We’re deep in the first week of school holidays and I’m tired. The weather has kept me and the boys inside, the noses of my two youngest children have been geysers spouting liquid green, Lewis and Tyson have been atoms running into each other intent on causing a nuclear reaction, Archie has been bored to death and bored stiff and bored to tears, and Reservoir Mum hasn’t been returning my flirty text messages.
Kid’s bedtime of Day 7 has me rowing the ‘poor me’ boat down the ‘my life is turning to shit’ river. I’m on the verge of an aneurism as I wipe circles over the same patch of kitchen bench, when Archie comes back from cleaning his teeth and says, ‘Dad? Do you like being a Dad?’
A fog of awe settles around me. It’s cold in a refreshing way. ‘Of course I do, Arch,’ I say. ‘Why did you ask me that?’
‘Because it’s lots of work. You have to work all the time.’
Somewhere in the distance Tyson and Lewis’s screaming distracts me and because I know Reservoir Mum is in our room getting Maki to sleep I charge down the hall and into the bathroom. My voice is a razor sharp whisper. I’m on the verge of losing my temper as I order them through the final preparations for sleep but somehow we get through it and it’s approaching 8pm by the time I’ve read their bedtime stories. RM emerges from putting Maki down and we tuck the boys in and I’m heading out to continue cleaning up so that I can crash and watch Episode 5 of Channel 9’s House Husbands when Archie whispers, ‘Dad? Can you rub my back for a little bit?’
‘Not tonight Arch. Sorry mate. I’ve got a lot to get done.’
I give him another quick cuddle and rush back to the kitchen.
House Husbands was scheduled to start at 8.30pm but actually starts at 8.50pm because 60 Minutes ran twenty minutes late, which is ten minutes later than it ran last week. When RM says, ‘That show should really be called Nothing Under 60 Minutes,’ I commend her on being both correct and clever.
The beginning of the show is largely uninspiring and centred around a kids’ soccer Grand Final which just happens to include all the House Husbands children in the one team. There are poor one liners and a few uninspiring ‘men and their balls’ jokes and, in amongst it all, the creepy storyline of a Gary Sweet’s character ‘Lewis’ stealing his daughter’s identity so that he can solicit strange men from an online dating agency and encourage them to go to her place of work and stalk her.
Still, the majority of viewers will be tuning in to see the storyline highlighted in last week’s preview – a routine visit to the hospital reveals that Tom and Kane’s daughter Stella has a tumour in her spine. It’s a horror story to every parent.
As Abi, a doctor at the hospital (who also happens to be Kane’s sister) detects the tumour on the x-ray, my thoughts turn to Archie and the multi-levelled question he asked before bed. It only received a glance of the response it required. I feel the winds of regret spiralling.
Abi tells Kane that his daughter is seriously ill and it’s as his eyes are welling with tears that Archie walks into the living room.
‘What is it Arch? RM asks.
He smiles wide and opens his fist revealing a new gap in his mouth and a tiny tooth in his palm
‘Your tooth came out!’ I say.
‘Yep,’ he says. ‘Now the tooth fairy has to give me five dollars.’
We celebrate audibly and skip to the sink to grab a glass. The tooth says tink as it hits the bottom. I pick Archie up and it feels good to hold him – his very expensive tooth has given me a second chance. In minutes he’s back under the covers and I’m lying on the bed next to him.
‘Hey,’ Arch, I say. ‘I’m worried about something.’
‘What?’ he asks.
‘That you don’t know that you and your brothers are the most important things in my life.’
When he blinks there’s a hint of shyness. His self-conscious smile tells me he wants to hear more. ‘How?’ he asks.
‘There is a lot of work in being a Dad, mate,’ I say, ‘and sometimes trying to get everything done can make me feel a bit tired and a bit stressed. Do you notice that?’
His nod enters my consciousness as a tumble weed of sadness. Stella’s cancerous spine has given me perspective and I can only come to the conclusion that I haven’t handled the last few days very well. There have been moments when I’ve given in and let the pressures put me at a distance from my children. The chance that I have made them doubt their importance to me is unbearable.
‘Even when I seem busy and tired I still love you Arch,’ I say, with my hand on his cheek. ‘And I’d work ten times as hard to have you in my life if that’s what it took. I love being your Dad. That will never ever change.’
When I cuddle he hugs me back hard.
‘Dad,’ he says. ‘What does the tooth fairy do with all the teeth?’
‘He eats them,’ I say.
‘Is the tooth fairy a boy?’ he says.
‘Why not?’ I shrug.
When I enter the hall and look back into his room he pokes his hand from under the doona and gives me a wave.
I’m back on the couch with RM just in time to see the sneak peak of Episode 6. One of Lewis’s daughters is showing up unannounced. And she’s pregnant.
‘If this is their way of getting a baby into Lewis’s life then I’m all for it,’ I say. ‘It’s the thing this show is missing – the dramas and joys of raising young kids. Round the clock home Dadding. The stress and the doubts and the thousand unforseen events that can occur every day. That’s what I want to see.’
I’m feeling all happysad and when I lay my head on RM’s lap I tell her so. ‘It’s kind of nice really,’ I say. ‘You just have to navigate your way through it… no… navigation isn’t necessary. You just have to pull up the oars and go with it.’
‘What are you talking about?’ she asks.
‘I just had a D&M with Arch… do you know it won’t be long until all his baby teeth have been eaten by fairies and by that stage I’ll go into his room for a D&M and a cuddle and he’ll probably tell me to rack off.’
RM laughs. ‘Yep,’ she says.
‘Can you remind me to tell him I love him no matter what when that happens?’
‘Yep,’ she says.
‘So, how did Stella go?’ I ask, as she rubs her hand over my bald head in such a way that I feel I’m floating.
‘She’s okay. The tumour was benign. They took it out and she’s back home.’
‘All in one episode?’
‘Excellent,’ I say.