

The Housedad Interrogation

Dear Dave,

Today's letter isn't here. It's over at trying to act nonchalant and blend in.

If you want to know what really makes me afraid, you should head over there now...

Yours in a woman's world,


Thursday 24 December 2009

Christmas crackers

Dear Dave,

The decorations are up, the mince pies are warmed, carols are playing and the weather outside is truly horrible. I guess it must be Christmas.

Remember I mentioned in my last letter that after all these years, the kids might not have any tricks left up their sleeves? Turns out I was right.

Well... about the sleeves anyway:

Christmas seems to have got here in a panicked rush of cards and wrapping but I've managed to find time to watch some films with the boys in the last few weeks. It's only been after Marie has gone to bed on nights when Sarah's busy but we've managed to squeeze in the entire Star Wars saga. We've settled down on the sofa, the boys in their pyjamas and snuggled under blankets, and we've done some male bonding while people with glowy swords leapt around before our eyes. Fortunately, the prequels aren't as bad as I remember. (Then again, I remember them being pretty bad.) Episode 3 is remarkably dark and scary, though. Glad I watched the original trilogy with boys first, a couple of years ago.

Last night, we sat down to watch the end of Return of the Jedi - a little ewok treat before the chaos of Christmas really set in. I had some reheated mulled wine from our Christmas party last weekend, the room was dark apart from the tree lights around the TV (don't ask) and we were all nice and cosy as I switched on the DVD player.

"Would you like a cracker?" said Fraser, offering me a handful of little, round snacks with a hint of chive.

"Yeah, thanks..." I said, taking one. "Er..." I stopped in the process of moving it towards my mouth as every alarm bell inside my head went off at once. (Not to mention several on my tongue, a strange prickling in my thumbs and an itchiness in my toes that made them want to curl up reflexively.) I hesitated. "Where did you get these exactly?"

"They were underneath the sofa cushion," he replied, his mouth full.


"They fell down there during the party, while I was jumping on Lewis."

I blinked. "And you didn't think to take them out again?"

"Er... No."

"So, they've been there all week?"

"Yeah." He clearly wished he'd kept the knowledge of his secret stash to himself.

"Are there any more?"

Fraser nodded reluctantly and I ordered everyone off the sofa again while I switched on the lights and then went hunting around in the fluff and loose change. There were a couple of dozen of the things. My toes curled involuntarily.

Sarah overheard this exchange from another room and called out to me as I went to find a bin and wash my hands. "Never mind, dear. At least it's not snot."

I wasn't too impressed at the time but I suppose she's right. This is the time of year for counting blessings, after all...

Have a great Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 21 December 2009

Guest post by Chris Loprete

Dear Dave,

Well, that's another year almost over - another year of parental peril, another year of housedad adventures and another year of unsolicited parenting advice from me. Only Christmas and Hogmanay to go and we're safely into 2010. Phew!

Wonder what I'll write to you about next year, though? I must have covered almost everything by now. Our kids can't have many more tricks up their sleeves, can they?

Er... Don't answer that.

Anyway, thought you might be interested in this by Chris Loprete over at The Daddy's Den. He's a comedy writer for TV, not a stay-at-home parent, but it seems like he's picked up on the housedad experience a little:

Thanks. I got it.

Why is it that when women see a father alone with a baby, they immediately assume we don’t know what the hell we’re doing?

Now I don’t want to generalise here. I’m not talking about single women. In fact the single women tend to gravitate towards the daddies at the park or in other public places. Chicks LOOOOVE guys with babies. Babies and dogs. They say, “I want that.” Now of course we men are kidding ourselves because ‘that' is not specifically us, but rather a stable man who’s a good father, and the fantasy is fun. Anyway I’m probably already in trouble with my editor who happens to be my wife, so I’ll go on. No, I’m talking about the annoying mother who wants to give all kinds of unsolicited advice on how to raise your child. And rightly so. OBVIOUSLY I MUST need this unsolicited advice because my child’s mother is nowhere in sight. I therefore MUST be doing something wrong. And then, I imagine this “guardian angel” will go along her merry way and later at the dinner table tell her family how she saved a child’s life today.

Take this little encounter for example. It was a summer Saturday afternoon about two years ago. I was in my townhouse downstairs and my wife was upstairs with our infant son. I was watching a baseball game and cleaning. The cleaning part is not important to the story but I specifically remember doing it and I always like to remind my wife/blog editor that it does happen on rare occurrences. Anyway I could hear my son crying upstairs pretty loudly. He was probably getting his diaper changed - which to him has always been the baby equivalent to a root canal. There was a knock at the door. When I answered it I saw a woman who was walking her dog in front of our door. She asked, “Do you have a baby?”

“Why yes,” I said, waiting for the inevitable compliment. Something along the lines of, "I see you walking him. You have a lovely family," or, "Well, he’s obviously going to grow up to be a very good looking man." Why else would she take the time out of her dog walking to knock on our door?

