Like many parents, dog owners or alcoholics socialising, the other day I was in a park.
There are these giant logs – let’s call them what they are: tree corpses. And they’re catnip for children. Even when you tell your kid he’s dancing on a tree’s dead body, he’ll still want to climb on it, jump off it, climb back on, jump off again, and then climb back on. Then – when he’s done that – he can jump back off. And before you know it you find yourself saying “ok, five more minutes and then we’ve got to get back.”
And there it is. That first moment in the day when you hear your own dad come streaming out of your mouth like a song you long since thought you’d forgotten but in fact remember every single word to. That’s right. Dad phrases are exactly like ‘Never Ever’ by the All Saints (try it – it’s in there I guarantee).
All parents have this verbal muscle memory, of course. But there’s something significant about men doing it, because we’re meant to be different from our dads. This generation of dads are unquestionably the finest breed of man parents since records began. Anyone who became a dad after about 2010 has a self-righteous smugness, which has now been termed “modern”. And this re-brand is built on some core principles. Pushing a pram is the new driving a scooter. It’s now ultra cool to wear a baby sling, preferably for the shortest, most public, walk possible before your lower back plays up. And finally, deploy some stubble.
Being a dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s exhausting, relentless and very poorly paid. The rewards of two beautiful children who I’d literally do anything for (with some caveats) are frankly not enough compensation for the hours of yawning until my jaw cracks and my eyes have so much liquid in them I look like I’ve been maced. Thanks to these tiny people I now know how low my definition of fun can really go (watching traffic jams you’re not in is the new porn), how absorbent my jeans are (who cares? I’m not washing them until they attract foxes), and how little sleep I really need (I can survive on two hours but I get a bit Jeremy Vine-y after a while).
Being a modern, hands-on, dad is the cross on which men can now fashionably martyr their hairlines, sex appeal and good jumpers, because we’re damned well doing things differently. But. There’s a serious fly in the ointment. I keep saying things my own dad used to say. History can’t help repeating itself. Phrases, words – even noises. Here are some examples:
“Ask your mother.”
Used at least fifty times a day as an answer to such questions as ‘what are we doing today?’ and ‘why is this car black, daddy?’. I use this so much it’s become a verbal tic, and I’ve been known to say it to friends of mine as if I was trying some kind of high-end banter. I’m absolutely not. I’m just so tired my brain doesn’t know what to send to my mouth any more.
“Just give me five minutes.”
Usually a response to the question ‘will you play with me, daddy?’ Don’t think I never play with my son – I’m a modern dad, guys, so I spend most of the day on my hands and knees indulging in classic games like ‘pirate batman’. KILL ME NOW. ‘JGM5M’ is usually said when I want some time away from playing another three hour cycle of ‘Santa’s treasure’ to have a cup of tea, or just stare into the middle distance and try to remember my own name.
There’s just so much TALKING with these small children. And I know modern parents should engage and pursue every thought their little ones have, but frankly how am I MEANT to respond to a list of facts about a jumper my son’s friend wore to school last week? This ‘Mmmm’ response is often topped up with an absent-minded “yes” or a “did you?” Exactly what my dad used to say to me. Oh, sweet Jesus.
“GENTLE! CAREFUL! GENTLE!”
We have a one year old who my four year old likes to hold, drag, chase, throttle and head-butt. I can’t possibly police every interaction between the two of them so instead I give up, kick back on the sofa, pop a Facebook in my peep-hole and then just shout this again and again no matter what they’re doing. I’ll sometimes find myself bellowing it when it’s just me and the dog in the room. She doesn’t mind.
Anyway my point is: HOW CAN I BE A MODERN DAD IF I KEEP SAYING THESE THINGS?? MY SON IS BASICALLY HONKING ON A NEGLECT PIPE! I MUST THROW IN THE WET-WIPES THIS MINUTE!
But I can’t. That’s the deal of being a dad. And this is the challenge of being a modern dad. Continuing the dad-display on social media and in public, whilst knowing that behind closed doors we’re the same clueless chimps who’ve been doing this for millennia. Just ask your mother.