“I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman, can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised!” ~ Kate Bush talking about her song, Running Up That Hill
Maki and I have just watched Tyson join the line outside his prep class after the Principal told me she’d been talking to Jenny, the prep class aid, who’d told her Tyson had been doing really well this week; catching himself before yelling, swearing less, sitting for longer periods and playing well with some of the other boys.
I’m aware of displaying this stoic smile as I chat back and forth even though I’m a little bit lip-quivery inside, mostly because of the fact that I so desperately want Tyson to be loved, to fit in, to do well but also because Kate Bush is singing over the school’s PA system and if you add even a drop of Kate Bush to my emotion-filled petri dish you’ve got yourself a very observable reaction.
To put a lid on it I lean to Fiona and Tammy, the Mums standing a few feet away from me, feign confusion, and say, ‘This is Kate Bush isn’t it?’
‘It is,’ Tammy laughs. ‘Do you like Kate Bush?’
‘I do,’ I say, surprised that anyone would think it necessary to even ask that question. ‘I’m just trying to remember what song this is.’
‘Oh,’ Fiona says. ‘Is it Running Up The Hill?’
‘That’s it!’ Tania says, with a finger in the air.
‘No, I don’t think that is it,’ I say, as I glance around and count about three times more Mums than Dads but notice, most of all, that each Dad is standing away from the pack, on his own, with meters of empty space surrounding him. The Mums are gathered together in three largish groups, a few smaller groups. They’re chatting, laughing, putting hands on shoulders and backs.
‘You could try Shazam?’ Tammy says, pulling out her iPhone.
‘Shazam?’ I say, as I fall in to wonder at how Tyson’s just standing there, fingers hooked into the straps of his backpack, waiting to single file it into the classroom. This morning he was so angry and frustrated about everything – his breakfast, the leg of his school pants, the way I adjusted his collar, a dropped domino – and I was on edge wondering if it was the symptom of his sensory processing disorder and if he was in for a bad day. But then the Principal said something positive about him and now I can see him smiling and standing still, his cheeks all chubbed up; his eyes like tipped-over half-moons. The hope I have for this boy is an ice-cream cone dipped in emotion, sprinkled with relief. I’ll be holding on to it until 3.30pm – clenching it – to see if I get a taste. ‘Is that the App that can hear a song and tell you what it is?’
As Tammy nods and swipes away, searching for it, I tell myself to just go say hello to one of the other Dads. I could ask them how their child is settling in to the school year and with that communication kick-starter who knows, I might get to chat – just like the Mums are chatting – about my concerns for Tyson. I might even encourage another Dad to do the same about his child and have the chance at a new friendship. I want to and I think I’m going to just do it but then something stops me. It feels like one thing that I can overcome with a little courage but then splinters into a thousand things and here I am, another Dad holding his ground.
‘Here it is,’ Tammy says, holding the phone up so that Shazam can name the song just as the music stops and the final bell sounds. ‘Oh bugger.’
‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘I’ll work it out.’
‘You could Google it?’ Fiona says.
‘I’ll go do that right away,’ I say, and we laugh again, just because.
The bell rings out and as Tyson follows the line inside he glances back and gives me a smile and the distance between us comes as a kind of reprieve at the same time that it delivers a memory that doesn’t quite fit: I’m five years old and my babysitter has me by the waist and is pulling me inside her house as I scream, arms reaching out for Mum, who’s stepping backwards, tears in her eyes, dressed in her work place uniform. I need this break from Tyson I think – from his extra needs – but I just don’t want to let him go.
I see that most of the Dads are gone as I head back towards the Tarago with Maki in my arms while there are still groups of women lingering or walking away together chatting and most people would see this as confirmation of the innate differences between men and women – that women are social and emotional and empathetic, that men are competitive and individualistic and single minded – but I’m certain that’s a bunch of bullshit now.
As soon as our boys are born we walk them towards their individual man caves and then we point at them as proof of the way things are. When I think about the way men are conditioned to behave I can see the coercion everywhere and I get some understanding and some self-perspective and I can smash old world masculinity into a thousand pieces and get a glimpse of something better. But then I step outside my house into the world as it’s been for so long and the pieces return like shards of metal to a magnet and I find myself wanting to change the display, but standing in the school ground acting the same way as every other man, holding my ground. The male stereotype has tricked us into putting our balls before our individual temperaments and an alternative seems generations away and at times I’m terrified.
As we pass by the school Crossing Attendant Maki yells out, ‘Hello Lollypop man’ and holds up his domino to hear an ‘Oh wow’ and then hugs me as hard as he can with arms and legs and head and says, ‘I luf you Daddy I don’t luf you’.
‘I love you too, Maki,’ I whisper, hugging back just as hard and kissing his neck, as we move along the footpath with a dozen others.
Even though I’m a tad self-conscious about our public display of deep affection our relationship to each other is giving us access to it, for now at least, and I won’t lighten my grip on this cuddle, or any future cuddle I get from my four boys, even if they do.