MONOLOGUE #3: DADS' CLUB
This week’s monologue is the last in the James Bond/Stay at home Dad trilogy. Not much Bond in this one, but plenty of Dad stuff. It feels good to get this lot off my chest and out into the world. I probably could have spent a bit more time tweaking and rehearsing. I’m trying to make this a weekly thing and that will include writing the things in the future so I’m adopting a “fail faster” strategy for gradual improvement.
This one’s about what happens when you bring a bunch of men together who have little in common other than being the one that’s left holding the sprogs.
Rush hour has just finished, so I'm trundling the buggy through the park, burning my breakfast calories under steady sheets of drizzle, maintaining my course to a hexagonal hut in the middle of a housing estate.
My wife first told me about this place when trawling the net a few months back but I was reluctant to come. Then one of the representatives spotted me at a playgroup and handed me their card.
A refuge from the oestrogen orthodoxies that make up most childcare groups. A place where you can maintain a stoic silence in between issued dictums to your child while not having to explain what you're thinking or how you feel about stuff. A place where, during the final sing song, you don't have to alternate between bass and falsetto in order to fit in with the key that the mainly female group have chosen for The Wheels on the Bus.
Yes, we may have cut an effete figure when wheeling our buggies along our mutual routes. But now that our strollers are parked, our raincoats are pegged and umbrellas folded, we stand in our frayed jeans and faded tee shirts, holding mugs of instant coffee. We stand back to watch our babies and toddlers amble about with the same detached admiration we display after assembling a bookshelf. We let our kids climb whatever they want, we let them kneel down in the mud outside and we do not dress our daughters in pink.
As if sensing a change in the atmosphere, my daughter finds a fire engine toy that is bigger than her and pushes it round the hall for the next hour. "That's my girl! You know your Grandad Pat used to ride around in one of those", I tell her in a deliberately loud voice. One of the other Dads tells me that they all paid a visit to a fire station a few weeks back. They got to sit in the cabs of the fire engines and wear the fireman's helmets. Sometimes the children got to have a go too.
And yes, that does indeed presuppose that none of us have done anything as manly as fighting a fire. A quick straw poll of the room reveals the most common profession to be: graphic designer. Right now though our trades are redundant because our wives make more money than we do.
A massive biker type arrives half an hour in. He plonks his son down on the floor, a joyous pudding of a baby, a yummy dollop of podge in a 6-9 months baby grow. When I ask him what is son is called, he replies, "Achilles."
Occasional conversations flare up now and again. One centres around a little known fact that all cars that appear in car adverts are actually CGI. Haven't used a real car for years, apparently. The conversation shifts to Graphic Design and someone mentions the Photoshop disasters website. I bring up a particular example of atrocious photoshopping from the poster for Sex and the City 2. It soon turns out that the man that I'm talking to was responsible for that very poster.
It goes without saying that I don't tell anyone that I'm a poet. I didn't do it when I worked as a gardener and I'm not going start doing it at Dads' Club. During the next hour I put lots of bass in my voice, walk with a pronounced swagger and tell everyone that I'm a writer. That all of course all goes down the pan when I reach into my bag for some rice cakes and out pops one of my wife’s panty liners. At least five Dads see it in the two seconds it takes to shove it back into a side pocket. The mutual silence resumes.
I think of breaking the silence by asking if anyone else read the article about a study on fatherhood that made the broadsheets. The study found that the more time and attention a father spent on a child, the smaller his testicles tended to be. They found this out by getting dads to fill out questionnaires. They then measured their testes using magnetic resonance imaging. These were also correlated with studies where men with smaller testes showed more activity in areas of the brain linked with nurturing when shown pictures of their children. The article points out that these represent two differing evolutionary strategies. The payoffs between having lots of children and not investing compared to having fewer offspring and investing more. They cited two examples from the animal kingdom, sea turtles lay lots of eggs and leave them to their fate, chimpanzees have fewer offspring and invest more in their upbringing. Now, I'm not sure how hot that sub desk is on fact checking but I'd bet my bottom dollar that chimps have bigger bollocks than turtles. Ive seen chimpanzees, we've all seen chimpanzees, we've…seen…them. I've not seen any footage of sea turtles going (mimes swimming with smug look on face and legs spread wide apart.)
When the clock strikes twelve we put all the toys and play mats away and sit in a circle with our children plonked on front of us. We then launch into renditions of Twinkle Twinkle, Roly Poly, Row Row Row Your Boat and that ever present classic Wind the Bobbin Up.
James Bond has only one interaction with a child in the whole 24 film canon. In The Man With The Golden Gun, A Thai street urchin climbs onto Bond's boat, trying to sell him an ornamental elephant. After he helps Bond start the engine to escape the approaching henchmen, Bond places his hand over the child's face and sends him crashing into the water before speeding off. One cannot help feeling that that one child represents all the illegitimate children that Bond left around the world, clinging to the aprons of the former seductresses who managed to stay alive after a night with 007.
We are the boys that dreamed of being spies, boxers, footballers and astronauts. Our tuneless chorus puts paid to any residual aspirations we may have of fronting rock bands. Our thirty-something physiques betray the lack of time, money and energy we have for maintaining gym memberships. To add to all that, current advances in science imply that our combined gonadic mass may indeed be less than that of the drunks on the bench outside.
And yet our voices combine, lacking in melody perhaps but still testament to the fact that we are a group of men brought together by a common cause. We are not so much a symptom of a collective crisis in masculinity but rather a renegotiation on what masculinity is. We are a sign that the world is becoming a better place.