Guess what? Dads are better than Superheroes!!!

I remember being genuinely worried. It seemed a real issue.

You see, while my playground peers reveled in the wondrous innovations the new-fangled mobile phone technology promised, I was seriously concerned about the impact these devices would have upon my favourite superheroes.

Yes, I was that kind of kid.

I loved superheroes before it was fashionable. In fact, I loved superheroes long before such a love was so common it had become distinctly unfashionable.

Superheroes were my life. I was convinced, utterly certain, that when I grew up I was going to be a Batman, Superman or Spiderman. There was no doubt about it. Tragically, this belief wasn’t the product of my 4 year old mind. Oh no, well into secondary school I was still harbouring the expectation that life in a cape and cowl would be my destiny.

Back to the mobile phones. It occurred to my adolescent brain that if these pocket filling devices became common place, we wouldn’t need phone boxes anymore? And, if telephonic booths stopped populating out high streets, where the heck would superheroes change? Where would they find a quiet nook to slip into the spandex if the phone boxes had gone the way of the dodo?

I was some way into adulthood before the penny finally dropped. The life of daring-do I’d seen depicted in comic book panels and flickering upon the silver screen wasn’t going to be mine.

The likelihood of my coming to someone’s rescue was low. VERY LOW. If so-called ‘heroic’ actions were to take place in my life, they wouldn’t constitute of me swinging in and biffing the baddies on the bonce. Far from it. The acts of heroism I was likely to fulfill would revolve around solving tricking Windows-based issues with my superhuman knowledge of the F-key functions. Impressive eh?

“Struggling to go full screen are you sir? Have no fear. Stand back while I press F11! Oh no, don’t thank me. Thank the tireless minds down in Silicon Valley!”

In time, I acquiesced to the ‘unrealistic’ nature of the super-heroics I’d become obsessed with. This concession became closely tied to my ‘growing-up’. As I put the comics away a little magic disappeared in my world, seemingly forever.

I’m now a father. A role which, if I’m honest, I hadn’t imagined myself into during those formative years. Swinging from skyscrapers in spandex seemed a much more likely scenario than scraping sick from soggy strollers.

Yet, recently, I’ve come to realization that Dads can proudly hold their own against the supers of this world.

More than that…

I hesitate to utter it, but I will.

Dads are BETTER than Superheroes!

Wait. I have proof.

  1. Dads do AMAZING things WITHOUT superpowers  It’s (relatively) easy to save the day if you can fly or walk up the side of buildings. Superheroes (on the whole) are blessed with some pretty nifty abilities that the average person in the street could only dream of. They’ve got a bit (read ‘a lot’) of a head start. The thing is, I’ve seen dads do amazing things with no superpowers whatsoever. OK, OK, what they do might not be as ‘showy’ as the antics of Messrs Wayne, Kent and Stark – but they’re more impressive. I’ve seen a dad change a nappy one-handed while simultaneously dealing with a melting down 3-year-old. Superman couldn’t do that.I’ve seen dads reply patiently to a question they’ve already been asked 1000 times:
    “Daddy, why does Grandma have a hairy chin?” “I’m not sure. Maybe it’s to keep it warm?” “Daddy, why does Grandma have a hairy chin?” There’s no way Batman, Mr Misery Guts himself, would put up with this. He’d be sulking in the Batcave before you could say “Kapow!” I’ve also seen dads climb across vertigo inducing cargo nets, in the dizzy heights of soft play areas in order to keep up with over enthusiastic tots. There’s no way Tony Stark would do that without his techno-suit. All in all dads do whatever is necessary, whenever it’s necessary – without fanfare.
  2. Dads are invincible Every superhero has an ‘Achilles heel’: with Superman it’s Kryptonite, with Batman it’s his haunting past and with Spiderman it’s the ever present threat of getting stuck in the bath (NB: This is the oldest ‘dad joke’ known to man). Dads, however, are TOTALLY invincible – in the eyes of their children. There is literally NOTHING they can’t do. No superhero I know of could say the same. Dads can scare away the monster hiding beneath your bed. Dads can hug away the hurt when you fall. Dads can hold your hand when you’re nervous, and promise you everything is going to be alright. And it will be alright. Making everything OK is what dads do. The weight of responsibility that lies on dads’ shoulders is (partly) why they’re prone to taking regular naps. It takes a lot of effort to be invincible. The only people who are even more gifted on the invincibility front are mums, they do the same things – but make it look easy.
  3. Batman wishes he had a ‘Dad Bod’ As a kid, I thought that heroes look like Arnold Schwarzenegger – all muscle and bulging veins. Now I know different. The ‘Dad Bod’ is the mark of a true hero. Schwarzenegger with a ‘Dad Bod’ would have been useless. Like Samson, take away Arnold’s strength and all you have is a fella with a bad haircut. Dads, however, do all their amazing feats while rocking a hugely hairy, flabby and tired physique. Dads make dens from quilts and pillows at 6 am when they’re knackered – they don’t wait until a (really rather camp) signal flashes through the sky before they get to work. Dads are always on the case, ready to wipe a nose, tickle a tummy or give a fireman’s lift at a moment’s notice. All this is done with a body that looks like Jabba The Hutt’s (less attractive)brother. How heroic is that? Spiderman spends hours down the gym before donning the Lycra. Dads climb into Speedos at any given opportunity – that’s true bravery!

