Slip, Slop and Slap

I’m a hypocrite. Time spent extolling the virtues of being sun smart to my children has fallen on my own deaf ears.

A day in the garden, planting and weeding and watering and harvesting. Lovely, a cathartic experience for me, almost a form of meditation as I commune with nature.

Sort of. We are not into exotic gardens, have not populated our yard with a revival of native planting. We have kids, four of them. They need room to roam and move and kick and run and dance and roll about.
They need space for wheels, for fetch with the dogs, for the pool we have erected.
Our garden is a fluid place. Spaces to follow the sun as the day warms, areas to dodge heated rays as the mercury rises.

Any real care and attention we put into gardening is focused mostly on what we can get out of it. What we, in conjunction with that same said sun, a drop of water and some TLC, can produce.
Lettuce and peppers and beetroot and kale and broccoli and rocket and an array of herbs. Spuds and pumpkin and garlic and radish and all the companion plants adding flower, colour and variety. Peas and beans and cauliflower and more to come when timing dictates.

Time is a thing. We don’t have a lot of it, we don’t have green thumbs and we don’t have a family effort. I do the grunt work, Wifey buys the plants, more grunt work for me, the interim grunting is done by me, then I do the harvesting, Wifey or Number One prep and cook. Everyone eats and we all agree whatever fare we are sampling is delicious.
Wifey takes the credit.

Serving up what you have grown is a good feeling. It’s cheaper for a start, that feels good. Generally, the produce tastes better, another good feeling. A bit of dirt under the finger nails and the sting of some sun on the back is, mostly, a good feeling too.
Knowing where your food has come from is a real bonus.

Today kids splashed in the pool, read books in the cool of the shade. I toiled, while Mother went to work, doing her own hard yards.
The sun beat down as I lifted a spade, thudding it down time and time again, planting olive trees, a handful of natives and transferring a bunch of ornamental this and thats.
Looks good. The fruits of my labours will hopefully come. I like an olive, will try a martini. Dirty? I my even shake it.

I ended up a little crispy. Redder than my Southern born red neck might otherwise suggest. Sunnies to shield my eyes but I was lacking a hat, had displayed my dad bod to the golden rays of a hot New Zealand sun.
I’m burned. Not badly. There is no blistering, no feverish sun stroke.

I am a hypocrite.
I failed to practise what I preach and at least two of my offspring have reminded me of that fact.
Repeatedly.

I can only hope, when I am leaning back, wrapped and guarded against the effects of a long evening mid summers sun, sipping a dirty martini, shaken or stirred or as it comes, that my tortured skin proves worth the while.

Dad Dilemma

I sometimes wish my girls were butt ugly bush pigs.

Summer is pretty much upon us. The days have lengthened, thanks to daylight saving. The sun is getting higher in the sky, warming the world around us and drying out, mostly, the the damp Northland soil beneath our feet.
All of this is impossible not to notice, given the myriad of bugs and critters seem to have taken note too, busily crawling out of their winter hideaways by ever increasing numbers.
Great, isn’t it? Not really a question, because yes, it is awesome to wake to a bright sunny day, clear skies and birdsong. The promise of a stunning day ahead is alluring. My only issue, my equally stunning children.

Now of course I will say my daughters are stunners. I have to, but in my case, it happens to be true. While there might not be too many modelling agencies banging down the door, there is no doubt the three girls are lookers-it is at this point I very diplomatically point out how much our kids take after their mother-and I am not blind to their looks, as much as I am growing ever more aware how much I would like to be.
It is said ignorance is bliss and, at times, I am inclined to agree. As the season changes and the choice of wardrobe with it, I have to think, being ignorant would indeed be blissful. Perhaps, to the next extreme, being blind would solve the problem too.
What problem, you ask?
A good question and one I can only hope I am able to answer as subtly as possible, as diplomatically as possible, as innocently as possible.

My eldest has not long turned thirteen. She is a babe. Not skinny, not fat, developing into a beautiful, intelligent, inquisitive and vibrant young lady. Developing physically too.
Yes, a young lady in so many ways. And to be frank, it petrifies me.
As a man I am blase to a great deal of the changes taking place with my eldest daughters. Maybe it is due to a bunch of old fashioned hang-ups, but probably more because my kids have an engaging and involved mother.
Her presence and willingness to offer input and sage advice takes the pressure off me, of that there is no doubt. Even though I am the appointed full-time parent, I feel there may well be a bullet somewhere there I managed to dodge. I’m grateful for it, for being excluded from something I would fumble my way through at best, entirely fuck up in all likely hood.

