Specs, Hugs and Bacon Rolls: The anatomy of a dad’s birthday

Suddenly the lights go out, causing a frisson of excitement to run through the air and down your spine. Next, by pure magic, a flame flickers into existence. This spark warmly illuminates the faces of a gaggle of friends and family, whose grins are only bettered by your own. Then, just as suddenly, the drone of ‘Happy Birthday to you…” begins, but nobody cares about the singing. Why? Because we’re all imagining how good the cake will taste.

That’s how it used to be, every year (like clockwork) your birthday would come around and for 24 hours you’d be at the centre of everyone’s attention. A little moment in the spotlight.

As a kid, birthdays were everything. They were better than Christmas mainly because you didn’t have to share top billing with anyone – the stuff of dreams. I remember looking to my parents, confused to see that they didn’t share this enthusiasm for their own birthdays. Why wasn’t it something they lived for? Why didn’t they count down the days, for months, eager to breath that unique birthday air?

Today, as a parent myself, the mystery has been solved.

Suddenly a cry rings out, causing a shudder of tiredness to run up your spine and take root in the bags under your eyes. Next, probably by magic, your feet find the floor and you question y our existence. The door opens and a night light illuminates the face of a crying toddler, you smile broadly – pushing back your own desire to cry. Then, tot in arms, you collapse into the chair and break into a droning “Incy Wincy Spider…” as you look at the clock. It’s 3 am. But the tot doesn’t care about the time. Why? You get your answer as the full flavour of the nappy he’s just filled wafts towards you. Happy Birthday.

From the moment a baby arrives, birthdays (for the dads in the family) change forever.

Here’s my Out of Depth Dad guide to what to expect from every 365th day of your life:

  • Lots of hugs When you’re a daddy, hugs from your little ones become the new currency. So expect a lot of them on your birthday. Unlike some of the presents you may have been used to in the past, hugs don’t make you look smart or get you drunk. They do, however, have the ‘lovely’ effect of leaving little snot stains on your clothes.
  • It’s another day It’s important to remember that, although it’s your birthday, the machine needs to keep on working. It can’t stop. Washing needs to be done, food needs be cooks, nappies need to be changed and kids need to be occupied. You don’t get a day off for good behaviour. Your tots aren’t a little bit easier to deal with because it’s your birthday. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be more demanding than usual. Coughs, colds, the bubonic plague, your birthday is likely to be the day your young ‘un gets them. That’s life.
  • Hang up the hangover Alcohol, for many of us, is a hugely important part of birthday celebrations. This may be something you’d like to reconsider now there’s a tot (or two) on the scene. As enjoyable as a few bevvies with your mates down the pub (assuming you have time to go) – they will never be worth the utter nightmare that is dealing with a toddler when you have a hangover. If there is a Hell, I’m certain a special corner of it will be filled with hungover residents trying to placate irate two-year-olds with Postman Pat videos.
  • Cake is for kids When you’re a dad, the concept of ‘your’ changes. Let me put this more clearly. Items may well be tagged with the word ‘Daddy’s’ in order to give them a title (‘Daddy’s Phone’, ‘Daddy’s Shoes’, ‘Daddy’s Coat’) but the name isn’t entirely correct. All of these items do belong to daddy, unless the tot wants them. The same goes for cake – birthday or otherwise. Notionally it’s ‘Daddy’s Cake’, however unveiling the cake is a show put on for the tot, who will (no doubt) maul it with grubby hands.
  • Moving from presents to gifts Presents are something we all like to receive, of that’s there’s no doubt. There comes a’ time, however, when receiving the latest stereo, DVD or He-Man action figure no longer holds the thrill it once did (Or perhaps we’re no allowed to admit to this). So ‘presents’ disappear and are replaced by ‘gifts’. Ties, socks and shirts become the perfect ‘Daddy’ gifts. This movement from ‘presents’ to ‘gifts’ can be seen in the following way: if you undo the wrapping paper, then excitedly open a box shouting ‘Wow!’, it’s a present. If you lay it flat, saying ‘That’s lovely, it’ll go with TBC”, it’s a gift.
  • Specs appeal Each birthday, as you rummage through your card(s), the increased need for spectacles (to the read the messages written within) underlines the aging process. The addition of the word ‘Daddy’ makes you at least a decade older than your actual age implies. If you can’t find your specs to look at the cards you’ve truly aged. If you can’t see the cards, even with the specs on, you either need a new prescription or new friends.
  • Gorging on bacon rolls As the years go by, the need to mark your birthday with something selfish and unhealthy increases – it’s an important counterpoint to your life as a skivvy throughout the rest of the year. In the past cream cakes and import lager were the naughty treats of choice. These days a bacon roll (or a similarly cholesterol loaded food) is favourite. Greasy morsels, often eaten the day after your birthday, these breakfast indulgences are perfect to counteract the hangover you were far too responsible to get.


