I think I speak for many of the fathers when I say that we are secretly glad of some aspects of this time. Indeed I'm sure I speak for many of the mothers too. But today, for once, let's focus on the men (joking - relax). And of course I speak for nobody but me. But let me generalise, so that I can be more honest than I might be if I just put it all in the first person.
I think when we look back, if Covid didn't visit any horrors on us, we will perhaps, in future years, feel slightly grateful for some aspects of it.
You can know your kids, and feel you know them, and be right. You can think there couldn't be any more in the relationship, that you are being a good modern, emotionally available, open father, one who spends time with them, who takes an interest in their lives, who is close to them. And you can imagine that there is no more, that no more is possible. And then everyone can come home for a few months and you can discover that there are in fact other ways in which you can know people.
You can discover that there is power in being able to take people for granted, that there is power in being around, in the vicinity, even if you aren't always directly engaged. There is power in getting used to people in a way you realise you weren't before. Living through the granular detail of day-to-day life with people, through all their ups and downs - having, indeed, no escape from it - can actually give birth to an intimacy that is almost frightening, while also giving rise to a kind of ecstasy.
It would have taken a hundred years of summer holidays to get this deep into casual, effortless knowing of each other. On a typical one-week holiday, you'll get so far, but you won't get past the novelty of everyone being there together doing everything in tandem. On a two-week holiday, which we've tried to start doing in the last couple of years, you'll get slightly further. In the second week, everyone relaxes slightly into each other, a step towards taking each other for granted.
But only in a three-month lockdown with no escape can you truly be together beyond the point of having to make an effort. Only in a three-month lockdown do things actually get real.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all hugs and 'I love you's. Getting to know people properly also involves getting truly acquainted with their dark sides, and it also involves them getting truly acquainted with yours. And I can't speak for boy children - though some people will claim they are less complicated - but girl children have dark sides: they develop them early, and they can be complex and tricky and infuriating and unpredictable. And me, well, I've had a long time to work on my dark side, so while it's tamed a bit more, it is layered and bountiful too.
But then, until we have all engaged with each other in all our glory, darkness and light, can we really truly say we love each other unconditionally?
A tearful sight greeted me the other morning when I came to encourage the elder to get on her scooter and come with me while I ran. I asked what it was about, but she didn't know. I was surprised at it, because her life has got considerably better in the last week or two, and the school is more or less closed down now. If I was only going to have one hour with her that day, I would have needed to talk about it, but we're at the stage now where we can just get on with things and I don't feel I'm being neglectful. So I didn't feel the need to push for explanation. She accepted quietly that the little jaunt out would make us both feel better.
And off we went, spending much of the trip in a companionable silence. We don't talk a huge amount on these jaunts. I have a system of grunts and shouts and gestures whereby I direct her on and off the path or across the road because we are not anti-social runners. I sometimes feel a bit like one of the sheep-farmers on One Man and His Dog. She tells me the odd factoid from her life, random little titbits from her little world. And by the time we get back we are usually about 15 to 25pc happier.
I think she will possibly have flashbacks to these little outings, when we were just being, and we didn't have to talk much, but she was there with her dad and we knew we loved each other a frightening amount.
I have valuable little flashbacks like that. Being the only one up with Dad some mornings, getting the top off his egg, or him leaving me the last segment of his grapefruit that was halved and then meticulously divided into segments, ready to be eaten with a spoon that had a serrated edge. Watching him shaving in the kitchen mirror some mornings, millibars on the radio rising or falling slowly.
Later in childhood I would go to open days on farms with him, judging butter at spring shows, down to the lab in Moorepark, out to the practice ground in Muskerry to hit golf balls - though I wasn't to be a golfer and was more interested in finding mushrooms.
They are there, all those moments. We didn't try too hard. We didn't have big deep chats. We were just being. Y'know. Me and my dad hanging out.
And hopefully now, my girls will have some more of those flashbacks to dig for in years to come, when they try to remember how it felt to be a lucky kid with a good enough dad.
Sunday Indo Living