This is why: She looked at me and said, “He’s crying upstairs.”

I paused to make sure I had heard her right. Then I said, “Yeah, my wife’s upstairs with him.”

She replied, “Oh, I heard the game on pretty loudly so I wasn’t sure you if could hear him.”

Yyyeeeeahhh. Handled, honey, but thanks. I’m sure the children of our housing complex are a lot safer with you roaming the sidewalks knocking on doors. Hey, hero, I think I hear a baby coughing a couple of houses down. Do you want to call child services or should I?

Or how ‘bout the woman on the beach later on that same summer? I was walking on the beach, my son safely strapped into the front loader on my chest. I felt good. First of all the Baby Bjorn completely covered my huge gut so I wasn’t nearly as self conscious as usual. And secondly, it was a beautiful day and I was walking with my new son at the place I’m always the happiest: the beach. So when I saw a woman walking toward me and eyeing both of us, I started to feel even better. I was sure she could sense the good energy coming off of me and, like I said, the baby was covering up my huge white shirtless girth, so I thought, 'Hey, I think she’s checking me out.'

So when she passed by and asked, “Does he have sunscreen on?” I was a bit nonplussed. First of all, I had practically bathed him in SPF 560 or whatever the strongest baby sun goop is nowadays. This kid could have crawled across the surface of the sun and come away with nothing but a nice base.

So I told her, “Uh…. yeah… plenty.”

She replied, “Oh. Cause his legs look a little red,” and passed by me never breaking her stride.

I immediately turned and shouted after her, “Yeah? Well they call his chubby legs and butt baby fat. They call yours cellulite!” ZING! That got her. Of course I didn’t actually say that but ooooh I wish I had.

And these brilliant pieces of parenting wisdom are not confined to just me when I’m alone. My wife has had to endure some slings and arrows of her own. It’s like divide and conquer. Once my wife and I are divided, they love to conquer. I don’t ever want to hear a sentence that starts with, “Y’know what WE do…” I don’t even like hearing it from our parents, but that I understand and tolerate because “parental interference” is in the grandparent’s code book. It’s a God given right. To tell you the truth as my wife and I get ready for baby #2, we’ve learned to tolerate buttinskys a little more. In fact I’m amazed how laid back we are about having another child and we’re only 3 months out. I guess we think of ourselves as old pros now. In fact it probably won’t be long before we’re handing out some advice of our own to other parents who obviously don’t have a clue what they’re doing. I’m sure they’ll thank us for it.

Daddy's Den logo.
Pass out helpful pointers to anyone who's within earshot? Who'd do something like that?


Ho, well. Thanks for reading for another year. Maybe in 2010 I'll let you in on my top tips for cleaning light switches safely or the three most important things to remember when pretending to listen to your kids while you're secretly playing Peggle on your iPod.

Then again, who knows what the New Year will bring? All the best.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS If you like Chris' stuff, you should also check out his paternity leave experience and his scary Star Wars incident.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Physics for parents

Dear Dave,

When I first told people I was going to be a dad, many of them said that my world would change. I nodded and smiled. Of course it would change - that was obvious! I simply didn't appreciate, however, how the very fabric of space and time would be ripped and folded around me by the arrival of a small child. With hindsight, I might have been a little more cautious. I certainly would have gone to the cinema more often while I had the chance.

Perhaps if the people I spoke to had had some hard evidence, I might have listened...

That's the problem, though. Up until now, warnings about parenthood have always been riddled with anecdotes and hearsay. In an effort to rectify the situation, and after much experimentation, I've produced the following empirical data to prove that becoming a parent does indeed alter the very laws of physics in a severely world-changing fashion in the surrounding vicinity:

Graphs showing how the laws of physics are changed by being a parent.

So remember, next time you meet a prospective dad who's oblivious to what the future holds, show him this. He still may not believe you but, down the line, at least he'll know what's happened when time starts running in circles and the contents of his fridge keep disappearing down a wormhole into another dimension...

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 11 December 2009

Keeping warm (even at church)

Dear Dave,

Small children are like insulation.

Not that I'm suggesting you try lining the loft with them. Well, probably not anyway. (They'd complain too much to make it worth it.) Then again, I do know from experience that strapping one to your front will make you very warm, very quickly. They also have a tendency to lie around in awkward places such as doorways - despite being irritating and potentially dangerous, this does have its advantages in terms of draft exclusion.

I'm really talking about the way they offer shielding from public embarrassment. If you have small children with you, you can get away with almost anything. Wearing a pink, woolly hat and using a Power Puff Girls umbrella? Check. Discussing the contents of nappies with complete strangers? Check. Singing 137 out-of-tune verses of The Wheels on the Bus on the bus? Check. Skipping down the street? Check. Leaving a puddle of pee in the middle of a shop? Check.