The Out Of Depth Dad

We Don’t Need Another Hero – The Good Men Project

I firmly believe that we, as a society, need to find new role models for our boys and young men. We need to do this quickly. Traditionally, we’ve expected boys to look up to movie stars, sportsmen, musicians, politicians, and the business elite. Yet, the starry ensemble has repeatedly shown itself unworthy of this honor.

Our designated role models wantonly display either ignorance of or ambivalence to the didactic element of their elevated status. They willingly take the benefits that society is happy to pile upon them, yet few, it would seem, ever give proper consideration to the multitude of responsibilities they have to those who model overtly themselves upon them.

Perhaps it’s unfair to expect so much from these Alpha males. Introspection is not a trait usually associated with this personality type. Essentially, masculinity in our society is in crisis because we’ve asked our young to emulate those who consistently exhibit some of the gender’s worst traits.

Kind, considerate, inclusive, sensible, thoughtful men do not make exciting heroes – not on screen, at least. They do, however, make great role models for men and would, if allowed, do wonders for our society.

via We Don’t Need Another Hero – The Good Men Project

I’m pleased to be featured once more in The Good Men Project.

Please do have a read of the link above. As a society we need to change what we expect from men, or we will continue to suffer the consequences.

Chris McGuire


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Welcome to LEVEL TWO. Life with the arrival of baby number 2 | Dad life | Mas & Pas

To put it another way, you’re at that point in a computer game, the one where you think you’ve nearly finished. You’ve mastered the gameplay, you know all the little tricks and strategies that lowly beginners miss. You’re feeling pretty smug, then suddenly – rather than being congratulated for completing the game – a big ‘Level TWO’ sign drops into view! Within moments you discover that ‘Level TWO’ is much harder than ‘Level ONE’. This isn’t a game anymore.

via Welcome to LEVEL TWO. Life with the arrival of baby number 2 | Dad life | Mas & Pas

Check out the great new parenting website masandpas.com for my latest piece about having a second child.


The Out of Depth Dad

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Soft Play Is Hard! – Published in The Good Men Project

The first thing that hits you is the smell; a sickly mixture of Haribo, vomit and antibacterial spray. I knew there was no time to dawdle. We made a bee-line through the blur of children – zooming around like souped-up Speedy Gonzaleses – to our allotted area. I’d been pre-warned, you see, by some soft play veterans, to go straight to the ‘0-4’ zone and avoid the ‘4+’ section like the plague. Good advice. Even from a distance, the ‘big kids’ area looked like a vision of hell – only louder, day-glo and with more of an emphasis on slides.

via Soft Play Is Hard! – The Good Men Project

There are only two types of parents in this world. Those who hate soft play and those who don’t know what all the fuss is about.

I’m in the former category. Why do I hate it so much? Because it’s a hot house environment where your sole job is to defend your kid from the sugar-fueled, unattended offspring of those who don’t know what all the fuss is about.

