The other evening, I found my three children sitting at the kitchen table, scribbling away in silence. A trio in perfect harmony. Something wasn't right with this picture. Why weren't they bickering?
But then I saw the piles of toy catalogues in front of them that had thoughtfully been posted through our letterbox in case I needed any ideas.
"What are you guys doing?" I asked.
And before you could say Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, they each produced a list that could have kept Santa's Elves busy until the Christmas after next.
As I scrolled down the yards and yards of requests for everything from Lego to Skylanders to iPods all I could think was: "How much is this lot going to cost?"
And then I started to think about what I would like for Christmas. What, if Santa did special requests for house dads, would I write in my own letter to the Big Man at the Pole?
After all, it's not really Santa who makes Christmas a magical time for kids, is it? It's us parents. Unlike Santa, we work every day of the year. Surely we deserve a reward?
Later that day I sat down at the kitchen table, picked up a pen and began to write:
I know it's been a while since I last wrote to you – 40 years to be precise – but I really feel that this year I, and all the other hard-working house dads (and mums) in the world, deserve a present.
You may ask: Have I been a good little house dad this year? Well, I have cooked dinners, scrubbed floors, and unblocked toilets. I have washed clothes, wiped dishes and kissed away tears. I have sewn on buttons and name tags, I have baked my bodyweight in cupcakes for fundraisers. I have stood in the wind and rain and cheered on netball teams in victory and – more often – in defeat. I have refereed spats and battles and World War III.
But, every night, when I tuck my children into bed I tell them I love them. And I mean every word.
So now, I would like to ask you for one or two – well, 10 – things I would really, really like for Christmas:
• Forget a new iron or a pair of oven gloves or a nice piece of cheese. What I'd really like this Christmas is peace. Don't panic, I'm not asking for world peace. Just peace in my world. I would like foot stamping, eye-rolling and door-slamming to be replaced by hugging, kissing and cuddling. I'd like pulling faces to be outlawed. And I'd like the following statements to be banned forever: 'Da-ad, she says I smell', 'Da-ad, well he does', and 'Da-ad, he's looking at me. With that face. Make him stop, Da-ad.' Either that, or please can I have a pair of ear-plugs?
• Next I would like more hours in the day so I can get through my to-do list and have time to brush my teeth, pull a comb through my hair and get dressed properly before the school run so I no longer look like some dodgy homeless guy hanging around the school gates at pick-up time.
• Self-tidying bedrooms. Or a robot dad to remind my family to do their fair share around the house. Every time a child drops a wet towel on the carpet, leaves a banana skin to go mouldy or 'forgets' they have 203 plates/cups/glasses growing bacteria under the bed, Robot Dad will shout: 'PICK IT UP!' And every time someone approaches the laundry basket with an item for me to wash, Robot Dad will say: 'Have you bothered to check your pockets for tissues/change/stickers/impossibly tiny but incredibly precious plastic toys that will clog up the machine and flood the kitchen floor? Well, HAVE YOU?'
• Failing that, could you make my kids behave at home the way they do at school? It makes me look bad when my kids' teachers say: 'Moody and difficult? Stroppy? Tantrums? Fighting? Oh no. They're always perfect little angels with me!'
• Could you reclassify chips and mayonnaise as health foods and make tomato ketchup count as one of my kids' five a day?
• A bathroom door with a lock on it. The bathroom is the only room in the house where I can go to have five minutes to myself/calm down when I discover the youngest has redecorated the kitchen with spaghetti hoops/make important telephone calls without being interrupted by shouts of 'Da-ad, he's hitting me with the remote control'.
• And last but not least, a day off. Just one. A day without chores, without work, without the kids fighting, without waking up in the middle of the night worrying about my family, money and what the future holds. But if you asked me to pick just one thing, Santa, I'd swap this and everything else on my wish-list for someone to say to me, for once: 'Thank you, Dad. Thanks for everything you do for us. We really appreciate it.'
Anyway, Santa, have a safe trip around the world, give Rudolph a pat from me and help yourself to the mince pies and sherry by the fireplace. Oh, and if you could keep the reindeer off the carpet, I'd be grateful.
Love from, A Very Reluctant Housedad"