Honestly, the world is your oyster. Should anyone challenge you, all that's necessary is to look sheepish and wave a small child in their face. They'll shake their head with a mixture of understanding and pity and then let you on your way. It's like having a reusable Get out of The Ladies Toilets Jail Free card.

Make the most of it while you can. My kids are older now and not quite as cute as they used to be. Marie can still smile sweetly to extricate us from the worst disasters but people are starting to catch on. Lewis and Fraser, meanwhile, have gone from protective assets to social liabilities. They look old enough to have developed some concept of tact but they've really only got to the point where they're loud and understandable when they say something inappropriate. You know, like, 'This is boring,' during the minute's silence at church on Remembrance Sunday.

Yep, gone are the days when all we had to put a brave face on during the service was Lewis' gurgly breast-feeding or a hasty retreat to the changing facilities after one of Fraser's explosive bowel movements. Now we have to persuade the kids to leave the detailed discussion of Hindu festivals they've been studying at school until later.

This was particularly important the other day, when we were helping our minister, Mike, lead the worship. Despite plenty of rehearsals, there really was no telling what the three of them might say or do.

When it came down to it, however, the boys curled up on a pew and pretended to be invisible so we wouldn't force them to get up in front of everyone and do anything. This was slightly disappointing but markedly better than them getting to the front and launching into the alternative version of Jingle Bells. (The one involving Batman's poor personal hygiene that we sang when we were at primary school.) I reassured them that they didn't have to take part if they didn't want to and left them in the duck-and-cover position. Sarah took the chance to coach Marie on her prayer one last time. I went to make some frantic final preparations for my childrens' talk.

When Mike came to check on me later, I was still in the gents with a foot pump.

"Five minutes until the organist launches into the first song, whether we're there or not. If no one's keeping an eye on her, it'll be something from Evita. We need to go. You ready?"

"Almost. I think there's only one more." I jammed my beach ball further into sink. "Pass me some of that tape."

Mike looked at me with professional concern. "Should I ask?"

"Probably best not to," I said, craning my head round, looking for a tell-tale trail of bubbles in the water.

Mike's pretty good with the kids but many other people I've heard give a childrens' talk haven't been so great. Normal practice seems to be to concentrate on a visual aid, such as a ration book, ThighMaster, Rubik's Cube or rotary telephone. Most of the talk is spent explaining about this object the kids have never seen before, then the last minute or so is taken up by drawing an analogy as to how the thing is exactly like God.

I've always been a little suspect of this approach but having children of my own has only made me more wary. It's much better to tell kids straight rather than dressing it up with metaphors and finger puppets. Keep it short and simple. They may not agree with you but at least they'll have taken in what you were trying to say. Leave the finger puppetry for the adults - it'll keep them focused while you tell them something they've heard a dozen times before but using an analogy that will hopefully finally make them understand it.

That's all very well in theory, of course. Unfortunately, having the courage to break with tradition is something else entirely. Not to mention that, what with the kids being ill, I'd left things to the last moment. My goal for my talk had shifted away from entertaining enlightenment and was heading more in the direction of survival.

I took comfort in the fact that I'd at least chosen a visual aid that the children could recognise.

"Yes!" I spotted the leak, grabbed a towel, wiped the ball dry and applied the tape. Then I set to work with the foot pump.

Mike shook his head. "Just look me in the eye and promise you're going to do better than the student we had over the summer."

"What? The one with the arc welder?"

"That's him."

"Oh, yeah, I certainly hope so." I finished inflating and we hurried out into the corridor. "I'll definitely leave fewer scorch marks on the choir."

Mike appeared less than reassured. "So how is a leaky beach ball like...?"

"I told you not to ask."

"Fine," he said. "I'll ask something else. Have you taken the time to figure out where you're going with your life yet?"

"You're asking me that now?"

"Are you ever less pre-occupied?"

"Well, I'm normally less nervous."

"Which isn't the same."

"No, but..."

And then we were through the door and into the church. The organist scowled and the intro to Don't Cry for Me Argentina morphed awkwardly into the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. There was nothing left to do but get on with the service...

In the end, things went reasonably well. Lewis kept quiet, Fraser decided he would read one of the readings after all and people laughed in the right places when Sarah and I did a sketch about Mary and Joseph. Marie's prayer was a hit. It included saying thank you for the usual suspects, such as friends, family, the rain which helps the flowers grow and all the animals. For some reason, slugs and snails got a special mention, though, and bedtime toys. Everyone was so delighted by this, it helped me get away with a slightly incoherent talk about beach balls.

Mike has already signed us up to help out again in the new year. I'm just hoping I still have some insulation left by then...

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 7 December 2009

Faith vs obedience

Dear Dave,

Sometimes I don't know why I bother speaking.

