A long day's journey into work in a happy dad's life
Published 27/05/2016 | 02:30
One of my earliest childhood memories is going to the kitchen on the morning of my sixth birthday where my parents were sitting at the table, dad in his suit ready for work, mum in her dressing grown, and on the table was my birthday present in a small box. It was a watch, a simple wind-up job that I kept going for years until its days were finally up.
I don't know why that memory has remained with me so long, more poignant now my own children, twins, are fast approaching their sixth birthdays and generations seem to be just rolling over in waves.
That's what time does. The difference all these years later is that my wife doesn't wear the dressing-gown, as she leaves the building every morning at 6.30 in the suit. I'm the one in the dressing-gown, around 7am, up to rouse the twins for school having got home from work myself most nights around midnight.
I like to call breakfast in our home during the week an orchestrated chaos. I'm the conductor, the creator of omelettes or porridge with blueberries, preparer of lunchboxes, shoe-shiner, nose-wiper, teeth-washer, coat-finder, advice-giver, treasurer and keeper of time, made all the more difficult dealing with both male and female junior infant mood swings.
I have to listen to Marty Whelan's classical offerings on Lyric FM these days to placate the proceedings, a la 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest', better to avoid anything that would provoke excitement in the twins before I've had the chance to get the coffee machine going.
Having dropped the pair of them off at school, I then get some 'me' time, usually at the gym to boost the testosterone and remind myself that I am a man, not a housewife. Nor am I a househusband. I'm a 'working dad' apparently, with my wife the 'working mum'. Deep breath, big groan. How I hate these labels.
They may seem apt, trendy even, but lost in all this terminology and the rows over who deserves more kudos - the 'working dad' or the 'working mum' - is the simple fact that we are just a family.
And time has done a lot to the family unit. Damaged it, is the general perception. But the more time we spend in the past, wishing there was the one carer at home to cook and clean and be there when everyone gets in, the more we tarnish the future for our children, who need to simply see their parents as equals.
And they need to learn that they, too, are parts in the family machine with no one person there to do their bidding.
It's not always plain sailing. There are occasions after a morning of horror that I lie on the mat in the gym and have to force myself to get in touch with my feminine side. To calm down, gain composure, remember why wearing different hats with ease is crucial to fulfilment at home. And my own working day hasn't even begun.
I get back to the house, make the beds, pick up the dregs of breakfast, prepare dinner for the family, get my own lunch, watch 'Bargain Hunt' (it helps with budgeting) then head to work.
But do you know something - and this might come as a shock - we actually have a very happy home.
Fair enough, I'd like to see my wife more.
We get to meet on the stairs late most nights. As she's coming down to lay out her clothes for the morning, I'm going up to get my pyjamas. Our Saturday nights, if we're in, are usually non-events. She falls asleep on the couch after the first glass of wine, I give her a nudge to go to bed with the second bottle so I can enjoy it in peace.
Sunday mornings, I get a mini-lie-in before I'm called for Mass (she's Polish, wouldn't miss Mass if she were waist-deep in mud in the depths of the Dark Continent).
And I go, we all go, generally arriving late with a hangover, grumbling me having quoted Beckett more than the Bible along the way. But the kids light the candles and sing and it's but a small token of spirituality that has also been lost in the maelstrom of a modern working life.
But the ties that bind (fist-bump, a Bruce Springsteen reference for the week that's in it) are simple: you don't compete and you don't wear the labels.
Although you should see my wife's wardrobe. She earns more, you see. And she deserves it.
There, I said it. It's not that hard. I get repaid in other ways. Next week, for example, I'm off hiking. By myself. Solo. Just me. Without the family. That's proper me time, that is. And how do you think I earned that?