A lesson before Fathers’ Day

2009-06-19 00:00

THERE were two two-year-olds in my husband’s study the other day. Unattended.

They pushed CDs into crevices that his Apple Macintosh didn’t know it had. They finger painted his carpet with Vicks Vaporub. And his fancy speakers, the carbon fibre ones, the ones built in South Africa but only sold in Germany, the ones that were a gift from the CEO of the company because they cost more than our car, are no longer concave. But convex. They were once fit to play jazz. But now, at best, they are doomed to a life of fuzzy pop.

Sam, my husband, was the first to discover his broken idols. I was reading Theseus and the Minotaur to nine children, just wondering whether their parents would mind me explaining to them that Pasiphae had conceived this bloodthirsty monster with a bull, when he descended the stairs with fire in his eyes.

He was looking for Minotaurs to slay. And in lieu of them: two-year-olds.

An old voice from an old memory surfaced in my mind: “Your life is about to change forever.”

A concerned relative had taken it upon himself to warn Sam as he lolled on the sun-warmed, seaside deck. We had arrived by motorbike, my eight-month pregnant belly only just leaving room for him to steer. With a knowing smile, Sam stretched his legs out on the deck chair and settled down for a lazy afternoon: his children would be different.

If you’re used to your own space, time and agenda then nothing can prepare you for the invasion of children. No space is deemed sacred anymore. No conversation is considered personal. Bathroom doors, politely shut, get burst open. Snug, early morning hours are dynamited to pieces by shrill shrieks. And issue­s get discussed in split-second dashes, with lots of interruptions: “What do you mean we’ll go when it’s over?”

“No, what I was saying to mum, here in the front of the car, to mum, is that we’ll go in October.”

Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a shock if we’d grown up in a family of seven, sharing a room with younger siblings. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a shock if we’d lived with friends who had little children. Or even just had a meal with them. But as it is, it took us six months to accept these space

invaders, two years to love them and three years to realise that we actually needed them.

We needed them, to teach us how to share. “It doesn’t matter who got it first Dad, you still just have to share — your time, your space, your plans. Mum, stand still, look me in the eye and say ‘yes’. Say, ‘here you can have it’. And say it like you mean it.”

(I have a suspicion that we got assigned three teachers because we are prone to dishing up the lion’s portion of pleasure to ourselves.)

“Okay, okay, yes, yes. Here you go. We will share. We’re trying to learn to. We are getting better.”

And actually, slowly, we are. Because now, after six long years under their diligent training, we even sometimes enjoy their borderless behaviour. The 3 am cuddling of a soft four-year-old — ferocious tiger by day, little boy by night. The bathroom-door thumping of a determined two-year-old. We don’t really expect her to face the day without some anti-wrinkle cream on her knees, do we? And the interrupting questions of our six-year-old as she tries to puzzle us out: “But did you believe that as a baby or just as a teenager?”

Later that day I heard Sam sniffing in the study. Expecting to find him washing his speakers with tears, I opened the door to comfort him. ”No I’m fine,” he said taking a deep breath. “I overreacted. These things happen. That’s children.”

“And this,” I thought, “is a dad.”

• Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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