Waiting to Receive Word from the Mothership
Archie, Lewis and I are on our way to our first session at the Northern Dads Playgroup, which, according to the venue roster, will be held this week at Joe’s,– and I’m just a little nervous. Apart from a brief chat with the current president, Dan, I’ve met no one else and the list of members is twelve Dad’s long. Here I go once again, the odd one out. Recently an acquaintance introduced me to a group of strangers with the comment, ‘He’s not quite usual,’ and at Archie’s three-year-old kinder last week, when I told his teacher I was a stay-at-home dad, she said, ‘Oh, you don’t hear of that very often’ and even though I laughed about the comments at the time and started shimmying my shoulders and rolling my eyes – to signify that I could just shrug opinions away – they have stayed with me and clouded my mind for several days.
As I’m doing my best to convince myself that other people’s opinions don’t matter, I notice a massive billboard of a woman in black leather riding the backs of two men who have bits in their mouths. She’s controlling these manimals with reins. The ad is clearly sexist and I have a feeling that I should be outraged. I mean, what if the scenario was reversed and a man was riding two women? I should be punching the steering wheel and influencing public opinion on talkback radio, but opposing that view is the flame of desire the ad has ignited inside me. It’s lit a short wick that’s hissing, God, I wish I was one of those men, on its way to detonating a large bomb that will blow any potential outrage to smithereens.
I’m so conflicted that Archie has to call my name several times before I’m able to focus on what he’s saying: ‘Today I was pretending that our dogs were wolves and I had to climb things to get away from them.’
‘Cool!’ I say.
‘But then when I told Lewis to play too he said no and wouldn’t let me climb things and kept pushing me.’
‘Did you do that, Lewis?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ Lewis says. ‘And I threw things at him.’
‘But then I just ignored him and just walked awayfrom him,’ Archie says.
‘Well done, Arch. That’s exactly what we talked about. Just walk away.’
‘Yes,’ says Lewis, ‘And then I followed him.’
‘Oh . . .’ I murmur, asan ad on the radio catches my attention. A woman’s voice, all sexy and sultry, says, ‘Wanna last the distance boys? Wanna knock her socks off? Wanna hear this?’ followed by the sound of moaning and a number to call for a special nasal spray that somehow travels from the nostrils to the penisto treat premature ejaculation and while I’m wondering if I should log the number into my iPhone as a permanent contact so that I can impress Tania by lasting days and days and maybe even months I remember a segment on a national TV program last week titled House-Trained Hubbies.
It was about stay-at-home dads and featured three men who were sitting meekly on a couch as they received allowances from their stern-looking wives, and there was a real effort to make the men seem timid and prissy, and the women butch and aggressive and although it was no reflection at all on my relationship with Tania, I received some tongue-in-cheek texts from certain friends and had to physically assault the back of my texting hand to stop myself from sending curt, defensive replies. The memory is haunting. Many other people must have seen that program and thought of me! The pressure of the ‘not quite usual’ begins to settle over me again.
To distract myself I tell the boys how happy I am that they worked out the wolf problem themselves and that although it is possible for them to have fun by themselves, it’s always more fun to play with others. I continue mumbling something about two heads being better than one before my voice trails offinto nothingness.
It’s only after Lewis throws a sandal at me – and a good thirty seconds pass before I even think about screaming ‘Don’t!’ – that I realise I am locked away inside myself. and Isuddenly feel horribly neglectful.
I look at their ruddy little faces in the rear-vision mirror, surprised at how they seem to be looking more and more like each other now that Lewis is two and a half his eyes have settled into a murky green and he’s lost most of his blond locks. I make a pact with myself: I will share my inner-self more and, like a rodeo rider bursting from the gates on a wild bull, I will drive my thoughts into the real world to make myself wholly present and ensure that every moment I have with my kids is a bonding one.
‘Boys,’ I say, ‘sometimes I have doubts about myself because I don’t quite fit “the norm”, and while I’m generally okay with that – and aware that I possess many, many outstanding qualities – I do find, in moments of weakness, that I doubt myself, just a tad, and wonder if perhaps I should be doing things a little differently. I wonder if you guys are going to be okay. I wonder if I’m not doing things quite right –’
‘Lewis just stuck his finger in my ear, Dad,’ Archie says.
