Sunday, 30 November 2008

behind the scenes at the bogey museum

Dad Rules
by Andrew Clover

As anyone who has become a parent recently will know there are a plethora of books available to help you get through those first few weeks, months, years. The sheer volume of titles is in itself unhelpful before we even start to consider how contradictory they all are. Driven through desperation to actually consult the health service with a question you will usually be greeted by the stock reply: 'Well, every baby is different' ('Yes, but is its vomit supposed to be green or do we have an exorcist-style situation going on here?').

Driven by a similar regard for the 200-plus page tomes he saw, Andrew Colver decided to write this book (you may have come across his musings in the Sunday Times Style magazine in the Dad Rules column) which he begins by condensing his parenting experience into three sentences

1) Don't be reading two-hundred page books. Try to sleep.
2) Don't let them suck too long, or mum's nip will really hurt.
3) Get out of the way when they puke.

That gives you a pretty good idea of the tone. Clover is a comedian and actor, so the book is filled with great one-liners. There have been plenty of jokes made about the emotional state of a woman in labour but nobody has put it quite so well as he does: 'You don't mess with a woman in labour. Even if she decides she wants to eat the baby, I'll back her up.'

He doesn't do much to dispel the myth that men are just big boys until they're forced to grow up by a woman (and even then they're just pretending to be grown up) but his innocence/ignorance makes him an entertaining guide into the world of parenting. What he really discovers is how to be happy. As we follow his stuttering acting career, his reliance on the weed to cope with comedy gigs, childcare, and just about anything really, he slowly learns to trust his instincts when looking after his daughters. If you're knackered, get creative:

'"You know what would be a really nasty trick?" I say. "If I fell asleep and, when I woke up, someone had painted all over my back."
I put my head on the table, and have a quiet doze. They paint my back. It's absolutely delicious. It feels like I'm being massaged by fairies.'

There are some refreshingly honest thoughts from a male perspective too.

'They say that women forget the pain of childbirth or they'd never do it again. Similarly, men must forget the pain of living with a pregnant woman, or the whole world would be like China. Families would have one child each. They'd also have fewer wardrobes.'

He does occasionally sound a little sentimental, as when he mentions that all his friends have become famous or disappeared but that's ok because he's bred two perfect companions. And as someone who can only dream of living in a place like Muswell Hill, the hard luck/no money story wore a little thin but where this book really succeeds is not with childcare philosophy or any kind of life lessons but with the relentless sense of humour which reminds you that as hard as it is, as tiring as it can be, it's still the best thing you'll ever do.


John Self 30 November 2008 at 18:38  

A timely recommendation.

"...men must forget the pain of living with a pregnant woman, or the whole world would be like China"

Mrs Self, if you're reading this, I have no idea what he's talking about. (Nods vigorously while she's not looking)

William Rycroft 30 November 2008 at 19:48  

There's another great line after his friend says, 'Ah, you're looking after your daughter! That must be so fulfilling. I bet you're great at that!'. To which he wants to reply: 'I'm a man. If I'm great at something, I expect an award. I expect cash. I don't expect to be changing nappies at two in the morning, working with sewage, for no money, for someone who shouts at me.'
Luckily he doesn't actually say it.

John Self 22 December 2008 at 08:12  

Got hold of this book at the weekend on your recommendation. Have been reading snatches of it to Mrs Self, who has been amused and alarmed by Clover's apparent access to our private conversations. This, of course, is tremendously reassuring: other men really do think that way! And the road ahead seems slightly less rocky as a result.

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