Friday, 17 May 2013

DIY and the successful Dad

Nature would have us believe that men are the stronger, more aggressive sex. We are built to with stand long hunting trips, sabre tooth tigers and double glazing canvassers. There are however some key phrases that can reduce even the ruffty tufftyess man to a quivering wreck. “I’m pregnant” is probably right up there. “We’ve got two kids parties on Saturday” would also feature pretty prominently. For me, and forgive me I can’t remember the exact phrasing, it involved the words PATIO, YOU and BUILD.

The thing is modern men often moan about how they have to do soooo much with the kids and how they have to wear gilets and scarves and pretend to enjoy bouncy castles and yes that fills me with horror too. We grumble constantly about the fact that our dads never had to do all this baby stuff. However, if I’m being honest, the thing that scares me more than anything is the thought of having to do all the things my dad actually did.

You see, my dad could change a gear box on a Ford Anglia. He had a vegetable patch. He put up shelves and made his own beer. He made me a ‘gambo’ which I could race down the hill near our house. Just to clarify, for those of you who HAD heard of avocados before you went to university, a gambo is a cross between a skateboard, a go cart and a portable gallows. Built from planks of wood, pram wheels and steered with string it provided hours of near death experiences for a range of inappropriate age groups.
Now I’m not naive enough to think my Dad undertook these demanding tasks because of his love of all things practical. He did it to get away from the kids for half an hour. And as soon as he was earning enough money to pay somebody else to rebuild his gear box, he did so. But the fact remains for a very large part of my childhood he did do these things.
I can’t do any of those things and until five years ago it wasn’t an issue. I had already met someone and fallen in love some years before. And let us be perfectly clear, my lovely wife didn’t choose me because of my ability to fix the Dyson. She chose me because I could down a pint of Lowenbrau quicker than her, a feat never previously achieved by any man. There were some other reasons of course but we don’t need to worry about all that now we’re married.
The thing is having kids changes it all. From the moment you have that nervous laugh and that weird hug (that isn’t like any kind of hug you’ve ever had before) when the test comes out positive your wife begins to view you not as the man she married but the man her father was. All of sudden you find yourself building furniture. Lots and lots of furniture!

To a certain extent of course I can understand that. Somebody’s got to build the nursery furniture and to be fair to my wife she had the inclination and the ability. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever endured the physical contortions of putting together flat pack furniture would know that pregnancy makes the whole process a little cumbersome. God knows how large people cope. Their houses must be furnished exclusively with ready-made items.

But then things took a slightly surreal turn. “I think we should have a patio. You and my dad could build it”, she said in all seriousness. I didn’t answer for a little while as I assumed she was talking to someone else. Maybe the effects of the third trimester meant that my wife was hallucinating. I had to assume she was seeing things. A landscape gardener perhaps!

“It’ll be cheap and easy you’ve just got to clear out all the gravel, move all the shrubs, flatten the garden and lay the patio!”. What I actually heard was “all you’ve got to do is cut the chest open, take out the old heart, put in a new heart and sew the chest back up!”

I laughed out loud. That was the equivalent of poking a wasp’s nest with my willy. Suffice to say a civilised and amicable discussion ensued whereupon I agreed to do whatever the enraged pregnant woman said.
So it was that I spent my well earned paternity leave building a patio. And when I say well earned let me put it into context for you. I know at least two men, who have made the decision to commit to a lifetime’s hard work and have another child just because of the tantalisingly attractive thought of two guilt free weeks off work.

On completion I have to say that I was remarkably pleased with myself. I mean don’t get me wrong it is the worst patio ever. Anybody who stands on it can see that (as luck would have it, despite its critical importance to our very survival, my wife has never set foot on it). The slope of the patio is so drastic the Swiss Olympic downhill squad have asked to train there. Mountain goats occupy the lower levels towards the fence, afraid to venture north towards the barbeque. But prior to this point my main contribution to the world of DIY was a set of vertical blinds in the kitchen. They took me two days to put up. I created several new swear words after practicing the ones I knew so much that I got bored with them. The dog ripped them down.

I suppose I could finish this piece with a sage like comment about how men gradually begin to fulfil the role of dad. Every year older the children get you invariably find yourself making stuff. You put together bikes and scooters and castles and beds and wardrobes and desks and art tables and trampolines and, once, a big proper wooden wendy house thingy. The thing is I’d be lying because, in reality, our parents still do it for us. They visit us often and every time I come home from work I find something has been moved, or fixed, or improved. So perhaps, whilst some men are genuinely handy, for the rest of us the key to DIY success and true fatherhood begins when the previous generation stops doing all your work for you. That scares me to death!

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