Making lists (unless they are lists of things to do — and, therefore, of things that will never get done) is one of my favourite parlour games. It is also — given my spectacularly slothful nature — a convenient and lazy way to knock off a weekly column. I don’t do this often. In the 17 months that I have been writing this column, I think I have done it once. And that too wasn’t a proper list, but a tricked-out, preening, aren’t-I-clever variation of one.
So. Four reasons why being the father of a growing child are a pleasure. (Why four? Why not?)
1. Returning home when she is awake and keen to welcome me back makes the rubbish of the working day seem truly that — rubbish. The pitch and tenor of the welcome might vary (and so, consequently, the nature of the wrestling and gambolling and whooping) but feeling so eagerly waited for is, for me, more mind-altering than any drug.
2. Watching her grow and change, from beginning to speak to expanding her vocabulary, to observe as she becomes a person with poise and personality, and to remember that I have — in whatever remote way — been associated with this remarkable transformation, is more rewarding than anything else I know. In terms of (re)creation, it beats cooking or gardening hollow.
3. She is a useful diversionary tactic when the clouds of domestic dispute begin to mass themselves on the horizon like an army readying to attack. Suddenly getting absorbed in her homework, affecting more than ordinary concern for her impending performance in a school event, asking after the health of the brake on her bicycle, these ploys are capable of deflecting the attention of the readying army. Well, sometimes. Who can ask for more?
4. There are few things comparable to being pampered by a child, to being treated by her, when I am miserable, as though she is the mature, grown-up one, the parent who wishes to indulge. When William Wordsworth said that child is the father of man, he hadn’t quite factored in this gloss on the line.
Three perils of being the father of a growing child.
1. The realisation that I have made the unique, irrevocable commitment of unconditional love. It’s frightening.
2. Picking at the scab of anxiety that lurks in the back (or the front) of my mind nearly all the time. The world is an awful place. All those ghouls out there: rapists, bombers, kidnappers, murderers, lunatics, rash drivers, vile bacteria, rabid dogs, vermin…
3. Sometimes it might actually be fun to be able to read and write without being asked questions about whether birdwing butterflies are extinct, what artificial intelligence is, how many pages I have read in the past five minutes or how many words I have written in the past ten, about whether I grew up in “olden times” because there were no computers in my childhood. Being always able to have a drink in peace would help. And, yes, so would the space — physical and mental.