Comedian/author Ben Pobjie explains why he still finds it hard to call himself a dad.
I can’t remember ever seeing my father wear shorts. Which is not to say he never has, just that when I examine the father-shaped space in my brain, the concept of shorts is not to be found there. Dads don’t wear shorts: they are far too busy.
For when you become a father, do you not put away childish things? I assumed so, but I still haven’t. All the trappings of juvenilia remain steadfast presences in my life. I wear shorts all the time, and when I’m not wearing shorts, I’m wearing trackie daks, and when I’m not wearing trackie daks, I’m wearing jeans.
As a dad, I think I’m supposed to wear … what do you call them? Suit pants? Slacks? But I don’t have any. I assumed, superficially, the responsibilities of fatherhood – but I never assumed the responsibilities of adult pants.
Of course, the fact is I never thought I’d be a father. To be honest I still kind of don’t – I’ve been officially entitled to call myself a father for 12 years now, and as a description, it still seems incredibly inaccurate.
Because a “father” is someone like my dad. All dignity and gravitas and slacks.
As opposed to someone like me: all confusion and self-doubt and worn-out elastic. There’s no point denying I’m a father – there are three small actual human beings who would quickly put the lie to any such denial – but actually claiming the title feels kind of grandiose. I don’t think I’ve earned it.
The question of just what a father IS has occupied me for many years. It began to seriously take up my mental space in late 2004, when I became aware that I was going to be one. It wasn’t unexpected – we had made the decision to have a kid – but that doesn’t mean I was ready.
I think it’s true what they say, that you never are truly ready. They do say that, don’t they? God, I hope so. I don’t want to be an outlier here. The point is, I wasn’t “ready”. All I could honestly say was that I was going to have a child.
Saying that I had the slightest clue what to do once it arrived would have been quite an outrageous lie.
I was lucky that my wife had a knack for the parenting business and gently educated me to the extent that when our son arrived, I was able to feed him and change him and generally keep him alive. At some point he started talking, and eventually began calling me “Dad”.
I found this absurd, but what could I do about it? It’s way too hard to explain the whole shorts thing to a three-year-old. When his sisters came along, they ended up calling me “Dad” too – because their brother did, I guess. The dangers of peer pressure.
The truth is, the defining emotion of fatherhood – as I’ve experienced it – is fear.
As you’ve maybe guessed, I’m pretty keen to play down my fathering skills. This is because we live in a world where other people’s parenting is about the most harshly-judged character trait there is.
Talking myself up as a great dad would just be an invitation for people to instigate an investigation and find all the things I’m doing wrong.
The truth is, the defining emotion of fatherhood – as I’ve experienced it – is fear. Fear that something terrible will happen to the fragile human lives that have been placed in your care. Even worse, fear that you will be the cause of that something terrible.
Fear that by thinking that would be “even worse”, you’re being selfish and focusing too much on yourself and not enough on the kids and that in itself is going to cause something terrible to happen to them. Fear that by the age of three, your bad parenting has already caused deep emotional trauma that will never be healed.
And that most secret, shameful of fears: the fear that this fatherhood thing is just … too much fun. I mean, god, it is the most fun I’ve ever had. Not that it’s easy. It’s horribly difficult. It’s such hard, gruelling work, and it causes such heartache and angst and misery and it’ll turn you prematurely old with the stress, but … it’s so much fun.
Playing with babies is fun. Seeing kids learn to walk and talk is fun. Just hanging out with your kids is a blast, and spending every day learning new things about the way they see the world, the way they’re figuring life out for themselves: that is simply awesome. And I can’t shake the feeling that thinking this is kind of … weird.
Which is why I don’t feel too confident thinking of myself as a dad, even now. For the last 12 years, I’ve just been a guy sitting around in his shorts, playing video games and watching cartoons and hanging out with the three coolest people I’ve ever met, and the fact that those people also happen to be young children who share my DNA … that’s just a slice of luck for me, I figure.
But can I be a good father when I’m loving it so much? And was fatherhood ever this much fun for my dad? I hope it was, sometimes. I hope it wasn’t us kids who drove him to slacks.
And I hope that when my kids grow up, they remember having an OK dad – not just a weird guy in shorts.