I was thrilled to be asked to write a Father’s Day piece for the legendary Western Morning News. Here’s how it turned out. BTW I love the pictures of Sam here #ProudDad
We need to talk about Pat Clifton, probably better known as ‘Postman Pat’.
Everybody knows his bright red van, black and white cat and ‘happy man’ persona. But despite Mr Clifton being such a familiar (strangely un-aging) face to so many of us, I’ve got the feeling that there’s a story just below the surface that nobody’s talking about.
For the last 30-odd years Postman Pat has been delivering mail, with the aid of his cat ‘Jess’, to the people of Greendale (and surrounding districts). A genial fellow, Pat has never been what anyone would consider the ‘perfect postman’ – or perhaps we should say ‘post person’?
Pat has the habit of, well, mislaying the very items he’s supposed to be responsible for. A strong and stable pair of hands he is not! This truth was apparent even in the earliest part of his career, when Clifton worked under the direct supervision of postmistress Mrs Goggins. The affable pensioner always seemed to look the other way as Pat, instead of delivering the large quantities of mail he was tasked with, would spend an entire day chasing a single letter he’d mislaid. Many would say that it’s to her credit that Mrs Goggins saw Clifton’s benefit to the community, as a slightly hopeless helper, outweighed any true ability he had as a deliverer of mail.
Times sadly have changed and I’m now worried about Pat. He no longer works for Mrs Goggins, his role is now under the supervision of the privatized ‘Special Delivery Service’, which I’m convinced has him on a zero hours contract.
It’s a well known story of a new company coming into a previously public sector enterprise and squeezing existing employees. The ‘Special Delivery Service’ seems happy to invest in equipment – they’ve automated conveyor belts that must spend half of their time empty considering the tiny amount of post Greendale receives. They’ve also bought a helicopter, dune buggy, snow mobile and all manner of post vans.
But have they invested in Pat?
I think not.
Clifton is clearly on a zero hour contract, with no hope of career-progressing training.
Why do I think this?
1: Pat is always on duty. No matter what he’s doing, any day of the week, Clifton can receive a phone call from the Special Delivery Service and is expected to get to work straight away. Birthdays, outings and school plays have all been ruined by Pat’s un-defined working routine. The strain this constant state of uncertainty is having on his wife Sarah and son Julian is clear for all to see.
2: Pat never takes his uniform off, nor has the uniform been updated. It’s my suspicion that he wears it all the time to save money on clothing. Pat deserves better than that!
3: Pat drags out deliveries for much longer than necessary. He seems to literally go all around the houses, getting into bother, rather than just delivering the items he is given. I’m concerned Pat is trying to up his hours (and income) by unnecessarily prolonging his work.
4:Pat’s mobile. It’s an old Nokia, clearly he’s not financially solvent enough to be considered for a smartphone contract.
We can only hope that things improve for Pat in the near future. A career in the postal service, a role that became such a big part of his identity, should have treated him better.
I’m slightly worried I’ve been watching too much kids’ TV!
The Out of Depth Dad
I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning…
Nobody likes to be considered a moaner, really, do they? But, as a new SAHD dad, I find myself getting asked stupid questions on a far too regular basis. So, to set the record straight, here are 10 stupid things people seem to want to ask, again and again…
Are you getting much sleep?
In my former life, as a live TV producer, I used to tell my presenters that they should never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer to. It’s a useful maxim to work by. Yes, it requires pre-interview research, but it stops your guest saying something unsavoury on air.
In real life, there are some questions that just don’t need to be asked, precisely because the answer is blatantly obvious. Every person who has ever inquired of new parents: “Are you getting much sleep?” already knows the answer they will receive. Nobody, in the history of mankind, has EVER replied: “Yes, yes I am, thanks for asking. In fact, I’d recommend that insomniacs get themselves a baby – they do wonders for the old beauty sleep.”
It’s not really a question at all, is it? It is, in reality, just a chance for a third party to point out, to your face, that you’re clearly not getting much sleep as you look like crap – something every brain-frazzled, zombie-fied parent is all too well aware of!
Please, for the love of all things holy, stop asking this question. Thank you.
Is he a good baby?
How exactly am I supposed to answer this? I mean really? What a stupid thing to ask! What constitutes a ‘good’ or ( heaven forbid) ‘bad’ baby? I think the nub of the question that is being so ham-fistedly approached is probably “Does he cry a lot?” – but since when did crying have anything to do with morality?
I have, on several occasions, been tempted to reply in the following way:
“Sadly no, he’s not a good baby. In fact, we’re pretty convinced that he’s bad, very bad. We don’t have the evidence to prove it yet, but his mum and I think he was pivotal in the Kennedy assassination and disappearance of Shergar.”