I am of  course referring to the ‘talk’. And when it comes to girls, not just the one about birds, bees and bad boys. Both boys and girls change and grow and develop as the hormones kick in. As a bloke, I can only comment on what it was like for me and might be like for another bloke. And let me tell you, from the little, inadequate and quaint knowledge I have, the whole teenage developmental years seem a lot less troublesome for young bucks.

Not to belittle what it is each and every teenager goes through, no matter their gender. So much is happening, in such a relatively short period of time, it is a wonder anyone involved, even on the fringes like parents, manage to survive. At least, I am on the fringes, right where I choose to be, right where I belong and right where I have been positioned.
I am kept informed, I am updated. As far as I need to be and more than I want to be.

Development aside, growth and changes and all of that, I do not know quite know where it is I am supposed to make my stand.
How much flesh is too much? That is the question, a burning one, sun smart awareness aside, I am not sure how to answer and am even more sure there is no definitive response.
bikini
Some seasonal shopping was done, in preparation for our coming long hot summer on the beaches of Northland (fingers crossed) and damn, my girls look good!
How good are they supposed to look? How good are they allowed to look? How good can I tolerate them looking? Far less than their Mother it would seem. I am no prude and I realize the wisest course of action is to let my girls establish their own taste and style and sense of fashion, or whatever it is they are attempting to do. My girls are not victims of, or slaves to, fashion, yet they do have their own thing going on and have certain expectations, based on what is considered cool or not.
I don’t. As it is, I restrict myself to saying the word cool, because throwing out hip or neat or funky, or I don’t bloody know, is only going to make me sound like the out of date, old school, fuddy-duddy I guess I have rapidly become. Latest trends aside, Numbers One and Two want to look the part, who am I to stand in the way of that?

I am their father. That’s who!  Wait…Father…capital letters!! And yes, multiple exclamation marks required, until the point is well and truly made and completely understood.
But the dilemma, the Catch 22 for a Father, for a man as I see it, is in the very act of making the point. What say my eldest daughter, just turned thirteen, all gorgeousness and stunningness, gets caught up in the ‘beach body’ thing? What say she takes a cooling dip in the ocean, then lays back on a towel to dry off, clad in a bikini some fashionista came up with after a trip to Rio?
If Dad starts commenting about too much of this on display, too much of that catching the eye, he is instantly treading on dangerous territory. Think thin ice, think minefields. Straight off he runs the risk of surfing the gamut of teenage emotive responses. Something you want to avoid anywhere, let alone a chilled day at the beach.
Right there and then I have acknowledged the attractiveness of my child. I am not going to use words like hot, sexy, babe etc…wait…damn it! But that is what has happened, I, as parent, as man, as human, as Father, have noticed how attractive a child of mine is.

And it freaks me the fuck out!!!!!

Yes, again with the exclamation marks. I simply cannot emphasis this crisis enough. I am a dirty old creep if I notice, but I only notice because I am a parent and wish to moderate what I am seeing.
Okay, perhaps that is a little extreme. As a parent, a Father, I have ever right and all responsibility, to tell a child what they are are wearing is inappropriate…too little and light for the temperature, not waterproof enough for the level of precipitation.
Too damn revealing.
I am all for my kids being individuals. For finding and setting limits for themselves. In the same breath, they need, as we all do, guidance and advice and to be surrounded by people who care, because they have their best interests at heart. In the case of parents, their own interests too. I don’t want to be known as the P.P…Prude Parent. My ideals are not old fashioned, my sensibilities are not extreme and not set in concrete.
But I do not want to be guilty of going to the other extreme, being too liberal, too understanding and too giving. Boundaries and all that, if not strictly adhered to, are at the very least acknowledged and respected.

So where are we, at the end of this? No where further advanced, it would seem. Wear something practical for swimming, for tanning, if that is what you must do. Wear what you feel good in and what you feel you look good in. Do it all without incurring the wrath of your father, because you have made him too aware, to sensitive, to uncomfortable.
But, it isn’t about me and my hang ups.

Feel good and look good while you’re doing it.
Maybe I’ll just have to look the other way.

 

Place

Is there a ‘place’ for you? Do you ‘fit’ there. Are you there now, or is that place waiting, for you to fit?

I have never felt like I ‘fit’.

I have never felt myself part of a group, one of the ‘set’. As I have grown older I have stopped thinking about it, my lacking a sense of place. When I was younger I was probably guilty of not giving it enough thought. Never being able to identify where you once belonged, where you might end up belonging, makes it difficult to acknowledge the past or have an eye on the future.

It would be cool to say I live in ‘the now’, have my focus firmly on the current. Put simply though, my mind, my brain, wander and wonder, too far and wide at times, not open enough at others. This inconsistency lends no attraction to planning, no foresight, no acknowledgment of previous right and wrong turns.