There are hundreds of things that make dads better than superheroes. Being ‘super’ in the eyes of your children is an honour every dad strives to live up to.

When I ‘grew out’ of superheroes. I gave up some of the magic in my life. I’d thought the transition to being adult, ‘sensible’ and staid was permanent. Yet, I’m glad to say, as a father I’ve seen the alchemy return.

Keeping the magic of youth alive in our children is the most exciting, enthralling and ultimately heroic quest of all!

Isn’t that super?

How to Survive Story-time!

“Once upon a time they all lived happily ever after.”

Wait a minute. That’s not right!

Let’s try that again.

“Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful princess”… “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Woah! What about the middle of the story? Shall we try again (again)?

“Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful princess”… “RRP £4.99 or $7.99 (CAN).”

Sound familiar?

Storytime is one of those parts of parenting that’s always portrayed through the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses. A moment for you to bond with your young’un via the enriching medium of the story book.

What could be better than that?

Well, let’s be honest, often a lot of things are.

Why?

For a start, the baby has no idea what a ‘story’ is, nor are they aware of the convention that you read all of the pages in order. So you read the first page only to have the book wrestled from your hands and closed to reveal the back cover.

It’s all most frustrating!

It would be very easy for this (often pre-bedtime) ritual to turn into something hugely stressful for the poor parent saddled with reading yet another pass at some mind-numbing tale.

Don’t let that happen to you!

Here’s my ‘Guide to Surviving Story-time’…

1: Don’t Expect a Story

No matter how good the book you choose to share with your little one is, the likelihood is they won’t be focusing on the salient points of the narrative.

Often the babe in question is far more interested in the sound the book’s spine makes when they force it to bend the wrong way than anything the author has plotted. Essentially any time spent reading with a baby should be viewed like watching an episode of The Only Way Is Essex – nothing sensible, clever or barely coherent is going to happen. All you’ll get is incoherent babbling and the overriding wish for the experience to be over (very) quickly.

2: Drop any ‘O.C.D.’ tendencies

If you’re the type of person that is a little ‘precious’ about their things – you know, plastic covers on the sofas and dry cleaning your tea towels – you’ll need to put that aside when reading to a baby.

The process is harrowing – not least to the book in question. You might buy a lovely ‘lift the flap’ book – something beautifully rendered that you need to take out a small mortgage to purchase – yet the baby will have no respect for it, whatsoever. Flaps will be savagely ripped from the pages without ceremony, pages will be chewed up, vomit stains will mask the most beautiful drawings.

Essentially, if you’re going to read it to a child, you have to begin with the mindset that the book is already ruined. Let it go! It’ll be much easier that way. Seriously, if you’d like a kids’ book to stay in pristine condition, never introduce it to a child!

3: Protect your hands

OK – it’s not ‘up there’ with childbirth, but the pain of getting the loose skin on your fingers trapped between the card pages of picture book is not to be sniffed at.

Babies have a unique ability to slam a book closed when you’re at your most vulnerable. Expect paper cuts, bruises and damaged fingers. It’s a tough game – this parenting lark!