If you’re not looking to be greeted with extreme sarcasm, then please don’t ask this question. Once again, thank you.
Who do you think he looks like?
Once again, I understand that people are trying to be nice, but please stop with this question – especially if it’s asked in front of both parents. Newborn babies, I understand, are designed to look more like their father than mother, in order for the father to stick around. It’s one of nature’s little quirks.
Yet, asking a dad to point out that the baby looks a lot more like them, in front of the mum who has probably been up most of the night feeding said child is a little awkward to say the least.
I got around this question by pointing out that if we were honest, Sam looked most like Ian Hislop – which he did. As he’s got older, Sam now (in my view) looks like his mum and I equally – in my view her beauty balances out my ‘quirkier’ features.
Please stop asking this question. Thanks again.
Are you still cycling / going to the gym / yoga / building models of the Forth Rail Bridge out of matchsticks?
Whatever it was I used to do to unwind, it’s highly likely that I’m no longer doing it right now. That’s just a fact of life. I’m a keen cyclist, I find it immeasurably relaxing, but please don’t ask if I’m getting out on my bike much. These days I feel like I’m winning if I get to go to the loo by myself. Being reminded that I have no free time, or being expected to make up an excuse why I’m not ‘making time’ for such an activity is annoying at best.
While I’m on this topic, will people please stop gong on about ‘making time’! I need to ‘make time’ for me, is advice I’ve heard. And how does that work exactly? Do I need a special watch? Should I call Doc Brown? If I could ‘make time’ I’d use it for sleeping, but sadly it seems I’m stuck on the 24 hours in a day model with everyone else. Who knew?
When is number 2 on the way?
Assuming this isn’t a question about my bowel movements (which frankly, are none of your business), the answer is firmly “none your business”. It amazes me that people can ask such a personal question in the smallest of talk. What possible good do questioners imagine will come from harassing parents, knackered from the demands of the child they already have, by prodding them to have another?
I have no idea if Sam will be an only child or not. What I do know is that I won’t be rushing home to Sam’s mum, saying: “Mrs Brown at the Post Office says we better get a move on and have a second one, so we’d better take her advice!”
I’m quite content with my lovely family as it is, thank you very much. So please stop asking. Thanks again.
Sorry for a particularly moan-y post. I’m sure next time I’ll be all sweetness and light… mainly because (with a bit of luck) people might have stopped asking me stupid questions!
The Out of Depth Dad
People are going to hate me for this.
But, to be frank, I don’t care. I mean what the hell is going on?
What am I talking about?
People smoking around children that’s what! It gets me so annoyed!!!
OK, so I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’m a non-smoker. Never have, never will. Never even been tempted. I figure that if I wanted to ingest serious amounts of carcinogens, there are much cheaper ways of doing it – like sucking on an exhaust pipe.
So, from the outset, you know I’m not part of the pro-smoking lobby. My mum died of smoking related cancer, and frankly I think it’s a horrible habit.
There is, I understand, an argument that people should be able to do whatever they like to their own body, thank-you-very-much. I get that. So if you want to ingest crap, 40 times a day, then that really is your funeral (literally). Good luck to you.
What annoys me, is the people I see doing this around kids. Often, and this is really what amazes me, their own kids!
I’ve tried and I really can’t see how people process this as if it’s an acceptable thing. I can understand the argument of: “It’s only me that suffers” that people give about smoking by themselves. It’s a stupid argument, because frankly nobody, not even Jeremy Dyson, lives in a vacuum. Screwing over your body is going to have effects on your family & friends, not to mention putting pressure on the NHS (if you’re reading this in the UK).
What I can’t understand is the idea of “Oh, it’ll only screw over my kids a little bit, by making them inhale my noxious cigarette smoke.” That, I don’t get.
As parents, don’t we just want the best for our kids? I mean, isn’t making sure they’re OK, and have the most promising start in life our entire role? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that ‘parenting’? Correct me if I’m wrong? So why would anyone go: “I want the best for my son, but I’m going to cloud him in cancerous gases because, frankly, I have no willpower”?
I told you some people weren’t going to like this.
It seems to me to have got worse lately. Since the smoking ban (which it won’t surprise you to hear, I love) smokers now linger outside pubs and cafes – which is traditionally where children are too. Here we find people frantically chain-smoking, a bit like deep sea divers filling their lungs before a long period of oxygen abstinence.