There is no sense of involvement. Not in the every day nor in the so called wider picture. Perhaps my lens is too narrow and as a consequence I position myself as an observer, looking in from an outside I don’t feel a part of either. This lack of inclusion, in the things and groups and series of events which intersect your everyday, can make it difficult to be inclusive. To be open and giving and caring and understanding. Any of it.

Being removed and remote is not a bad thing. It doesn’t feel it anyway. There is no lack of connection, I am not immune to what is going on around me nor do I fail attempting to understand why. So no disconnect, no reclusive desire to run and hide. Maybe a touch of disinterest, disenfranchisement. The same forlorn sense of lacking a place, identity, many a white, urban, middle class male speaks of and yearns for. If I only I could yearn too, maybe then it wouldn’t be so dull.

No doubting some of it is laziness, a streak which runs strongly through my make-up. Not to say I can’t and don’t work hard. I just don’t work hard on myself. Not because I am too busy, too distracted or too caught up in the activities of others but more because I have failed, for many a year now, to focus on what it is I might want, distinguish that from what I might need, work out how to marry the two and achieve them. It is only recently I have even acknowledged or recognised that failing and I am still undecided if it is even such, a failing. I do not believe for one millisecond I am alone in feeling a little misplaced, a touch out of place. I am no meninist, any more than I am a feminist but I think it would be fair to say a middle-class white male putting his hand up and saying ‘what about me?’ is no where near as popular as one lowering his gaze apologetically and saying yes, I was wrong.

I wasn’t. I’m not. I am and I will be. Wrong. I will make many mistakes as a person, as a man and all I can do is hope my positives out-way those pitfalls, the traps society will lead me into and the ones I open up for myself. I am a good person. I am not responsible for the woes and the worries of women, of minorities, of LBGT or whatever other bunch of letters you want to tack on there. I do not and will not carry the blame for social degradation or racial inequality or post colonial hang ups. Maybe I sympathise, maybe I don’t, because I fail to understand or fail to connect or don’t have the empathetic ability to be on your page. Your plight is not mine and I don’t have to accept it and nor do I have to try and get with it.

At face value I am a minority. I am a house husband. I stay home and look after the kids and do the chores and cook the meals and all of that. Not a heap of me out there. I can see why, better now than I ever could, because until I started living it, I didn’t give the idea of being a stay at home Dad any thought whatsoever. My world can be quite insular and for that I make no apology. I live in a small town in an out of the way spot, just the way I like and if that means I have little or nothing to offer on the public discourse of the day then so be it. I am a firm believer in cleaning up your own backyard before you go knocking on your neighbours door anyway.

Our backyard is pretty damn tidy thank you very much. Our eldest is a big fish in a little pond. Hopefully that transfers to the big bad world soon enough. The key will be to boost her confidence, encourage her self awareness, big up her achievements. No doubting she will be the bumpkin come good when she finds herself under the bright lights of the big city and she will have to lead the way as far as this family is concerned. Her siblings will learn and be encouraged, or disillusioned, by the footsteps of Number One and it has to be said, their Dad will provide little comfort there.

Mother will carry on. She will get stuck into her next thing. As said, Number One will be out there learning to play her own tune,  the rest of the crew will follow in time and I will have to re-establish myself. But don’t think I will do that your way, his way her way or any way you might consider normal, usual, the same or ordinary. I may not do it at all. Soon enough I am going to have to re-introduce myself into regular society. Rawene will be no more and the evils, the excitements, the temptations and the dangers of the wider world will be once again on our doorstep.

I have spent many years regressing and retreating. Not an attempt, as I said earlier, to hide or to fade. I am just more comfortable on the fringes, as grumpy an old man as the next but one who isn’t overly inclined to tick the boxes everyone else is busy putting their mark to. No mortgage, no job, no clubs or societies, no participation. No man is an island and all that but I can at least be a peninsula. You can get to me easily enough, but that is as far as you are going. Right where it looks like I end, lo and behold, I do.

Perhaps if I had a cause. If there was something out there I felt particular disgruntled about. Thing is, I can’t help feeling those who get stuck in, stick their head above the parapet and demand the chance to have heir say, fall into one of only two categories; those with a genuine grievance, a fight to get stuck into because it has direct relevance to and on their lives and the lives of their loved ones, a wrong done to them which needs putting right, or group two, those who perceive the fight, the cause, the wrong and feel, justly, righteously or not, they are the ones to sort it all out. The former I get, the latter can piss off.

Maybe I just need a project. Maybe a job. The same nine to five drudgery everyone else seems to relish. Maybe I shouldn’t drink so much red wine and ramble in front of a keyboard. Maybe you care if I do or I don’t. I suspect the latter.