That’s what makes it SO DIFFICULT: parents who leave any responsibility for their feral children at the door.

My God, is soft play hard. 

For more of my thoughts, have a read of post above.


The Out Of Depth Dad

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The Top Of The Slide: A Parenting Journey

It had been a few minutes, three maybe. I looked at him, as encouragingly as I could, and spoke.

“OK, that’s good. It’s easy, just one, two, three and push.”

I’d tried to hide any stress (rapidly growing within me) from my voice.
My son looked back at me, seemingly unconvinced.
“We can have a cuddle when you come down the slide.”
“Cuddle now?”
“Just go down!” chimed in a boy, about twice the age of my son – part of the growing queue for the slide forming behind my little one.
“He’ll go when he’s ready,” I said, once again trying to appear calm – reminding myself that empathy isn’t a skill kids are born with. “Just one, two, three and push!”
Still nothing.
It was going to be a long day.
Two years as a parent have taught me:
  1. Kids do not have an accurate view of their own ability. Their enthusiasm always focuses on something that’s just beyond their reach.
  2. As a parent, there is nothing quite like the thrill of watching your child achieve something today that they couldn’t do yesterday.
As such, I find myself in a constant quandary – how much room should I allow for growth, without allowing my son to bite off more than he can chew? Yes, I know parents have wrestled with this question for millennia – but it doesn’t make it any easier.
So, back to the slide.
For some time now, on our regular trips to the soft play, my son had stood at the bottom of the slide (causing an obstruction) watching the older tots scoot down it. It was, we agreed, ‘too big’ for him – a ‘big boys’ slide’. Yet, since his second birthday, his interest in the apparatus had markedly increased. The area where the slides reside is allocated to tots of ‘2 to 4’ and my little one now fitted within this boundary. So, when he decided to climb up the nest of blocks that took him to the top of the slide, I resolved to let him continue.
The thing is, this slide can only be accessed through a hole in the floor of the first level of the soft play centre. A hole that (as a large person) I struggle to squeeze through. Essentially, once through this opening, he was on his own, I could only cheer-lead from the bottom of the slide. As it was a quiet day in the facility, and we were the only people in this area, I felt we had the time and space to negotiate this clear rite of passage.
I was wrong.
As soon as I arrived at the bottom of the slide, where I watched my son seat himself at the top, an alarmingly large group of large (compared to my son) children vacated the more advanced section of the centre opting for the sedate pleasures of the tots area. Just our luck.
Evidently troubled by the sudden and vocal queue of ‘big boys and girls’ that had formed behind him, my son froze – deciding the best way to cope was total inaction. Leaving me with limited options:
  1. Make a fuss, and climb up to (through the tiny hole) retrieve him. This would necessitate getting the entire queue to move to allow me to enter.
  2. Make a fuss, and climb up the slide – hoping it would bear my weight – to retrieve him. This would likely not go down well with the centre staff.
  3. Stand my ground and wait until my little one was ready to slide. This might take some time.
I opted for the last option – endeavouring to maintain my best approximation of an unconcerned grin as I gently coaxed my son.
It will be no surprise to you that he did (eventually) come down. It took a LONG TIME, but he did it. His rapid descent was met with both happiness and relief from me – along with disgruntled mutterings from a selection of kids who were struggling to learn a lesson in patience.
In retrospect, I’ve got the feeling that I, rather than my son, gained most from the experience. It seems to me that growth can only be facilitated when a parent is willing to allow a child the flexibility to stretch themselves, enter a new environment, leave their comfort zone – while offering the security that comes with being a perennial safety net.
Overcoming the desire to solve every issue my son experiences for him, rather than letting him discover an answer for himself, will be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting in the years ahead. Of that I’m sure.
It’s bloody difficult to stand at the bottom of the slide – but what a thrill it is to watch the little one’s conquer the descent.
“Again, again!” shouted my son, on reaching the ground.
“Yes,” I replied, “but not today. Daddy needs a sit down.”