If you can, always wear heavy-duty gloves while reading to your child – although this may result in ‘funny looks’ if you do it in public.

4: Choose somewhere comfortable

As soon as the baby is remotely mobile, the child in question will make your experience of reading to them as uncomfortable as possible. They’ll swiftly turn you into a human climbing frame as you valiantly try to act out the story of Snow White or whatever. Expect to be kicked, scratched, stood on, prodded and even bitten as you attempt to complete your newfound narrator role.

Believe me, it will be hell, so it pays to sit somewhere comfortable.

5: Pick the ‘right’ book

It cannot to be understated how important it is to think before choosing a book for your child.

Why?

Simply put, this book may turn into ‘The Book’ the one they insist upon being read to them at any given opportunity. So before you take it up to the book shop counter, ask yourself – ‘would I be happy reading this book out loud 500 times?’ It sounds extreme but it might happen!

Make sure your book isn’t the text equivalent of Jedward – all very amusing when you first see it, but likely to make you want to end it all when it appears for the 1000th time.

6: Get ready for Deja Vu

Even if you pick your child’s books wisely, you still need to be ready for a very heavy sense of Deja vu.

It’s inevitable.

Even the most engaging of reads is likely to sound like bad karaoke after a prolonged period on the bedside table pile. Add into this mix a child’s inevitable desire to hear their ‘favourite’ bits over (and over and over) again and you’ll be in need of sedation by the end of storytime!

Don’t worry, this is completely normal.

7: Voices are tricky

Remember that if you start doing ‘voices’ when reading to your child, you’re setting a very tricky precedent to maintain. Yes, your young ‘un may love the ‘hilarious’ tones of the giraffe that you perform at their bedside, but ask yourself would you be happy to do that same performance on a busy train?

Your child will expect a pitch-perfect read through of their favourite story whenever and where-ever you’re called upon to do it. What seemed like a good idea at first may leave you feeling a bit of a dodo when you’re reading out loud while waiting for the delayed flight to Malaga.

8: Don’t be afraid to ‘lose’ books

Sometimes you just won’t be able to take it any more. You’ll have read all about Fox’s lost socks just one time too many. In these cases you need to put yourself first.

You won’t be the first parent to lose a book ‘accidentally on purpose’. It’s quite an easy trick to pull off – if you make sure you dispose of the evidence quickly. Don’t put lost books into any inside bins – your child may discover them there. Go for the wheelie bin or even think about donating it to a charity shop (assuming it’s not been punished too much by your little angel).

Don’t be afraid to lose new books that have been misguidedly bought for the child by friends and family. Put yourself first. If it’s a painful read then an instant re-gift is the answer. Consider giving it to the child of someone you don’t like (that’s probably what happened to you).

9: Books with sounds: Avoid them like the plague

The amazing noise of  a cannon being fired is great the first time you’re reading that fascinating book on pirates. It isn’t, however, quite so pleasing when you’ve heard it repeatedly triggered by the little monster in the backseat of the car for over an hour.

Any book (or toy) with sound effects is bad news. Period. It’s as simple as that. Remember noisy books are like Vampires – you have to let them into your home for their malign work to be done.

Just don’t do it!

***

I hope this guide to surviving story-time will help you through this potential minefield.

Good Luck! You’ll need it…

How to WIN at Social Media

The life of a social media Guru, like me, isn’t as easy as it may sometimes seem.

OK, to the untrained eye, it may appear that all we need do is put up a post about, oh, I don’t know… ‘Baked Beans’ every now and then, and our followers will lap it up maintaining our status as internet superstars.

If only that were true.

It takes a little more than access to a few hot Instagram filters and sick buzzwords (that the young people love) to be an international social media sensation.

Here’s my foolproof guide to being a smash-hit on Facechat, Snapbook and the like…

1* Be REAL. Followers love ‘Reality’, especially when it doesn’t look like real life. Drop into all of your posts some references to how ‘real’ you are.

If you can fake being real, you’re onto a winner.

2* Don’t be TOO REAL. Whatever REAL thing you’re doing, dial it back a bit. Reality is like Coldplay, a little is OK sometimes, but it’s easy to drift into too much and suddenly you find yourself rocking in a corner waiting for it all to stop.

