50 Shades of Parenting

It all started with an innocent question over breakfast.
Darling have you got a pilots license? Asks my wife.
You mean can I fly a plane? I say.

A few days later.
Darling. Have you got a pilot’s uniform?  She asks.
What like a fancy dress outfit?
Kind of.
 No. And you know how I hate fancy dress parties.

The following morning.
Darling I want you to tell me what to do. I want you to assert your manliness. Really? Are you sure?
But you hate it when I tell you to pick up your dirty clothes off the bathroom floor. You get angry and tell me not to treat you like a child.
I like the way you said dirty. I can be very dirty sometimes can’t I? She says seductively.
What’s going on?
She moves in closer.
I want you to dominate me. I want to be your submissive.

Then the penny drops.
You’ve been reading that Fifty Shades of Grey haven’t you?
She smiles.
Yes I have and its opened up a whole new side of me. I want to be your sex slave. I will have sex with you whenever you want me to.

But when I tried it last week you told me to get off because you were watching Desperate Housewives.

You should have insisted. That’s what dominants do. You should do what you want whether I want it or not.

You sound like a Conservative talking about rape. How about you tell me when you want me to dominate you and I’ll pretend I don’t know and then I’ll sneak up behind you, grab you and carry you off to bed.

Mmm that sounds nice. But be careful of your back. You don’t want to have to  go to the physio again.

Ok I’ll drag you across the floor.

I like that. But make sure there aren’t any of baby’s toys in the way I don’t want to get injured like when you stood on her xylophone and you cut your foot.

Ok. So you’ll give me the sign. I’ll pretend you haven’t given it to me. Then I’ll sweep the floor of all known toys, pull you across the floor and into the bedroom. Where I will have my wicked way. Loudly and manly.

Not too loud though honey. We don’t want to wake M.

Being a Working Dad

A little something I wrote for the esteemed Tesco Magazine on being a working dad.

Whoever says Sunday is a day of rest has never been a parent. The official day of rest for working parents is Monday. In the office, my work colleagues don’t demand to be read stories or chased, or ask me to draw pictures of cats. And not even demanding TV presenters writhe around on the floor screaming.

I believe that looking after kids full time is way harder than any day job. That’s why for centuries men have chosen not to do it – they worked out that hunting animals or going down the pits or even going to war was preferable.

man and child happy

I come from a long line of working dads. My own dad chose to work as many hours as he could to earn money to buy me the things he never had as a kid. But although I got what I wanted, I didn’t get what I needed – his time. When my dad was around he was often tired and irritable. I didn’t want to make that mistake.\r\n\r\nSo with my wife and I both working, we decided to form a tag team. One morning I get Maia ready and then my wife takes her to the nursery. Then the next day we swap. It is like a military operation, but we get the job done together. As a bonus, I’ve found being a dad has made me more disciplined at work. I pack more in to my working day so I’m home in time to read to Maia and put her to bed at least three evenings a week.

There’s nothing more beautiful than coming home and hearing “Daddy, Daddy!” and the sound of little feet as Maia rushes to greet me. Our father/daughter relationship comes down to quality versus quantity. I might spend fewer hours with Maia, but because they’re limited, I treasure them more and she gets to see my best side. And while I salute the dads who’ve chosen to stay at home, I know it’s not right for my family. Being a working dad is what works best for all of us.

I Love Mondays

Whoever says Sunday is a day of rest has never been a parent.

The official day of rest for working parents is Monday.
In the office.

One of the main changes in lifestyle of being a parent is how you treat the weekends.Pre – parenthood, weekends were for sleeping and decompressing – two days of rest from five days of work. They were characterized by lie-ins and lazy Sunday mornings, papers in bed, chilled afternoons in front of the TV, a visit to the pub and a bit of adult frolicking. (Oh I get tearful just things about those halcyon days! nNow, its up at, or before, the crack of dawn, screams and constant demands for attention. A small flat in Central London only holds so much attraction for a young child. Lazing around isn’t an option, we have to do things. We have to go out  and stimulate M. Weekends are spent  hanging out at the park, swimming, visiting the local inner city farm, going on play dates, visiting friends who also have kids, or exploring new areas of the city. Thankfully, we live in the capital and so there are plenty of things to do in London, whether it be art galleries or museums or restaurants.

