It’s 9.30pm. The kids are asleep, the house is reasonably clean and Reservoir Mum is lying in bed working on the laptop. When I fall down beside her and sigh loudly she moves her pajama top to reveal her preggers belly. As I watch, the unborn Maki presses with hand or foot from the inside to create a small lump that moves ten centimeters left to right. Another lump rises and holds its spot a few seconds later. I push against it with my fingers until it tires and disappears.
‘Just building up his quads,’ I say. ‘I think this he’s going to be a monster.’
‘Could be,’ she smiles.
‘Shit. I’ve wanna write something for the website tonight…’ I say, ‘but I’m fricking knackered. I have no ideas. I can’t be stuffed.’
‘You can do it,’ she says, punching her fist in the air.
‘Yeah… write about the fact that your in-laws are back in the house and we’re stuck having quiet sex for the next six months. Um, Tyson’s getting his molars and waking you up three times a night. You’re going to be on The Circle this week. Lewis did wee in one of the central heating vents…’
‘Little bugger,’ I say, remembering the stench’s slow spread through the house. ‘I should also mention the Harry Potter thing in there somewhere.’
‘What Harry Potter thing?’
‘I’ve been telling the boys I’m Harry Potter and they scream “You’re not Harry Potter” and I say “I am so”, very calmly, and they say “show us your wand then” and I say “I don’t just show my wand to anybody!” It’s been going on for a few days. They’re getting mega annoyed.’
‘Hmm. Not sure it’ll work on the blog,’ she says.
‘You’re probably right. Okay – quiet sex, molars, sleepless nights, The Circle and piss vents. I think I’ll also say something about George Michael,’ I say, ‘but I probably need one more thing.’
We both look at her belly again as it shudders to the left like a fleshy mound of tourette syndrome.
‘Jesus,’ I say, ‘You’re Sigourney fricking Weaver out of Aliens 3.’
‘There it is,’ she says. ‘You’ve got plenty of material. Go now, freak. Write like the wind.’
Even though I followed my usual pre-writing routine – several No Doze pills washed down with a Monster energy drink, two sets of fire hydrants, one minute of running on the spot, as many burpees as it takes me to vomit (I can do 37 now) and a double helping of Madonna’s music video Cherish, I am still building from a blank screen, thanks mostly to the fact that I opened an online stay-at-home Dad article I contributed to, and allowed myself to start reading the comments. The apparent glee behind some blatant prejudice has worn the quality enamel off my teeth.
According to ‘Kelly’ men become SAHDs so they don’t have to work. ‘Rubes’ thinks men who stay at home are lazy bums. And ‘Working Dad’ thinks any man who doesn’t work is a deadbeat loser.
My mind is rebelling hard against the assumptions, the inaccuracies, the stereotypes and so I click over to YouTube for a dose of Ride On Time by Black Box but it’s no use. My rage needs another feed. I click back to the article to see that ‘Anon for this’ believes that men who don’t earn money are lazy lecherous sods and ‘Princess’ has inferred that men staying at home cannot be strong, alpha male, competitive types. According to these humans I am not a man. I am wimpy, wussy, pushover who is avoiding his responsibilities.
With effort I write the opening line It’s 930pm. The kids are asleep… before I falter. My fingers become fists and I watch the computer screen until the blinking curser begins to affect me like Chinese water torture. I head back up the hallway to the bedroom.
‘There is a strange but dangerous creature stalking the world around us, RM,’ I whisper, as I stand by the bed. ‘They want everyone to stay the same, forever. Their weapons of choice are comments and smugness. They bunker down for cover in the established order and open fire on anyone who ventures out for a different view. To weaken those already out of range they frequent popular websites and TV shows and radio shows. They seek to tear down the trailblazers of the world with their petty, pissy, yap-yap.’
‘Okay.. crazy man,’ she says.
I drop my strides and pull my jocks to the side. ‘RM’ I say, ‘Tell me what you see. And don’t say Gonzo again.’