I am, a powerlifting, stay-at-home dad with a strong aversion to actual paid work and so pragmatically challenged that I’d prefer to write thousands and thousands of words than spend even five minutes researching more practical and worldly concerns like – I don’t know – our family’s personal finances or… if global warming is real’
Lewis’s finger is back in Archie’s ear as we pull up to Joe’s house, but apart from that the boys seem unmoved by my emotional reveal
After wandering inside for some awkward introductions I’m handed a very strong coffee and survey my surroundings. There are three Dads – Dan, Jack and Simon – sitting around the kitchen table, and two more Dads – Ben and Tim – sitting on a mat with three children and an upturned box of toys. I’m pleased to see that there is no real order about the proceedings. In fact, an overhead snapshot of this scene, with me centre of the room and Joe at the coffee machine behind, would give the impression that a Dad bomb had just gone off, scattering fathers and children about in a completely random fashion.
Outside there are four more kids and another Dad playing around a swing set attached to a two-storey cubbyhouse with an underlying sandpit and I use my whispery wow-voice to encourage Archie and Lewis to go outside and play. I join Dan, Jack and Simon at the table to hear their conversation in midstream. A rush of nerves leads to a skolling of coffee when I realise they’re talking about the House-Trained Hubbies segment.
‘I’ve got a theory,’ Jack begins, pausing to reach for a tissue as his daughter Josie runs and jumps onto his lap, clearing away the lines of mucus running from her nose just before she takes a bite of lamington, ‘that these types of TV shows have to cover a lot of story in a short time, so they rely on clichés to fill in the gaps, which means they stick to the usual stereotypes that men and women have had to put up with forever.’
Somehow I manage to resist the urge to say ‘right on’ as Simon says, ‘Check out all the advertising of baby products. If there’s a male involved the script is always the same – man stuffs something up and a woman runs in rolling her eyes to save the day.’
‘Yeah,’ Dan says. ‘This stupid idea that there are tasks just for men and tasks just for women. When I was a kid, women – in England anyway – went out of their way to learn things like . . . um, how to change a car tyre . . . because knowing something so useful is empowering. The time comes when you need that skill and . . . oh shit.’ Dan leaps from his seat and opens the sliding door to yell, ‘Mikey, get off there. Now!’ to his five-year-old son who’s standing on the roof of the cubbyhouse. We wait a little nervously as Mikey makes his way down.
‘Sorry,’ Dan says. ‘The time we’ve spent in emergency . . . um, yeah . . . so if men at the drop of the hat have to be the one at home, for whatever reason, they really should be allowed the basic home-making skills . . . and they’re just as capable of having the skills of cleaning house or rocking a baby to sleep as a woman is of changing a tyre or –’
Two-year-old Rex runs over to Dad Joe, points at his nappy, and within seconds Joe exits the table again. The smell of soiled nappy lingers without comment or surprise from anyone until Tim says from the floor, ‘Wow. That was a ripper.’
‘Telling the story that housework is a feminine thing doesn’t do women any favours either,’ Jack adds. ‘It says that this is their lot in life and they’re trapped in it. Housework is not a male thing or a female thing, it’s just work.’
I finally manage to voice a‘right on’ before I have the chance to censor myself, and it’s only because I’m so besotted with being part of a like-minded group that I follow my 70s catchphrase with, ‘Funny though – I’d rally against stereotypes and sexism and join a peace march and carry placards to protest against the pigeonholing of men and women, but then I get a little glazy-eyed and turned-on by this billboard ad that shows a leather-clad woman riding two men like they’re ponies . . .’
I would describe the ten seconds of silence that follows as beheading in its intensity. My head is spinning in mute horror.
‘Is that the one on the corner of Glenlyon and Lygon Street?’ Joe says, bringing me back into my body.
‘Yes,’ I say and clear my throat.
‘I love that ad,’ he says.
There’s much laughter in the two hours that follow – good-natured ribbing and conversations about football and how to plait ponytails and stories of child-related public humiliations and tips on how you and your partner can have sneaky sex in a houseful of kids – and lots of swing pushing and building sandcastles and other child-focussed activities. At one stage I’m even standing in front of everyone with my hands on the back of my head, swivelling my hips like I’m mastering the hula hoopand then it’s time to go.
‘This has just been so awesome,’ I say before challenging myself to go further. ‘You know, there’s also the stereotype that men can’t be affectionate, that men can’t hug . . .’
Dan gives me a look that could petrify the bones of a live elephant and he suddenly has to sit down due to a back spasm that seems very similar to my episodes of fake narcolepsy and soI touch my nose, wave goodbye and say, ‘See ya next Friday!’
As we pass the erotic billboard again on the way home, I feel centred and say, ‘Boys, stay-at-home dads are situated somewhere between the usual and the unusual, but like aliens cloaked in human form we’re waiting patiently as more of us appear here, there and everywhere, and when our numbers reach a certain level of saturation we will receive word from the mothership that the time is right to rise up and take over the world.’
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‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ ~ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge
A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.