M is only two, so ancient artefacts and art might be beyond her grasp but the large spaces are great for running around in and playing peek-a-boo!

The good thing is that we do have fun as a family exploring London, which is genuinely one of the greatest cities of the world. The flip side is that constantly doing things is exhausting.

By Sunday night I am dreaming of a nice relaxing week in the office.

My work colleagues don’t demand to be read stories, or be fed, or ask me to draw pictures of cats. And even the more confrontational and annoying ones, when I ask them to do something for me, have never resorted to throwing themselves on the floor screaming.

I am a Hot Dad

I am no Brad Pitt but I do have two legs, two arms, two eyes (well four actually – I wear glasses) a brooding lopsided grin and a baby in a pram. I am irresistible to women. I am a hot dad.  (NB: This is a spoof)

Samantha Brick wrote about  the problems of being an attractive woman. Try being a hot dad.

I took my baby girl to the local café on Saturday. We had barely sat down when a waitress came over and gave me a banana for baby and a cup of tea for me. “On the house” she said with a big smile. I smiled back and as she sashayed away she gave me a wink. You’re probably thinking ‘what a lovely surprise’. But while it was lovely, it wasn’t a surprise. At least, not for me.

This kind of thing happens all the time.Throughout my life as a dad, I’ve regularly had women hit upon me.

Once, a well-dressed lady bought me a chocolate cookie when I was standing behind her in the queue at the bakery (it was yummy, although looking back maybe it was intended for baby), while there was another occasion when a charming woman paid my bus fare and slipped me her phone number as I struggled to pull the pram on to a bus. Another time, as I was walking through London’s Portobello Road market, I was tapped on the shoulder and handed a lovely teddy bear (it turns out baby had dropped it in the gutter moments earlier).\n\nAnd whenever I’ve asked what I’ve done to deserve such treatment, the donors of these gifts have always said the same thing: its so nice to see a man spending time with his baby.

I am no Brad Pitt but I do have two legs, two arms, two eyes (well four actually – I wear glasses) a brooding lopsided grin and a baby in a pram. I am irresistible to women. I am a hot dad.

It is embarrassing. While playing the tickle monster game with baby in the park I am also asked by mothers, not all of them single, if they can be chased and tickled too. They coo and swoon as I push baby on the swings. Sometime there are so many gathered around me that baby starts to cry. As I comfort her all they do is swoon more.\n\nIf you\’re a woman reading this – or, more importantly, looking at my picture – you will know exactly what I’m talking about: you are probably  already writing  a marriage proposal.

If you are a man, I’d hazard that you’ve already formed your own opinion about me — and it won’t be very flattering. For while many doors have been opened (literally) just as many have been metaphorically slammed in my face — and usually by my own sex. I know how Samantha Brick feels. You almost certainly find me a threat – a threat to your career, your relationship, your masculinity.\n\nTime and time again jealous husbands have frozen me out of their lives. “You’ve ruined it for us” they say ” I never changed nappies now after seeing yiou dio it she says I:m not a real man.”\n\nTake last week, out walking baby a mate who I wnet to school with passed by in his car. I waved — he blatantly blanked me. Yet this is someone who I have known for over 30 years, and who I have been down the pub with on countless occasions.\n\nI approached a mutual friend and discreetly enquired if I’d made a faux pas. It seems the only crime I’ve committed is not leaving the house with a bag over Baby M. He doesn’t like me, I discovered, because he views me as a threat. The friend pointed out he is shorter, heavier and has never changed a nappy.\n\nAnd, according to our mutual friend, he is adamant that something could happen between his wife and me, ‘were the right circumstances in place’, even though I’m happily married.

Perhaps you’re a father yourself, and have experienced a fraction of the bastardness I’ve encountered at the hands (and once or twice, the boots) of insecure, embittered males. Maybe you can in some small measure empathise with how difficult it is to live in a society where a man is constantly expected to be a good dad, but is then punished for being better than anyone else.Is it any wonder that David Beckham moved his family to the US?’

Parenting Star Wars Style

Ever watched Star Wars and wondered what the Stormtroopers family life might be like? Nope? Me neither but one Swedish woman has.

Photographer Kristina Alexanderson has taken a series of photos depicting Star Wars Stormtroopers and Clone Troopers as parents.

