Daddy Day Care

Daddy day careSo after much consideration on my wife’s part and very little resistance on mine, it was decided that my time would be best served giving up work and being a full time Dad to our little boy- for the first year of his life at least.

This meant entering the exciting yet challenging arena of Daddy day care and trust me when I say this, it is not a job for the faint hearted. For a start it quickly became apparent I was to be an ethnic minority. Really, I’m not kidding. To illustrate what I mean please quickly ‘Google’ parent and baby magazines then press images. Whilst the title of many is commendably gender neutral (with a notable exception- ‘Mother and Baby’) of the first twenty magazine covers displayed, twelve show a Mother and baby, eight show just a baby and exactly zero have the image of a Father with said child. This is discouraging and yet slightly liberating. I’ve never been one of the under represented before. Straight away I have visions of me leading the beleaguered and silent minority of invisible Fathers to the steps of city hall where with fists aloft I shall highlight paternal ignorance. Granted trying to follow Martin Luther Kings inspirational ‘I have a dream’ with the slightly less punchier ‘I have a diaper’ is unlikely to have future scholars citing my work but every movement has to start somewhere.

I am exaggerating of course, I have absolutely no intention of acquiring a bad attitude, a can of spray paint and a map of the local ‘Mother’ care stores. I know it’s a slippery slope to joining ‘Fathers for Justice’ and I own neither a Batman suit nor a head for heights. Nonetheless, there is a point to be made. My schedule with my son Toby was a busy one. Monday was nursery rhyme group at the local library, Tuesday was baby sign (I’ll explain later) Wednesday was swimming, Thursday was free though was invariably taken up with pushing my son round the local supermarket and shamelessly using his innate cuteness to attract the attention of more women in an hour than I managed in over ten years of being single. Friday was baby gym. In all of these classes I was either the only Father, or possibly one of two, in which case we would always exchange sympathetic looks, not unlike two previously unacquainted death row inmates about to face the firing squad. In truth I enjoyed my weekly forays into these infant social groups but it was not without awkwardness. For a start I know the words to perhaps two nursery rhymes. These are not lyrics, until now, I have needed to refresh my memory with. I doubt most Mothers have either, but here is where they have the advantage. If as a Mother in a group of twenty women you get the words wrong, then it is likely your mistake will be swallowed up by the other voices around you: unless of course as a man you are the only one singing baritone in a room of sopranos. I can’t tell you how many times I sang- ‘One little speckled dog’ only to have all the other mothers, and I swear even my own son, look up at me with an expression that clearly said ‘You dick!’ I mean, how the hell was I supposed to know it’s about a fucking frog? Although the next line- ‘sat on a speckled log, eating the most delicious grubs’ should have been my starter for ten.

This was difficult enough when all I had to do was sing and not embarrass my child. Worse still when entering the confusing world of baby sign. To be fair it’s a terrific concept. In order to lessen the frustration of being unable to communicate what they want, it’s been found that babies can associate and indeed mimic sign language to convey their physical needs. Unfortunately its effectiveness is dependent on the baby’s dunderhead Father mastering the basic hand signals required to communicate these needs. Taking into account my already woeful knowledge of nursery rhyme lyrics I strongly suspect I have sat in the group and with desperately flapping hands communicated to my bewildered son everything from ‘Are you hungry?’ to ‘Sink the Bismarck.’ No wonder the poor sod looks confused.

Baby gym is another terrific concept- in theory. The title is slightly misleading. It’s not like I was ‘spotting’ my son on the bench press (‘Come on Toby, it’s all you! push, push, push!) but rather a custom built arena where parents are encouraged to flip, twist and catapult their children around a padded room in an attempt to build up their core strength. Again I don’t have a problem with this, other than the fact that due to my son being neither able to walk, nor barely crawl at this stage, his locomotion was generated almost entirely by me. I must have attended at least half a dozen sweating hour long classes before realizing my son was doing very little what I would call ‘gym’ work whilst Daddy was, as the phrase puts it, ‘breathing out of his arse.’ In truth I could actually warm to the concept of taking an older relative to the gym with you to do the work. I don’t suppose my Gran is likely to agree to a half hour on level twelve incline of the treadmill on my behalf but no pain no gain.

To be fair it is not the first time Toby has outsmarted me. When playing at home I sit my son on a small play mat so, should he vomit or pass any other bodily fluids it’s not onto our carpet. In order to encourage him to crawl I once placed his favourite toy at one end of the mat and him at the other. I then verbalised (not with sign language- there’s every chance he’d have left the room to get me my newspaper if I’d tried that) that he should crawl over to get it. My six month old son- and I swear I’m not making this up- then looked up at me with an expression that went somewhere beyond contempt, looked down at the mat and took hold of the edge before pulling it and his favourite toy toward him. Without moving an inch he then picked it up, examined it curiously and flipped me the bird. Actually maybe I imagined that. Or maybe he’s better at sign language than I thought.

Until next time.