She considers it for a moment before offering, ‘Some kind of perverted flasher?’
‘Something the butcher cut off a turkey?’
‘Male gonads, RM. Which means I’m a man. Ask the guy at the local mechanic to pull his undies aside you’ll the same thing…’
‘I will then…’ she says.
‘ The UFC fighter, the male hairdresser, the bricklayer, the football player, the gay weightlifter, Hugh Jackman in the middle of a musical…’
‘Keep your pants on…’ I say, to counter the sudden tremble in her lip. ‘Point is, it’s easy to define a man – check the gonads. Beyond that a man should be able to behave in a way that feels right for him.’
Reservoir Mum rolls over on to her side, pats the bed and says, ‘Somebody’s gone a little freaky-deaky. What’s going on?’
‘A man shouldn’t have to define or prove his manliness. He should just be able to go about his business – playing football or netball, wearing dresses or pants, working for money or as a stay at home parent – confident in the fact that his manliness is a given and that there won’t be a thousand people itching to scorn and judge.’
‘There will always be scorn and judgement…’
‘Yeah…’ I concede.
Reservoir Mum sits up and says, ‘Don’t worry about people like that, sweetheart. They’re just fuckheads.’
‘Do you remember that guy we saw wearing a dress at the supermarket a few years ago?’
‘Yep,’ I say, ‘Now that takes balls. Good on him.’
‘Would you be okay if Maki wants to wear dresses?
My response is immediate. ‘I just want Maki to be happy.’
‘What if people start picking on him or…’
‘If people started picking on him I will walk along side him. I’ll go to Myers or Safeway and pick the nicest dress I can find and I’ll wear it everywhere and I will go on the telly and say, ‘Back off fuckheads, or I’ll rustle your cattle and burn your frickin houses down…’
Reservoir mum laughs loudly before saying, ’You would not wear a dress.’
Somewhere deep in my psyche a universal bell chimes. I have a vision of myself at the foot of Ayers Rock. Above me, at the top, are thousands of people. There’s an aura of great relief and celebration. I notice a woman wearing a football Guernsey, two men holding their baby, a young boy dressed as a ballerina, a teenage boy in a netball bib, two women wearing matching wedding rings, Dads with kids, women in business suits… the diversity on display is breathtaking and common and as the distance between me and the top disappears I find myself among them. We are dancing around a slain dragon. Its name is Stereotype. And the brand of dress I am wearing is Freedom.
‘Find me your finest,’ I say.
RM punches the air again and yawns as she lifts herself out of bed. ‘This’ll be fun.’
As I watch her angle her belly around the room my rage finally subsides and the tiredness I’ve inherited from a teething toddler puts a magnifying glass to my emotions. I am awash with love for her. She is the center of my world. Exactly as I want it. The song that rises inside me to celebrate this is I Want Your Sex by George Michael. I have no idea why.
‘Your breasts could be feeling increasingly heavy and denser,’ I say, ‘Dilated veins are becoming obvious and your nipples will continue to darken.’
‘Is this a pregnancy tip for Reservoir Dad regulars?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I memorized those lines from the Huggies website.’
(Note – these changes are normal and necessary. Your breasts are preparing to nourish your baby. Try not to use drying soaps and avoid clothing that irritates the nipples. Unfortunately, there is no nipple cream recommended for this stage.)
‘Here’ she says, ‘Chuck this on. A maternity dress should fit.’
I discard all my clothes and put on a dress. I take a deep breath and feel it out. It’s not as liberating as I’d hoped it would be. It’s a little drafty and I feel… unprotected. But when I look up I see something in Reservoir Mum’s eyes and it becomes clear to me that I am in a situation where this feeling of vulnerability is appropriate.
‘What do you think?’ I ask.
‘Quit your whining,’ she says, ‘and come to bed. It’s time for Harry to show me his wand.’