3* Be FAMOUS. If you possibly can, try to be famous. This will really help you on social media. If it’s possible to be a Kardashian, that’s a real advantage. Why not try to act a little more like a Kardashian? A good way to start is looking unimpressed at everything and using the vocabulary of a four-year-old.

4* Act FAMOUS. Try to Tweet about how hard life is for you, now that you’re famous, even if you’re not. Wear dark glasses whenever you can and stick your bum out at photographers*.

* Note, not advisable when having your passport photo / mugshot taken.

5* Get into HACKS. Hacks are the lifeblood of the social media star. Any way of making life easier is a great bit of info to pass onto your followers. But make your hacks aspirational. If you’re going to give out a hack about getting the last bit of ketchup from a bottle, use Waitrose sauce, not Tesco value.

Remember, you’re living the dream.

6* LIVE THE DREAM. Make your life look at least 30% better than it actually is. Perhaps get a more photogenic friend to stand in for an ugly family member in any snaps you take? Tell your followers that you work for the UN, rather than Pound-stretcher. Remember, even if make up a few untruths about hanging out with Kofi Annan – keep it real. Maybe blog that you were accidentally wearing last season’s lip shade – TOTES AWKS!

7* Get into CRAFTS. Ruining a perfectly decent pair of trainers with a hot glue gun and a selection of shiny objects will really endear you to your followers. Try to ruin at least one item this way every week. Followers need a regular inoculation of crafts to remind them that they hate that type of thing – you’ll get loads of ReTweets for pictures of any crafty tat like that.

8* Are you FAMOUS yet? Have you actually been trying to get famous? Perhaps write a blog where you pretend to know famous people – Elton John suggested I do this and it worked really well for me.

9* Give ADVICE. A sure way of increasing your standing in the online community is giving advice to others – especially in areas where you’re completely unqualified. Perhaps write a list or ‘method’ to becoming a social media star?

10* Quick hints to achieving social media success:

a) Be beautiful. Talk about it – but be real.

b) Be ugly. Talk about it – don’t be too real.

c) Have a bad hair day – make sure it looks like everyone else’s good hair day.

d) Women perfect your ‘no makeup’ look – make sure this includes lots of makeup.

e) Dads create laugh-free sub-Jackass videos showing how you’re ‘winning’ at parenting.  Make your tired wife the butt of the joke.

f) Drop unsubtle product placement into your blogs. Make it aspirational – like a guide to potty training in association with Habitat or John Lewis bridal.

g) Get a pet*. Make sure it’s photogenic. Or a really ugly pet. Get a sad backstory – make one up. *Not a good idea.

h) Become intolerant. Gluten is a good start, but there are other many options! Why not blog about being intolerant to pies? Make sure they’re aspirational pies though!

***

That was my guide to winning on social media. I’m sure it’s changed your life.

If it hasn’t, why not blog about it?

Vilo Sky Webinar – Insights from a Stay-at-home-dad

I’m one of those strange people… yes, yes, I’m probably strange in many ways, but what I’m referring to is speaking in public.

I actually enjoy it.

I know many people would rather do lengths in a shark-infested pool or break it to Jeremy Clarkson that the kitchen is out of ribeye, rather than talk in front of a crowd. Thankfully, I’m not one of them.

So I was pleased when the amazing folks at Vilo Sky asked me to take part in a webinar discussing life as a stay-at-home-dad (or SAHD). The event is online on June 17th (2021) and can be registered for here.

I should be a fun evening of me pulling no punches in discussing what it’s REALLY like to be a man in a world that was until recently the sole preserve of women.

Will TV give your kids square eyes?

There’s a moment, in practically every Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot TV series or film, where a maid discovers a dead body.

9 times out of 10 the servant in question will be tasked with delivering breakfast – on a silver tray, overflowing with Full-English goodies – to the bedroom of someone hideously wealthy (they’re usually hideous in other ways too).

The maid hums cheerfully as she climbs the stairs. She knocks smartly at the door, there’s no answer. Undeterred, she opens the door and walks in. There she discovers a scene of devastation – usually a toff murdered in some hopelessly impractical way, often involving an ancient druid dagger or cursed but priceless jewels.

