I started writing this post in Marmalades in Norwich yesterday, but my Android phone let me get no further than the title, for some odd reason. I wanted to write something while I was with my youngest daughter, and while my second-youngest was swanning around the town with a couple of her mates (and me on alert with my mobile in case she needed me).
There is so little time nowadays for us to be real parents. What I mean is that we have our hands so full with providing, with caring, with all those everyday things which wear us down, that we have no time to be humans with our children, no time to smile and hug and grasp at some cold empty time to fill it with the warmth of just being, of giving something special to those who are special to us.
I have tried, this Christmas holiday, to make up for those failings of the modern father I am, the man with a day job and that second job as a writer that pulls me away from the dinner table too soon and back into the study with the one light on and the strange worlds I create and populate and live in. I've tried not to have much screen time, tried not to compulsively check my emails, tried to log out of twitter and fb, and not think of the characters stranded in the narrative of my latest book, but just to sit and talk and play and be Dad. I hope I have succeeded, even just a little.
On New Year's Eve, I did play the waiter to the four women in my home (wife and three daughters) while my son was out pubbing. I set out trays of nibbles, poured orange fizzy into champagne glasses for the girls and Cava for Marianne. Two sets of women in two separate rooms watching different films, and me flitting between the rooms, topping up glasses and bowls of dip. I loved it, and, when the New Year came and all five of us sipped proper, cold champagne, it was special and real and not routine.
So, back to yesterday. I love shopping, and I love shopping with my daughters, so I quite happily spent lots of time in Lush, and Alex quite happily spent lots of time with me in record shops. For elevenses, we had hot chocolate and shared a fruit scone (and went back to the same place for sausage rolls and water at lunch), and she was all wide-eyed and smiley at being a grown-up with Dad, and being treated with respect by the lovely people in Marmalades, and being able to watch the people go by outside, and talking about them in descriptive language, and characterising them, and memorising them. That impressed me.
All my children impress me, because they are growing into independent individuals, making ideas of their own, and not remaking themselves in my image or Marianne's image, or the image of the world. Although, at times, of course, at their early ages, it can be difficult and frightening for them to do that.
This is, by its very nature, by the very nature of the relationships I'm writing about, the people I'm writing about, a very fragmented narrative of a post. I always think we're a dysfunctional family, always rant about setting our own standards and not being guided by others, often disappear in a grump or in a fog of Black Dog depression, into my study and scribble bleak verse. But then I sit at the dinner table, breath steady, mouth full of wonderful food, and listen to them, all the other five in my family, and the tales they spin, and the debates they have, and see their eyes shining with mirth or consideration or inspiration, and I think, oh, yes, this is what it's about; this is what it's all about, being Father. Because it's all about them, not me.