Let’s start at the very beginning goes the cute old ditty. And that’s what I am going to do because I like the sound of such a rule and because I quite like rules. I adore rules as long as they are of the kind imposed by me. I love breaking all rules and love telling others, especially the ones dearest to me, that they are not sticking to the rules. Makes me a big bigot I presume. And a touch of a dictator: a benign one but still a dictator.
An imposer of rules I used to be called by my sweet adorable children. Whatever I suggested, even the most enjoyable of parental suggestions, was usually accompanied by my rules. These suggestions would be greeted by disdainful derision and uncontrollable howls of laughter by the three brats, better known as my adored and adoring children. Then they would suggest a number: what’s this, they’d chorus ever so lovingly, is it rule number 29014? Yes I might be a dictator, benign or not, but I’m a bit of the useless dictator who never got his way. A misused dictator and an abused father. And this is going to be my diary of the abuse that happened to me and is still being inflicted upon me by my offspring, usually spiritedly supported by their ever faithful mother.
One of the best titles of books I read or read about is “My family and other animals”. I even tried going to Corfu, where the author of that book was brought up in. I tried going there for my honeymoon. But the story of my life with my long suffering wife is another story altogether so we won’t get into it here. Although if we had to start at the genesis of the story the marriage and maybe the honeymoon escapades and some of the goings-on would or should also feature here. But it will have to be another time. So you will be spared. And my wife, long suffering woman that she is, will be spared some blushes.
I always loved the hidden connotations of the “other animals” of the book about Corfu and the author’s childhood. I’m sure I could title my life with my fruit of my loins something like “My beasts and other children”. As I said they are cute and I adore them but I have suffered them and I think they have suffered a lot because of me and my antics.
This is going to be a view of my family from the eyes of a middle aged, nearly-old father and his relationship, stormy, choppy but always deeply loving one with his children.
I promised to start at the beginning and went on to do the exact opposite. I lost myself in my usual labyrinthine ways and methods. But I promise I’ll get there and all will be as clear as crystal. Pity the cliché does not specify what sort of crystal. My crystal must be of some un-bohemian type: all murky, uncut and with absolutely no value.
The beginning: let’s stick to that. When we do anything in life we are expected to have deep knowledge and unless we are very experienced we are not allowed to handle much in life. Today you need certificates even to do the most menial of jobs. And this is a wonderful improvement in our society. Lawyers, to earn their keep and learn all about the vicissitudes of life, are starting at the very bottom of the rung of life and can be seen, fully suited and cuff-linked and tied up in some designer shoes, scraping the loos at the most prestigious law firm offices. That makes them humble and always ready to be forgiving and not ever, ever be greedy. But again I digress. Back to my central point.
We are taught everything and given manuals about everything in life. But then when we create lives, or do a few things in association with some other agencies to beget life, we are just plunged into the deep end with no course in life-saving and much less in life-rearing. At least for marriage we are given a crash course at Kana. Even if we, or at least most of us who get married, should flunk our entrance exam to one of the biggest and most life-changing steps in our life that is marriage we usually still make it to get married. But unlike the rudimentary and barely elementary kana courses with children there is no learning at all. At least I never heard of any. And my wife and I never attended any course to teach us how to bring up our children.
Mind you even our children didn’t have it any better. With all their schooling and basic skills learning and boy-scouting and girl-guiding I know for a fact that my offspring were never taught how to cope with parents. If we were plunged into parenthood head first with no basic teaching at least we had some years of experience in life and we did see some other children and the way they were treated or maltreated by other parents. So we could look, learn and unlearn some basics. Children have no such skills and no experience but are faced with two incompetent, usually quite dysfunctional adults who are desperately trying to make ends meet and trying hard to cope with one child or a number of children who have complete dependence on them. I imagine there is no manual and no training course because it is so impossible to come up with any form of rules. So see I did mean it when I said we should start at the very beginning. Just as the twee Julie Andrews said in that silly dotty ditty that we start with the notes to learn about music likewise in life we should be given life skills about kid-rearing and parent-handling.
That I imagine is enough of a preamble. Let’s get to the basics now
After we settled in married life my wife and I decided to have children. Or rather it was always agreed that we’d have children to keep us contented and looked after for life. What happened in between or rather what is happening now to me and my offspring was never really thought out, discussed or planned in any way. Again we just did it as it came quite naturally. We made our way from one age to the next with no real design. We groped our way along quite merrily. There were no manuals or guides to lead us in our quests and hoped for conquests.
With children there are loads of problems that crop up from the day they are born. Even to the hospital to my first-born’s birth there was a bit of a hiccup. Well my hunger pangs and my calmness nearly caused a few problems. On the way to hospital I was scared, not about the actual birth or the suffering that my wife was going to go through, but that I’d be caught lacking in the proper calories-intake for my suffering body. So I stopped at some horrid place for sustenance. I bought a half a dozen cheesecakes and ate some in the next few seconds in the car and left the rest for after. I knew I was in for a night of waiting and my body, unless properly sustained and primed, can, with the attendant hunger pains, be a bad example of nerves and quashed hopes even in light of such stupendous sights of new daughters. Much after the birth I found out the real feelings my wife went through having to smell those cheesecakes and having to witness me wolfing them down. Now if I had a manual I’m sure I’d have been told to keep off the greasy great delicacies and not stuff my face in front of such delicate people as pregnant, practically popping mothers tend to be.
After the birth and a few other problems there are the obvious dilemmas: like when do you reveal to your children all that you don’t know about sex? What exactly do you tell them? What time do you let them stay out when their hormones start playing up? Do you tell your kids to be careful when doing what the birds and the bees do or do you lie brazenly and tell them you expect them to be as virginal and good as all good children should be; or do you let out that having a good time is quite ok even if a tad naughty? When can you ever say that naughty is, after all, quite nice? These are the obvious pitfalls which you go through in life with each and every child. It’s more or less a hit or miss situation and you just hope you are aiming right every time you hit out at the cute little angelic monsters. These problems we males have are common to all of us and we all suffer from this frightening lack of confidence when facing children. No matter how much we are trained we lack the finesse of the mothers to know it all. Mothers are surely given some specially bound manual, which is never shown to us males, which explains in plain language all mothers ever need to have explained on the how and wherefore of coping with all known and unknown situations which concern their offspring. I’ve heard it told that women have the maternal instinct while we males never had it in us. It’s a load of rubbish. It’s a manual which is kept hidden away in some female covert convent far away from all male prying eyes that makes all the difference.
Back to the problems of my life: the problems start at birth. I was incredibly proud when the first-born popped her head out of her mother. I had three children and each time I thanked God for his prowess at devising such a lovely procedure as birth. It is an incredibly wondrous piece of harmony and loving. And God’s greatest love was that in His infinite kindness and goodness He (or He/She?) gave the gift of giving birth solely and uniquely to womankind. Was very kind of Him to have saved man-kind a lot of useless suffering. And I would say man would have long ago given up on birthing of any kind if God had given the gift of giving birth to the male of the species.
So no manual for me when the baby was born. I remember an instruction from my mother to make sure something or other is done to the baby. Make her wail maybe? Sounds something my mother would have instructed me. Who knows? The mists of time have started dimming memory and there were too many strange things going on with no easy solution to them. All I knew was that I was ecstatic and hoped the baby was fine. After that we were left quite on our own. A few days after the birth off my wife trotted home to tend for baby and me. And then the kids started growing but that will be another episode of the intrepid adventures of a misguided father.
A shorter, edited(or is that butchered?) version of this article appeared in the October 2010 issue of M magazine