The Flickr set shows the Storm Troopers doing normal day-to-day activities with their kids.The first Storm Trooper toy Alexanderson used was her son’s action figure. After that, she bought others, as well as LEGO minifigs to use as children.

“I’m interested in relations,” she says. “The troopers have many attribute that make me want to work with them. They are male, and I like the thought of trying to give them feelings, relation, they are human, not machines.”

Being An IVF Dad (The Times)

I wrote this for The Times last week for their Fathers Day special:

Father’s Day 2007 was not a good day. I took my dad for a beer to celebrate his special day. “Son, not everyone can have kids, you know.” It was said with tenderness and I realised he was preparing me for disappointment. My wife Iza and I had been trying for a child for two years, and I was beginning to give up hope. I was 37, I had a wife whom I loved, an exciting job making TV shows, a cool London flat, but there was a hole in my life — a hole that I felt could only be filled by a child. Since my early twenties I had always wanted kids. Women friends ask: “Why? How did you know?” But I can’t tell you why. It’s not intellectual, it’s instinctual. A deep-down primal urge. Women can desire kids, so why can’t men? I would walk past a school playground and the sound of children playing tore me apart. I started avoiding social occasions if I knew there would be children there.

Iza and I had married within 18 months of meeting. We didn’t want to just be a couple, though. We wanted to be a family. We both love kids and we wanted our own to play with and mould. Iza is Malaysian, and we were excited about mixing genes from two different cultures and countries and seeing how it would turn out. At first I wasn’t that bothered by our failures, I just felt sure that it would happen. But as the months dragged on I could see the desperation in Iza’s eyes.\r\n\r\nWe changed diets. We changed positions. Iza employed all her skills as a financial analyst to plot daily temperature readings and design optimum fertility graphs. Sex had turned into a serious business.

For a long time I worried a lot about my sperm and she worried about her eggs. Neither of us mentioned it. We didn’t want to face the facts or start a blame game. For if we couldn’t make a baby, then one of us must be at fault, right? But after we had been trying for two years, I swallowed my pride and told Iza that I was concerned about the state of my sperm. Both relieved by my confession, we agreed to speak to our GP, who arranged for us both to have our fertility tested. At the hospital I was given a pot and asked to provide a sperm sample. The room was lit by a fluorescent strip, but to get you in the mood for self-love someone had put a bedside lamp with a purple frilly shade on the formica next to the sink — no doubt the result of a management consultancy team brought in to improve masturbatory output. There was a CD player and one CD, The Best Christmas Album Ever. It was August. The only “reading” material was a pile of National Geographic magazines. I lifted one up and, to my joy, discovered that the topmost magazine was just a clever ruse — an old-fashioned, polite British way to hide the treasures that lay beneath. I assumed that the next bit would be easy. There aren’t many things I am good at, but this was something that I thought I had down to an art. But I found it hard to concentrate. What if my sperm was useless? What if I couldn’t father kids? As my wife and I sat holding hands in the doctor’s office the next day, waiting for our results, I am ashamed to say that I couldn’t help hoping that it wouldn’t be me with the official problem.The doctor started to read from his folder. Please, please let me be OK.
“Glenn, 20 per cent motility, 30 per cent dead. No fundamental problems there.”
“Yes!” I thought.
The relief was incredible. But a split-second later I realised that this meant it was my wife who had the problem. Except she didn’t: there was nothing wrong with her, either. Unexplained infertility accounts for almost a third of all cases, the doctor said, and pregnancy would almost certainly eventually happen for us. But we didn’t want to wait any longer and decided to ask science for a helping hand.

We started with IUI, intrauterine insemination, where the sperm is injected directly into the uterus. My wife’s private parts soon became public ones, and I had to watch her being prodded and jabbed by endless people in white coats. Once upon a time a woman’s sex organs were to me like 16th-century America — its coastline known but its interior a hidden mystery. Now I know way more than a man needs to know about a woman’s inner workings.