It’s then that the maid must fulfill her function. There is only one thing she can do. Something she MUST do. Time and again, all maids in murder mysteries act in exactly the same way – it’s as if they’re contractually obliged.

The maid must:

  • Repeat the name of the master/mistress/annoying house guest.
  • Discover they are deceased.
  • Drop the silver tray, allowing it’s entire contents to smash dramatically onto the Axminster.
  • Clasp hands to their face and scream.
  • This scream must be in two parts, so as to allow the camera to dramatically reframe from a wide shot to a close up of the maid’s face, between exclamations.

If you imagine that scream – the two part, full-throat-ed, hands clasped to face, tonsils on display, monster – you’ll have a very near approximation of the reaction shared by siblings and I the day my parents decided to ban TV.

Around 30 years ago, my mum and dad got it into their heads that my family was consuming too much TV. As a result they decided, one memorable day, to completely ban the box.

To be fair to them, we probably did watch a little too much TV. The A-Team, Count Duckula, Knight Rider, Danger Mouse, Grange Hill and many other shows from the period were the soundtrack to much of my childhood – playing in the background as the milestones of life were passed. But was this a bad thing? I’m still not sure. I know what I thought at the time. Banning TV was like my parents had decided to ban fun, to ban laughter, to ban everything I enjoyed. Without TV I felt like my world had retreated to black and white. The colour I lapped up, the excitement, the scope, the catalysts that fired my imagination all came through the machine in the corner.

As a father, I now join many others in wondering how much TV my own son should be allowed to watch. Like my younger self, my little one would watch television all day if he we were allowed. He isn’t. But how much is too much? What type of an influence is TV upon children? Is it good or bad.

I remember his mother and I would discuss, in those oft-remembered (much missed) quiet relaxed evenings before our son was born, television’s role in our household. We’d pretty much decided that our offspring would never be sullied by exposure to the telly. Equally he’d never touch sugar, only eat organic and spend his life with well-thought through educationally relevant play.

WHAT MUGS WE WERE!

Our level of naivety still amazes me. It’s amazing how pious prospective parents can be, before the reality of dealing with a little human actually hits. Today I’m sure that my son says ‘Teletubbies’(at least) as often as he says ‘Mummy’ and definitely more than he shouts ‘Daddy’.

Teletubbies, Hey Duggee, Peter Rabbit, Postman Pat, Postman Pat Special Delivery Service and RaaRaa: The Noisy Lion are all favourites in our household.

Are they an electronic babysitter?

YOU BET THEY ARE!

Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. But it’s a reality. You see the thing that I’ve realised is that nobody on this planet has the energy to be focused on the needs of a child, who will ask (at least) 20 questions in every 60 second time period, for 16 hours a day. Anyone who tells you that they have that ability is a liar. Don’t trust them. Don’t lend them money!

I love children’s TV. Why? Primarily because it gives me 15 minutes to recharge my batteries, before the relentlessness of life with a toddler continues.

It reminds me of boxing. Many say it’s a cruel sport, that may well be true. Yet, imagine how much crueler it would be if there weren’t breaks between the rounds, where the boxers can get themselves together and summon the energy to carry on. Kids TV is the parenting equivalent of sitting on a stool in the corner and spitting into a bucket – not a sentence I thought I’d ever write.

To be frank, I don’t feel TV did me any harm. My parents soon came to the same conclusion – rescinding their ban (I suspect to shut up our moaning). I probably watched more than would currently be recommended, but it fired my imagination. Something which has stayed with me for life. It gave me a strong shared cultural heritage with my peers – I still discuss shows I watched 30 years ago with my friends. It gave me ambition and the sense that anything was possible. In fact, I ended up working in children’s TV – but that’s another story.

One thing I’m very proud of is my son, as much as he loves to watch the telly, also loves books. He really can’t get enough of stories being read to him or studying the amazing pictures on the pages of his favourite titles.

It’s my hope, that in 40 years time, when he explains how maids’ discover bodies in murder mysteries, he’ll be telling the tale with detailed reference to the original Agatha Christie novels, not the TV adaptations.

There’s an ambition to be proud of…

Chris

For more on this, see my piece for Huff Post here.