HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
It's 5.30am. You're snuggled up in bed and enjoying a wonderful world of warm dreams. Suddenly, the bedroom lights are on and there's a creature bouncing up and down on your bed. You're no longer snuggled up in bed. Those warm dreams have turned into a howling nightmare. What the hell is going on? "Wake up! Wake up!" Squeaks an over-excited small person. "It's my birthday, mummy and daddy!".
What do you do? Do you a) make a futile attempt to get her back to bed and then think better of it, smile, give her a hug and start the festivities, or b) threaten, cajole, bribe and generally use every trick in the parent book to get the over-excited four year old to go back to bed so you can get another hour or so of kip?
This happened to me two weeks ago when my wonderful eldest daughter turned four. I'm ashamed to say I went for option b). If you went for option a) then you're either not telling the truth or you are actually Daddy Pig. And we all know that he is, in fact, not real.
What a shame too; Daddy Pig is a legend. So much so that when I find myself in a difficult situation at home, I often think, 'what would Daddy Pig do?'. I know what you're thinking. I think it too; Why the hell is a forty-year-old husband of one, father of two turning to a make believe cartoon pig for parenting and general life guidance?
Over the past few years, I've noticed how I've gone on a fascinating Peppa Pig journey. I've moved from being proud that we never had to resort to it, through begrudgingly having it on in the background, to secretly looking forward to it and laughing out loud (I mean come on, that episode with Delphine Donkey and the French exchange family - awesome on so many levels). And it's almost all down to Daddy Pig. I could take or leave Mummy Pig, she's too sickly sweet. George's tantrums are still too close to home (I also have a two-year-old) and as for the show's namesake... a nice bacon sarnie springs to mind!
Daddy Pig is a flawed hero; he can't touch his toes, he suffers from vanity about his increasing girth yet is generally too lazy to do anything about it (he'd rather lie on the sofa watching TV while 'counting out press-ups' for the family to hear in the kitchen). He gets grumpy - especially when he loses his glasses or isn't allowed another piece of chocolate cake, he is crap at DIY and even worse at map reading and manly stuff like how engines work... he'll leave that to Miss Rabbit. In his flaws, he's a lot like me! But above all, he clearly loves spending time with his family and, with nary a snort, will make sacrifices I'd be fuming about for days. He gave up his piece of cake so Peppa could feed the ducks at a picnic?! No way, kiddo! I think that's why I turn to him for inspiration.
My own father is amazing at much of that stuff. He whittled a sleigh bed from scratch out of solid oak for crying out loud. In his sixties! He only started developing a small belly in his late seventies and he is the warmest, most mild-mannered, kind and positive man I've ever met. So why not turn to him for guidance? Well for the big stuff, of course I do: values, beliefs, attitudes, Claret vs. Burgundy, that's what I go to the old man for. But for guidance about how to be a father of toddlers and a husband to a freelance writer wife in 2015? In this respect our generations are totally different. Balancing work and home for a father was much easier when I was a kid. It went pretty much like this: Dad did the work, Mum did the home (oh, and in my mum's case, work too). And that's why I turn to the flawed hero that is Daddy Pig for inspiration. Because he's learning to navigate a different parenting and societal landscape. He's making mistakes along the way, sure, but he's desperately trying to figure out how to have, as Peppa calls it, a "really important job" whilst making time to be a modern day father and husband and to get home to read bedtime stories - ok they're books on cement, but the end result is the same.
Being a modern dad is challenging. Granted, it's nowhere near as challenging as being a modern, working mum and I'd never want to suggest it was. But I'm convinced it's more complicated than my father's generation. And here's the thing: because us blokes still don't really talk about this stuff, where else do we go for guidance? That's why I'm so thrilled The Huffington Post UK is dedicating an entire month to Building Modern Men.
So while I know I shouldn't be seeking parenting and lifestyle inspiration from an overweight, make-believe pig, if my two daughters grow up knowing they're as loved and cared for as Peppa is, then it'll have all been worthwhile. Because what else really matters?