After four unsuccessful rounds, with each disappointment harder to take, we progressed to IVF. We went private after finding that the nearest hospital we could get funding for was a two-and-a-half-hour round trip away. I remember leaving the hospital, having written another large cheque, passing a teenage boy pushing a pram and thinking that his baby probably cost him no more than two vodka Red Bulls and a bag of chips. It was hard being the bit-player. I wanted to play a bigger role, but assisted conception isn’t like that. The man’s role is a supporting one and it wasn’t easy when all the drugs caused crazy hormonal changes that turned my wife into Jekyll and Hyde. But I swallowed my pride and bit my tongue and even tried to massage her feet. It seemed the least I could do. Then there were the daily injections, performed by me, that ended in bruises and welts on her, and both of us in tears. Or once, memorably, me passed out on the floor — I’m phobic about needles. I had to visit a hypnotherapist and spend two weeks practising on oranges before I could even pluck up the courage to inject her. Thankfully, my wife saw the funny side. It’s one of the many reasons why I love her. In fact, it was humour that kept us strong, although sometimes the laughs were hard to find. There were the days when a friend would announce her pregnancy. We’d smile and congratulate her, then rush home to turn off the phone, eat cheese on toast and cuddle and comfort ourselves under the duvet.

Eventually we managed to produce three embryos. Our own mini-babies. But then Iza reacted badly to the fertility drugs and the implantation had to be delayed and the embryos frozen. By now we had spent more than £6,000, so when the doctor told us that there was a 25 per cent chance of them dying when eventually defrosted, then less than a 30 per cent chance of success, it felt as if we’d put all our savings on a three-legged horse.

After four months, the day came for our frozen embryos — we had christened them Magnum, Viennetta and Twister — to be defrosted. Twister never made it, but the other two came through and were implanted. I was excited and nervous, full of belief and optimism that this time it was going to happen, but deep inside already preparing for failure.The two-week wait to see if the procedure had worked was excruciating, but when we saw the baby for the first time on the scan it was amazing, this real, moving thing that was a bit of us both.

The delivery, in June last year, was a hideous 18 hours of labour at University College Hospital, followed by an emergency Caesarean due to meconium in the amniotic fluid. The operation was surprisingly quick. One minute I was holding Iza’s hand as she prepared for surgery, the next I was being handed a baby. Our baby. She was covered in poo and looked like an alien, but to me she was beautiful. I suddenly had tears in my eyes as I danced round the operating theatre with her to the sound of Nina Simone singing, appropriately, My Baby Just Cares for Me, on the nurses’ radio.

Ever since, despite the sleepless nights and extra weight of responsibility on my shoulders, I feel as if I have been walking two inches taller. A bad day is made OK by a smile from baby Maia. My heart melts when she stretches out her hands for a hug from her papa.

I am a different man now. We are no longer two people in love, we are a family.Tomorrow will be my first Father’s Day. And I will be smiling all day.

First published in The Times Saturday June 18th 2011.’

Daddy Detective

Is it wind? Does she want attention? Is she sleepy? Has she done a poo? Is she trying to do a poo? Is she bored? Is she hungry? Is she sick? Does she want to sit up? Does she want to sit down? Does she want to have a cuddle?

Having a baby means you have to have Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to solve the riddle of baby’s crying.
It’s gonna be so much easier when she can talk and simply tell me what is wrong.

Oh Sleep How I Miss You

Baby is sick and I am not getting any sleep.

Sleep. What a beautiful word.
The soothing s leading on to those two e’s that snuggle so nicely next to each other, all cosy, and warm nestling between the headboard of the l and the p.
Oh how I wish I was one of those e’s .  
And is it just me or doesn’t the p, look like the head of a man emerging from a duvet?
Oh sleep how I miss you.

Dispatches From The Fatherhood Frontline Week 11

‘Things I have learnt:

Nappies leak.
Eco nappies leak even more.
They may be good for the environment and reduce landfill but the non oil based elastic replacement (no doubt made from organic tofu by South American natives) is not very elastic.

The smell of a baby is the best smell in the world.
The smell of a baby’s poo is not so good.
The smile your daughter gives you when she wakes up and sees you can make your heart burst with joy.
Looking at the world through a baby’s eyes is like taking LSD
The other day the two of us spent 10 minutes just staring at a leaf.

Baby screams and hangovers don’t mix.
Baby’s have a novel way of trying to go to sleep.

As adults we have learnt that the best way is to lie still shut your eyes and be silent.Baby’s prefer to lie on their backs with their eyes wide open, roll around madly shaking all their limbs and scream in baby talk the equivalent of “I CAN’T GO TO F-KING SLEEP” over and over for approximately ten minutes. Absolutely exhausted they then fall asleep.