Politics

Politician Lord SutchSo, there’s been a great deal said about the recent general election. Some of it well informed, some of it not so. The problem with entering the murky yet spirited pool of political debate is that there is a very real possibility of offending somebody. In my experience Political opinion stimulates the same part of the brain that is triggered during a road rage incident- the part that takes things far too seriously.

For example, when I accidentally cut somebody up, it would seem my car inadvertently activates one of those signs that Police traffic cars have in the rear window. The ones that say “Police – stay back” – in red flashing lights. Except my sign says – “I’ve just fucked your wife”- at least I’m assuming that’s what it must say to warrant the reaction some people have to a minor accidental infraction on my part. Apologising by a cheery wave, I’ve learned, just aggravates the situation: either that or the sign just adds “- and your mother as well.” My point is that after reading on Facebook, several of my friends’ rather vicious attacks on the main party leaders I was quite surprised. I had no idea they knew these people so well. After all, how else are you able to offer such a well-qualified opinion of an individuals personal traits.

Before I begin and lose the majority of what readers I have, let me say this. I am not advocating National Hug a Politician Day. Criticism and public flogging go hand in hand with the job, a downside I’m sure most have come to terms with. I do feel however some recognition should be given. As my other blogs detail I have a now 10-month-old son who has got me wondering what qualities to best instil in him as he grows. Which public figures, past and present best represent an example of what type of person he might aspire to be? This is tricky because I believe the best role models are not always the most obvious.

For example you might scoff at the possibility of any party political leaders fitting the bill but I disagree. For a start the clues in the title:- ‘Leader of…’. Not ‘Follower’, not ‘Agree’er’, not ‘Go with the flow’er’. Regardless of what your political beliefs are or whether their individual manifestos meet your personal needs, regardless of whether their vision is yours or not, these select few are definitely people who lead. As human beings we are not programmed to deal well with rejection, public humiliation, personal attack or failure, four factors that often prevent people from daring to make a change for the better in their lives and which leading politicians must be able to shrug off daily if they are to succeed. This is of course what most refer to as having a thick skin. I personally think of it as the ‘fuck it’ factor and is, as I will be teaching my son, an essential piece of mental equipment employed by the most successful people in the world who are undoubtedly so, not because they are the best at what they do, but because they refused to give up where others did.

Of course some will say Nigel Farage is not a good example for my son to follow but we should tread carefully there as well. Since my sons mother- and my wife of course- is Australian and therefore an immigrant herself I have more right than most to have issue with UKIP’s policies but it is not those I am highlighting. Since the parties inception in 1993 its profile has risen quite dramatically. Nigel Farage has not been entirely responsible for that, having only taken over at the head in 2006, but his leadership certainly hasn’t done them any harm, securing his party the third biggest percentage of the vote share in this year’s general election in spite of a hostile media campaign. Say what you will about UKIP, like Nigel Farage or loathe him, that sort of result takes planning, hard work and a dedicated strategy, all essential components for strong leadership.

But then leadership is a tricky thing because it is not always bestowed on the most righteous of individuals. I don’t think anyone could argue that Adolf Hitler was a terrifically wholesome individual and let me state for the record I will definitely not be proposing him as a role model for my son, but as any number of military forums still debate, his leadership style was something to be considered. Hitler was a determined commander, often making decisions throughout the war from one of several field headquarters near the front, as opposed to several hundred miles behind it as favoured by many other heads of state in wars since. He was determined to be involved at every level of military intervention and was famous for frequently overruling his much more experienced Generals for decisions he saw as strategically best. On an individual campaign basis, much more qualified people than myself can debate whether this was stupidity or balls to the wall leadership. In the end of course his downfall was initiating a simultaneous attack on the British Empire, the United States and the Soviet Union, but right up until that point this was a man who never shied from making the tough decisions. In a better person, would that such determination and belief in preservation of cause be instilled in some of our politicians.

Fast forward seventy years and I find it disappointing that in this day and age Evelyn Beatrice Halls famous quote- ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ often sited to display the principle of free speech, seems to have been eroded to a quote on Facebook stating ‘David Cameron is a Cunt.’ It’s quite possible there are some people who actually know him, think he is one, indeed some people who know me might think I am, but then by knowing me they’ve earned the right to say that. In other words, by all means criticise policy, criticise a party’s political agenda but unless you want to come across as ignorant and misinformed might I suggest you post something a little more educated than a personal and vitriolic attack on a person’s character.

At the end of the day when running for election the leader of a political party is simply there to stand up and say ‘this is my idea, what do you think?’ and then stand and be judged at the ballot boxes. For that reason I have no problem with holding any of these people up as a role model for my son. Even if he grows up to join and advocate the principles of a political party I cannot stand, my objections would be dwarfed by my pride in his drive to see them achieved. In a day and age when reality TV pushes the kind of self-absorbed celebrity that believes fame is its own reward, I would much rather point at Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Sturgeon and yes even Farage and say leadership is not always popular, not always successful but is always from the front.