In the midst of these huddles of asthma inhaler-bearing inhalers we find kids, slowly turning into human kippers. Why would anyone do that to their own child? In an age where some parents what to find out the entire family history of any chicken nugget before they’ll allow their precious one to snack on it, why would these parents say: “Fuck it, you gotta die of something?”
The other day I was on a park bench, with Sam my son, when a man sat down next to me and lit-up. I asked if he could put it out or sit somewhere else.
“We’re outside!” he said, in a tone of ‘How stupid is this person?’.
“I’m aware of that,” I replied, attempting to stay calm, “I just don’t want my baby breathing that in.”
He tutted at me, then carried on smoking – with an air of ‘What are you going to do about it?’
I think ‘Going Postal’ is the term Americans use, when people lose the plot and majorly go off the rails.
I considered this for a moment…
… then chose another bench.
You see, I decided that not succumbing to an urge of the moment and acting in a negative manner (taking this man’s tobacco and shoving it forcibly where the sun doesn’t shine), was a better outcome for my son.
Perhaps there’s some parallel with smoking here?
Thanks for listening. I’m off to quietly fume somewhere*.
*NB:Please note the difference between ‘fuming’ and ‘giving off fumes’.
The Out of Depth Dad.
Wet wipes, I’ve got drawer after drawer of the bloody things.
You can’t open a cupboard, unzip a bag or even clean down the back of the sofa (not something I do often) in our house without being hit by an avalanche of moist towelettes.
But, at the end of the day, what have wet wipes ever done for me?
Nothing. That’s what!
Except making changing nappies considerably easier than using toilet paper or cotton wool. We had to use cotton wool when Sam was in hospital, it was a nightmare – bits of fluff getting everywhere. It didn’t so much collect ‘matter’, more just move it around.
OK. So apart from making changing nappies considerably easier, what have wet wipes ever done for me?
Thinking about it, they’re pretty good at cleaning up sick too! They don’t dissolve into porridge-like goo in the same way kitchen roll can. Wet wipes are really good at holding onto chunks of matter that might be found in said regurgitation.
OK, OK. Moving on…
So apart from making changing nappies considerably easier and being pretty good at cleaning up sick, what exactly have wet wipes ever done for me?
Oh yes. They’re great at getting rid of snotty noses. Especially when the bogies are dried on and have the consistency of toughened concrete. Wet wipes remove snot much more effectively than the old spit and hankie technique my mum used to prefer.
OK. OK. That’s all well and good. But apart from making changing nappies considerably easier, being pretty good at cleaning up sick and great at getting rid of snotty noses, what exactly have wet wipes ever done for me?
*Wet wipes cleaned my glasses nicely after Sam decided he wanted to rub them with Ella’s Kitchen covered mits – not ideal if you’re just heading off to a driving lesson and aren’t allowed behind the wheel without eye-wear.
*They also provide a great distraction during nappy changes. I hand an unopened packet to Sam and it keeps him occupied while I get on with the messy business. In fact, wet wipes’ packets, with their crackling sounds, are treated by my son as if they are the world’s greatest toy. Nothing makes him happier, other than (perhaps) a sock that’s been newly liberated from his foot.
*They were great at removing all traces of chicken tikka masala from a new pair of brogues, when I slipped on a squeaky pig and sent my dinner flying.
*Wet wipes were also great at providing a substitute for a shower when I arrived late (long story) – sweating heavily – for an interview with a minor celebrity. The wipes were pleasingly refreshing , in fact they should write that on the packet!
*Wet wipes were also a great way of cleaning milk formula off my iPhone, when a certain baby knocked over an entire container of the powder – causing a mini snowdrift! Note: I wouldn’t recommend doing this, it probably invalidated the warranty.
*Four packets of wet wipes also provided effective ballast, preventing a picnic blanket Sam and I were sat upon from taking off, during a sudden windy period. We’ve had a lot of sudden windy periods since he started weaning…
But apart from making nappy changes considerably easier, being pretty good at cleaning up sick, great at getting rid of snotty noses, polishing my spectacles, providing distraction during nappy changes, removing traces of chicken tikka masala from new brogues, giving a refreshing shower substitute, cleaning formula off my phone and providing effective ballast at picnics… wet wipes have never done anything for me!
Thank God for wet wipes.
I’m sure you agree!
The Out of Depth Dad.
BTW, take a look at this: Monty Python’s Roman’s sketch.
“Is he teething yet?”
It’s a simple enough question, I’d suppose. There was a period there, a few months back, where Sam’s mum & I were getting asked this several times a day.
The innocuous sounding inquiry would always be accompanied by a smirking smile. A look that said: “I know something that you don’t.”