Fraser was upset yesterday because he'd fallen over and bruised his back. I was concerned with checking he was all right but he was more interested in blaming Lewis. He'd been leaning on Lewis and Lewis had moved out of the way without warning.

I tried to explain to Fraser that really he had to take most of the responsibility for the accident. Leaning on someone as an annoying joke is almost certain to make them shake free, and he should have guessed what was going to happen.

He wasn't having any of it, though.

He just wasn't willing to grasp that other people's actions can be inevitable consequences of what he's done himself. He went into a huff and was grumpy for hours afterwards.

Marie, meanwhile, has recently been erupting in a toddler-style tantrum whenever anything doesn't go entirely her way. She shouted and screamed because one of the boys got to unlock the front door rather than her. She went into meltdown because the socks she wanted weren't washed. She writhed around on the ground because there wasn't time to plait her ponytail...

Every day brings a fresh fight over nothing. It's bizarre.

Why do I even bother speaking?

Then again, perhaps I'm simply saying the wrong things:

Last night, Lewis was telling me and Sarah about the latest computer game he's been playing. We sat and listened while we ate our tea but I had to stop him halfway through. "Are you sore?" I asked.

He looked confused but continued to clutch his trousers. "No."

"Do you need the toilet?"


"Why do you keep fiddling with your willie then?"

He shrugged. "I just like playing with it."

This was pretty hard to argue with and I didn't want to get into the details with a seven-year-old. "Right. Erm... Well, best not to do it when other people are around, OK?"

"Why not?"

"Er... It's a bit like wandering about with no clothes on - no one else wants to see you."


I had visions of this line of interrogation dragging on for a very long time. "Just trust me," I sighed.

"OK," he said with a grin and raced off to return to his game.

There was no arguing, whining, shouting or questioning. Sarah and I looked at each other.

She spoke first. "Maybe we should try saying that more often."

I could only agree.

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 2 December 2009

Advent calendars

Dear Dave,

Gah! It's almost Christmas again already. I'm not sure where the time has vanished to this year. It's disappearance has been all the more galling, however, because I don't have the excuse of sleepless nights and clingy small children. I've had more time available to me than at any point in the last decade and yet I'm still confused the summer has already been and gone. What happened to the long days of sunshine? The strawberries and tennis? The sweet smell of newly-mown grass? The happy sound of children locked outside the back door and forced to play in the fresh air while I have a rest?

Ho well. There's always mince pies and mulled wine to look forward to, I suppose...

I've started work on what to include in our Christmas letter this year and we've decorated the lounge in a confusion of tinsel but I'm not entirely prepared for the deluge of carols, cards and calories that's on its way. The kids, on the other hand, have already begun on the festivities. Thanks to their advent calendars, they're getting a daily dose of chocolate at breakfast.

It's maybe a sign of the end of civilisation that they see this as only natural.

When I was their age, I remember being excited at the prospect of opening a tiny cardboard door each morning of December to find out whether there was a little picture of a robin or a snowman behind it. This simple surprise brought a little colour to my life in between cleaning chimneys and playing with my single toy (a loaf of stale Hovis). That said, I was immensely jealous of a friend who had an advent calendar with chocolate in it. The pictures were on the front of the doors, which was a little odd, and the compartments didn't entirely line up with the openings, so getting the treats out was a battle but, nonetheless, it was an object of wonder, surrounded by warmth and light in my hazy recollections. Truly, it was amazing...

These days, it's tricky finding an advent calendar without chocolate in it. You probably have to go to a Christian bookshop. I'm also pretty certain that's the only way to avoid something that isn't merchandising for Ben 10 or Barbie. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if a plain card one is more expensive than a chocolate one. The things are scarily cheap. We've got a fabric calendar with numbered pockets to put sweets in. Filling it up cost more than it would have done to buy a job lot of three pre-filled calendars from the local supermarket.

That's not taking into account the fact that the packaged ones have extra doors. When I was young, advent calendars stopped on the 24th. Admittedly, this seemed miserly even then - it might be traditional but it felt a day early to my six-year-old mind. Not to mention that there was never any mystery over what the final picture was going to be. (Double-sized nativity scene? Boring...) Nowadays, advent calendars often keep on going right up to New Year. I'm beginning to long for nativity scenes rather than Scooby-Doo in a Santa hat.

Bah, humbug. Something isn't right. Mutter. Grumble. The kids of today don't know they're born. Etc. Etc.

Hmm... I think I need to go have some chocolate for breakfast...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Once again, this was finally going to be the week. The week where I had all the kids at school every day and nothing to distract me - no holidays, illnesses, school trips, visiting relatives, cleaning or anything else.

Unfortunately, I walked them along the road this morning only to discover the heating was broken and school was cancelled. I was back home playing Mouse Trap by five past nine.

Definitely need that chocolate now...