Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dads on TV

They're blooming everywhere at the moment it seems. Well, two programmes in successive nights on the subject of fatherhood counts as a flood in my house. In this case, the programmes covered similar ground with a slightly different approach.

First up was Channel 4's Daddy Daycare, a series where flailing (or should that be failing) dads are given the opportunity to up their game by total immersion therapy. Three candidates, deemed to be slightly slack in the dad stakes, are parachuted into a nursery where they suddenly find themselves in charge of dozens of ankle biters.

Of course the obvious question is why not simply leave them in charge of their own charges for a week? This would give their put-upon other halves some, no doubt, much needed rest, as well as giving the dads a chance to reflect on what they are missing out on. But this is TV and that's probably nowhere near as novel as dropping them into a very busy nursery, where they soon flounder. Hardly surprising really. I don't think I'm a hopeless dad, but I would struggle to be in charge of a whole nursery class. It's not a fair comparison.

In true reality TV fashion, the dads eventually come up trumps, learn a few life lessons, and disappear over the horizon to make way for next week's chumps.

And that's one of my main issues with this type of programme, the way dads are set up to fail before they've even started. There's no show without Punch, and no daddy reality show without dads being made to look a bit foolish, as if they didn't really know what they were doing as a matter of course. Imagine if producers took the same approach with every programme about motherhood. They don't of course. Mothers are routinely presented as having some sort of inner knowledge that clicks into place as soon as baby arrives. The reality is that many mums struggle in the early days and that it is a learning journey for everybody, so why perpetuate these lazy stereotypes?

The second programme in this week's TV Dadfest was BBC's A Dad is Born. Again we are presented with three dads, 'to be' in this case. They were from slightly different backgrounds: a millionaire businessman; a recruitment consultant, and a Hungarian chauffeur. This being TV land, it almost goes without saying that they all live in London, quite possibly within Zone 2.

What was interesting about them was the extent to which imminent and then actual fatherhood levelled out some of the differences between them. Even the most immediately unlikeable of the three, Greg who made his mint from 'greed is good' style motivational, day trader training, became a more sympathetic specimen through the prism of fatherhood.

Hungarian Viktor wanted to be a better father than his own drunken, violent dad. He delivered a really touching piece on how, when his daughter asked him what he did in the parenting wars, he would have an answer. Basically he was nappy changing, singing to the baby and being supportive to his partner who seemed to have a case of the baby blues.

Jamie, the recruitment guy, was the kind of involved modern dad that I suppose many of my generation of fathers see themselves as. He'd done all the classes, read lots of manuals (I can't hold my hand up to that one, but I did listen as my wife precised the important bits), and generally seemed to be approaching the whole experience as one that would be appreciated better if in full possession of the facts.

Of course, these proved to be completely useless in the face of the actuality of labour. Like all of us, I expect, he wasn't prepared for the enormity of the aftermath of the birth. You can't be told, or read up on it, you have to experience it. Nothing prepares you for how tired you will feel, how useless you will feel, or how scared you will feel at times.

But nobody can prepare you for how good it all feels either, although A Dad is Born did a pretty good job of conveying how starstruck these three guys were by their new babies.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wobbly teeth

Our eldest started complaining the other day that one of his teeth was wobbly. He's quite an imaginative child, so I didn't take that much notice at first (bad dad). But sure enough, he's correct. The upper left incisor shows distinct signs of movement.
This perplexes me as it seems too early. He is four and a bit years old, and according to a cursory search, teeth do not usually start to fall out until about six. [Newsflash. Somebody else says they can drop from about four - he's not a freak.]
At the moment he seems quite unbothered by it, which is good. However I feel guilty that we haven't got him registered with a dentist, and that we've been pandering to a growing sweet tooth of late (he takes after me in that respect).
He does brush his teeth every day, which is good, but I'm now worried that he'll end up looking like a gummy lad who comes from a deprived household where your five a day is boiled sweets, biscuits, cakes, crisps and pop.
Growing up, I had cousins like that. They drank nothing but fizzy drink when growing up (according to my completely non-judgemental mother) and chomped on sweeties like it was the end of rationing. The result, I remember quite clearly was that they had gaping, rot infested cake holes for a good part of their childhoods until their adult teeth came in. Funnily enough now they look like the Osmonds, such is their toothiness, but at the time they were a cautionary tale about the perils of not looking after your teeth.
Coming from the Central Belt of Scotland, where tooth decay was a rite of passage, I'm rather aware of how important this is. In my extended family false teeth were the norm. It was partly a generational thing. People routinely has their teeth removed as dentures were considered to be less trouble. I'm currently reading a biography of Clash frontman Joe Strummer, who had appalling teeth, and apparently he refused to brush his teeth while at boarding school as a lad, so they would fall out and he could have fake ones like his dad.
Mind you I'm not surprised that people neglected their teeth in the Seventies as a visit to the dentist was quite a horrible experience. That's certainly how I remember it as a child. I can still conjure up the taste of the gas that they gave me for extractions. I don't think this completely knocked me out as I have a vivid image of spooky cartoon like figures dancing about in front of me, only to wake up soon after feeling really nauseous with a sore mouth. I'd leave the dentists clutching a blood stained hankie to my mouth, probably to be rewarded with a bar of Highland Toffee.

For years I didn't go to the dentist. I kidded myself that this was because of my semi-itinerant lifestyle as a student and in the post university years, but really I think it was because I was scared of going. About eight years back I noticed that my teeth were quite discoloured and I eventually plucked up courage to go back thinking that I was bound to have a backlog of dental work waiting.

Amazingly, after almost 20 years absence, I only needed a  bit of a clean. Since then I've tried to be a bit more conscientious with regular check ups.

I don't want to pass on my phobias to the kids, but was not sure when the right time to start taking them to the dentist was. The answer is probably 'before now' but the wobbly tooth incident has forced my hand and we'll have to get them both registered as soon as. I'm sure dentists have become a bit more child friendly over the years, so and I'm on the lookout for a good one in Colchester - suggestions please.

On a broader note, the toothy episode is a poignant reminder how kids keep growing. They don't stay little for long. I was giving J his night time cuddle a few days ago and told him that I'd have to make the most of this as soon he probably wouldn't want a cuddle (or a schnuggle to give it the rather icky name I created).

"Don't worry daddy, I'll always have a schnuggle for you," he replied.

[Heart breaks!]