For a long time, the answer had been a simple: “No, not yet.” This, in turn, would cue a sigh, shaking of the head and an exclamation of: “Well that’s something to look forward to”
What is it with people who feel the necessity to constantly wind up parents with their first child? The idea of finding the most tired parent you can and announcing: “It’s bad now, but oh! It’ll get worse!” seems pretty cruel to me.
Unsurprisingly teething did come. And with it came sleepless nights and ‘The Wall’. I’ve never been so tired. I was constantly losing my train of thought halfway through a…
The house was filled with screaming and crying, and that was just Sam’s mum and I. Then Brush Baby came into our lives.
Now I’m not the type of person to bang on about a product. It’s just not me. Although I do really, really like Ferraris, if they’re listening.
Let me make it clear from the outset that Brush Baby products do not work miracles. But they help.
Boy do they help!
We genuinely wouldn’t be without their Teething Wipes. These amazing bits of kit are wiped on your child’s gums after a feed and through some magic (something to do with killing bacteria) ease the pain of teething. I don’t know how many hours of sleep I received as a result of using the wipes, but I’m glad for every one of them.
We’ve now instituted a nighttime routine, using Brush Baby’s ‘First Brush’ & ‘Applemint’ teething toothpaste and we haven’t looked back.
It’s not down to me to tell you what to do. I just thought I’d pass on a bit of info that has been more helpful to us than the smirks and clucking we received from certain other parents.
The Out of Depth Dad.
It’s not an easy subject to talk about.
But that’s probably a very good reason for continuing…
Becoming a parent has been a life-changing experience. It’s changed the way I look at the world – and I’m talking about more than the blurred perspective of tiredness!
As a dad, I’m growing more fully aware of the role my own parents played in my development. There’s a dawning realization just how integral they were to making me… me.
Which brings me back to my main point, that missing piece of the jigsaw.
It’s been 18 years since my mother’s premature passing. She was only 45.
18 years, really?
Some days it feels like yesterday. If I choose to seek them out, I’d easily find the emotions attached to her death – the hurt, the pain – knowing they’re all still as fresh as if it were a recent event. Which is probably why this chapter of my life is often kept in a room that I keep locked – ‘Warning, do not enter, unhappy memories lie within’.
My mother died of cancer. A cruel and merciless disease. It tore a hole in my family 18 years ago, just as it continues to decimate the lives of people up and down the country every day.
The thing is, as a parent, I’m now necessarily pondering the ‘What ifs?’ of my life. Actually, that’s not true. I’m pondering one, major ‘What if?’.
It’s quite simple really.
“What if my mother had lived long enough to know my son?”
Part of me thinks that such a question should never be broached, it’s a cruel conundrum to burden myself with, as a useful answer can never, truly, be given. Even so, I think of her a lot at the moment.
I was (just) 20 when she died. Looking back on it all I can see that I was a kid, nothing more. So immature, so tied to the apron strings, so lacking in any meaningful life experience. My parents had managed to shield me from the worst of what life had to offer, which, I think, is a big part of your role, as a parent. This, however, had a unintended side effect. It made the savage, gut-wrenching, unfairness of her death all the more piquant.
I’m not going to go into details. It’s enough to say that the disease tried to rob her of her dignity. It failed, but that was only because of the sheer force of will she brought to the situation. 45 is no age at all.
As a father I’m now aware of wanting to have a positive and lasting effect on my son’s life. Something that lingers. None of us know what tomorrow brings, but thinking back to my mum makes me what to take a little more control of today. I’m sure that she had regrets. We all do. But the regret that my mum shared with me was, and is, an inspiration.
Speaking, just the two of us, during one of the precious moments that came between influxes of nurses, well-wishers and medication, my mum shared a thought.
“I wish,” she said, with a wistful smile. “I wish I’d roller-skated more often.”
The sheer whimsy of this statement, from a woman who was staring into the abyss, has stayed with me. I take her thought to mean that she wished she’d lived in the moment a little more, that she had taken more time to enjoy herself. Forgetting to have fun is a trap, even with her warning all those years ago, I frequently fall into myself.
So what do I take from all this? Where does it go? I’m not going to stop thinking about my mother, keeping her alive in the memory is a duty that I have been given. I also feel that it’s my duty to tell stories of her to my son. I catch glimpses of her in him every now and then, just moments that evaporate as soon as I’ve noticed them. There’s part of me that feels on some level, he’ll know the stories of his grandma already – passed down in his DNA.
Well it might not surprise you to hear that, as soon as he’s ready, Sam will be getting a pair of skates. I’m sure he’ll skate rings around his daddy, probably with the assistance of a set of celestial stabilizers.
The Out of Depth Dad