Maybe my place is out there waiting for me, or just maybe it has already passed me by and I failed to notice. Perhaps I was the guilty party, I passed that place and failed to recognise it. For all any of us knows, we are in such a place right now.

Are you?

Are you disenfranchised? Itching to be part of the mans liberation movement. Are you a frustrated feminist, sure the movement has failed to achieve it’s goals or has shifted, lost sight of the target? Are you content, something completely different, more relevant and certain and long lasting than happiness? Do you need the fight, the battle, the injustice to present itself so you can rail against it, or are you one, to live moment to sweet unconcerned moment?

Do you need a sense of place? A time and space which defines you, or is you being there and then definition in itself? Are showery Sunday’s something a stay at home Dad, afforded a few introspective moments to himself, should avoid?

If so, should I just shut up, get up, and do the dusting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YEAR, NEW MAN, NEW PLAN

And so it is 2018. A summer recharge, and right back into it…

Time to establish some ground rules, for me and for the whanau. (whanau is Maori for family, in case you were wondering. Bet you didn’t know I could be so cultural)

Right now, with the 2018 school term a little way off, I have got it easy. Many hands make lite work and all that. So surely this is the time to assess what had been happening, re-assess what has not been happening well, take stock of all of the good, the bad and the ugly-I count myself firmly in the latter category-and freshen the approach to things.

By ‘things’ I mean all the stuff required to raise kids and run the household you are raising them in. It is summer, a bloody good one at that, so the season is doing a good job of surrogate parenting for me. Time will come soon enough though-kids back at school, weather turning cooler and wetter (the wife is already back at work)-when I have to get my shit together. So why not start now, establishing few ground rules along the way.

Vacuuming is a work out. If it isn’t already, make it so. 

You are never going to ‘get back in shape’. What shape that was, is frighteningly similar to the one you have now, so how is that gonna work out for ya?  Besides, four kids and and wife, who spends the majority of her time either physically at work, or on call for it, and where is the chance to ‘work out’? Vacuum like you mean it.

Rotate the clothing in the little one’s draws. 

No one likes shopping. It doesn’t matter if I am New Zealand’s version of The Rock, all rippling muscle and oozing masculinity. Nor would it matter if I was a frilly fairy princess clad in pink. I do not, have not and will never, like shopping!

So be warned. It is not a favourite top. Those are not a pair of favourite tights. They are just the items on top in the draw. Okay, a little one might have a preference or two, but a fashion show it is not (it kind of is, but I do what I can to ignore that). When the laundry is dried and folded-not to her standard I might add-slip those lemon fresh items down the bottom of the pile in the draw, thus meaning you attract the little ones attention to the array of other clothes she has available. Eventually, nothing is going to fit, no matter how worn and tatty the clothes and as the E-Bomb is the last in her chain, the last of the females, meaning no more hand-me-downs, keep cycling them around. The longer you can put off the shopping trip, the better.

Get down and dirty. 

We have good kids. A big part of this is because all kids are born that way, good. Sure, there may be the odd demon as an exception proving the rule, but generally there is nothing wrong with a child until we start putting it there. The key to keeping them good is communication. Which is kinda the key to every relationship in life.

So get down at their level. I don’t mean dumb yourself down. By no means, because let’s get real, you are most likely dumber than them anyway. I mean, get on the floor. Be a part of what they are, see it all from where they are at. Change the perspective. Literally do not talk down to your kids. Sure, it might take a while for this old body to protestingly get up off the floor, but in the meantime, it is really worth it.

And while you are there, talk to them like humans. Treat them like the people they are. Little people admittedly, put fully functioning people nonetheless.

Buy a pig.

Okay, actually going out and purchasing a pig may be a touch extreme. We have the space for one and the time required to look after animals, stock. Most living the suburban dream can’t say the same, so stick with your insinkerators and your composting and all the other techniques you employ so your rubbish doesn’t stink, making for a good breeding ground for maggots. What I am trying to say is, don’t be the one cleaning up the scraps…with your mouth. I said buy a pig, don’t be the pig.

We get the kids to eat what we eat. The idea is for them to develop a wide pallet, stop them being fussy, help them learn to identify what is good and healthy and nutritious. It also makes meal preparation so much easier, but that is just Mum and Dad being selfish. (note the capitals…you deserve to be in capitals) We try, as much as is possible, to get them all involved in the process of preparing, cooking, eating and cleaning up after a meal. Number One takes great delight in cooking for the family, now and then and Number Two is just starting to get into things more, now she can reach. With a bit of luck they will learn some independence and not be completely inept, when the time comes for them to push off.

Did I say push off?

I meant spread their wings.