The beach has never appealed to me and getting wet has been reserved for showers and baths. Even while living in the coastal city of Warrnambool, I went into the water twice. Once because I was trying to impress some girls by skinny dipping – which, thanks to the freezing conditions, turned out to be a puckering, lingering mistake – and another time because I fell asleep on a blanket and the tide came in.
So it was hard for me to adjust to the idea that I’d be going to swimming lessons with the kids. It was Tania’s idea, of course, but even I can understand that kids should be skilled enough to keep their heads above water if they are ever unfortunate enough to fi nd themselves in it. I was just hoping that swimming lessons would be Tania’s domain (or my mother-in-law’s, or a distant relative’s, or the guy who runs the late-night kebab van in Preston), but no such luck. We’re booked in every Tuesday for (what feels like) eternity: five-year-old Archie in a class on his own at nine am, almost-three-year-old Lewis with me at nine-thirty and six month-old Tyson with Tania at ten.
Yep. That’s right. Lewis and me. In the water. With other people who may not have showered and are probably peeing.
The muggy air and the echoing screams and hollering makes me feel like I have a concussion. Fucking togs – on entry into the water the trapped air escapes and makes fart bubbles right next to several of the mums I’ll be spending the next half hour with. Yes, of course, I am the only dad. Lewis loves the water. I love it about as much as I enjoy dipping into tubs of cow shit and worms, but I do my best to pretend that I am pretending to love it because Tania is watching. A woman brushes against me. Her legs are hairier than mine (I’m talking bear-in-the-rapids-searching for-salmon hairy) and I’m thinking that Lewis better enjoy this a hell of a lot.
The group instructor seems to have her sense of self built around the fact that she is very stern. ‘The kids will get used to it,’ she says. I want to tell her to keep her ‘I’m a tough girl and I don’t care who knows it’ routine to herself but I notice something on one of the mother’s teeth and am almost certain it’s a pube. We start singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and I feel ridiculous enough to consider putting my face under the water into faeces-ville. The instructor yells, ‘And what do the mummies on the bus do?’ and avoids eye contact with me. I think, Mummies? What the fuck do I look like? before internalising a vision of myself poncing around in a circle with a bunch of women. Oh, shit. Still, I stew on her discrimination for a minute and am just about to scream, ‘Are there any fricken dads on this bus?’ when she introduces the next chorus with, ‘And what do the dads on the bus do?’ I bite my tongue. Take it easy, man. Just take it easy.
We start swimming through the pool to collect floating toys. We’re told to get one each and return it to the toy tub but I think, Stuff it, this is my chance, and me and Lewis return five toys in record time, biceps bulging from the effort. Sure, some of the other kids are a bit upset but my point is clear – I’m feeling insecure and DADS RULE! More dancing. Safe-entry lessons. Lewis is losing interest and telling me he wants to get out. I want to get out too but I can see Tania on the sidelines. She looks so happy so I do my best to last the full thirty minutes.
Lewis scratches my stomach with his toenails as we’re told to get in a circle and hold hands. The cute little girl next to me smiles as we bounce in unison to the left. I grimace at her because that faraway look in her eyes tells me she’s weeing and I’m bouncing right through it. Then we change direction and I realise the stern instructor is holding my other hand. She has that same look in her eyes. We’re outta there. Fucking togs stick to my skin and reveal every nook and cranny of my nether regions. They might as well be painted on.
Wet towels. Debris stuck to my foot that feels like cigarette butts and mouse poo. I line up my wet arse with a dozen hairy old men’s arses in the change rooms. My cold wet jocks stick to my ankles. I can’t kick them off. I resign myself to bending over and nearly fall. For one of the few times in its life – before I regain my footing and clamp up – my anus is exposed to the cold air. The old men chuckle. My pool experience has lived up to expectation.
As we waddle our way with bags of wet stuff to the car Archie, who’s holding my left hand, says, ‘Dad, did you see me swim all the way to the end with the kickboard?’ and I say, ‘I did, you’re getting very good at it.’ Lewis, who’s holding my right hand, says, ‘I wanna do more swimming, Daddy,’ and their hop-skipping, arm-tugging enthusiasm is almost enough to erase the memory of my own interpretation of the experience – that it was about as fun as swimming in a sewerage tank out the back of a Mexican restaurant – but is no way enough to erase the knowledge that there are at least five men in the world now, who I am likely to run into again, who have the image of my anus perma-sealed into their frontal lobes, so I make one weak attempt to get out of at least some future swimming lessons by turning to Tania, who’s carrying Tyson, and say, ‘Do my eyes look all puffed up and squinty? I can hardly see. I think I’m allergic to quarantine.’
‘You mean chlorine,’ she says as Lewis starts tugging on my right hand. ‘Your eyes are fi ne. Are you trying to get out
of swimming lessons?’
‘What?’ I say. ‘The boys love it. I’m in this all the way to the Olympics.’
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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.