I’m proud to say that The Special One treats me like an adult. It comes as a shock sometimes, given that internally I still feel like the 10 year old putting penny sweets in a paper bag in the local
sweetshopcandy store. But for some reason she still insists on talking to me like a 36 year old.
Of course, the problem with that is that she expects me to act like an adult. And so, when she asked me to read some passages of a book on birth to prepare me for the arrival of The Little One, she didn’t bother chasing me up like a kid with their homework to make sure that it had been done. She trusted me.
Of course, that was her big mistake. Well, my big mistake, but you know what I mean. Like all big mistakes, it eventually gets found out. Now, it would be embarrassing enough for any father to be caught out like this. It’s particularly embarrassing for me, given that The Special One actually wrote the book in question.
I guess the problem for me (apart from surviving the slings and arrows of an outraged wife) is that the best lessons I’ve ever learned have not come from books or classrooms, but through experience. You learn not to put your hand on the side of a hot oven by putting the aforementioned hand on the side of the aforementioned oven. You learn not to go all-in on a pair of threes by going all-in on a pair of threes. Life is a great teacher.
Now, learning through mistake and misadventure is all fine when it’s your own life you’re messing up. It’s a whole different matter when it’s a defenceless child you’re dealing with. And the problem is that there are some childraising issues that no book is ever going to be able to help you with.
Take fecal matter, for instance. No, please, take it. I have no idea why The Little One’s
nappydiaper will one day contain half a litre of deep yellow Coleman’s mustard, and the next day resemble the aftermath left behind by a small group of partying rabbits. And unless a book contains a comprehensive colour chart vaguely reminiscent of a paint catalogue to help me identify the likely cause of today’s particular hue, it’s going to be of no use whatsoever.
Similarly, for years I’ve watched friends expertly turn a bottle upside down and dab a little bit of milk on the inside of the wrist before feeding their baby. So when The Special One left me with a bottle of breast milk to feed our daughter, I instinctively put a droplet on my wrist, as if I was a young ingenue applying Chanel No 5 ahead of a secret assignation. And then I realised that I had no frame of reference to tell me what I was looking for. I was guessing that it was for heat, but was it too little or too much, or was I actually testing for some skin-based poison, or to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently filled the bottle with Sprite?
The fact is that mums either have innate knowledge that dads are not born with, or they read a hell of lot more about this childraising lark, or they make full use of their network of fellow mums to get their questions answered. My money’s on the latter (unless The Special One is reading this, in which case it’s clearly innate knowledge, darling).
If I’m right, then why is it that there aren’t some more ‘dads groups’ so that I can ask the unaskable among a group of my peers? A gathering of fathers would allow me determine whether purple trousers go with yellow tops, without being given the look usually reserved for the moments when I’ve accidentally stepped in cat vomit and trailed it through the house. Or to ascertain whether a particular type of crying is caused by actual pain, or an intense disappointment at my recent haircut.
Of course, the problem is that if you put a group of men in a room together, the closest you’re likely to get to baby talk is whether it’s possible to put day old pizza into a food grinder and serve it to your child. In the absence of any other foodstuffs, obviously – we’re men, not animals. And while I have every interest in a full and frank exchange on the weekend’s sports, it’s not going to help me work out where to insert that thermometer…
Frankly, I think it’s time for The Special One to write a book on childraising. I will definitely read it this time, I promise. I’m an adult, after all.