A journalist phoned me the other day. ''I see from your blog that you've been a stay-at-home dad for the past 13 years. I wonder if you have any tips for men who are suffering from the economic downturn and are finding it hard being stuck at home all day with the kids.'
"How long have you got?" I felt like saying, but I launched in headfirst, as is my wont when speaking about things close to my heart, like family.
So, I told her that I chose to give up work as a lecturer in Japanese the second my wife got pregnant on our first child, and I regretted it every Friday morning when I opened the jobs section of The Irish Times. So, I quit buying the paper.
I told her that my wife never wanted me to give up my job because it would make her look like a 'bad mother', and I grew resentful. So, we went to marriage counselling and worked things out.
I told her I felt like a twat standing in the school-yard watching mothers in their 'power suits' drop off their children before heading on to work, and me, a man with two PhDs, going back home to change nappies.
So, I took to writing while the kids watched Barney. I told her that I was called 'the wife', 'the yummy mummy', 'Mr. Mum', by those around me, and was told that my wife wore the trousers. So, I learned to believe in myself as a father.
But, of course, it didn't happen overnight.
When my first child was born, I stood there patiently waiting till the midwife handed her to me. When my second child was born, the nurse wrapped her in a blanket and I immediately took her in my arms and smiled for the camera. When my third was born, I grabbed her and held her to my chest like a rugby ball, crying out "My daughter! My beautiful daughter!", regretful of the fact that I had been mildly disappointed at our 20-week-scan when she wasn't a boy, because I had desperately wanted a boy to be my shadow as I had been my father's, and now I knew that I wouldn't change her for the world.
I lined three bottles up in her cot night after night because she was the last of our 'litter' and we doted upon her, and I'd wake in the morning to find her with a million bits of soggy nappy stuck to her hair and body, the nappy having exploded, but I told myself that she was worth it. I called her from a friend's house the other day. 'I am going to buy you a puppy for your seventh birthday,' I said, finally caving in after five years of pressure. She screamed hysterically, dropped the phone and ran off down the house while I fought back tears on the other end of the line.
'If there was a tsunami in our village, would you run to the hills for safety?' her sisters asked me.
'No,' I said. 'I would run to the school to get all three of you first, and we'd probably all die together.' They looked at me like I had two heads. 'Really?' they said. Really. What parent wouldn't?
Parenting is the greatest and most beautiful job in the world. No job requires more skill, more creativity, more responsibility and imagination, more self-belief, more dedication, more energy, more commitment, more backbone and more resourcefulness, and no job is more rewarding.
'And the day men recognise this,' I told the woman on the phone, 'is the day they stop feeling a sense of loss.' Any woman could have told her that.
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