Friday, August 01, 2008
Awaiting the call
I became a father some time ago, but still await the call to be a Dad.
It is clear to me that, once the congratulatory perfumes of cigar and single malt have faded, an avuncular chap will come and tap you on the shoulder.
He may be a host at a party, or perhaps your wine merchant. Certainly someone you think you've known for a while. Whenever it happens, you'll know your time has come. He will take you aside to say that you must become a Dad.
And you'll know just what he means. Think of your own father. An apparently random assembly of tobacco and Brown Windsor soup, held together by cardigans and fuelled by National Service anecdotes, he was and is nonetheless remarkable.
He could fix things with a stick, find his way around foreign places with no knowledge of language or geography, converse easily with women without scaring them, restrain other people's children without artillery or facing a summons, and inhabited a circle of "mates" who were always there when he needed them - and vice versa:
"Blast! Car's sunk under water and caught fire again. (beep beep) Jack! Fancy seeing you here? Yup, that submarine with the winch and fireblanket you've just bought might do the job. And you've a pheasant and some boules? What a turn-up for the Boyo trousers!"
It was, as TASS news agency used to intone when faced with another bourgeois obstacle to the spastic lurch of the Soviet, "no accident" that fatherhood turned a gormless fantasist into a blinding social success, crafstman and child-tamer. He had been inducted into the Antient Order of the Dad.
After initial contact is made at the humidor/sheep market/cottaging spot, the new father starts popping out once a week for a couple of pints "now that the kid's sleeping ok", and begins to acquire the Starry Knowledge at the Esoteric Lodge of the Dad.
There he will receive the tiny gem that, embedded in watch-face, tie pin, tooth (in the case of our Romany brethren) or signet ring (in the case of people who really ought not to be allowed to sire children at all) marks the bearer as a "friend of ours".
One glint and he has access to the keys that mend broken toys, a discreet ulra-sonic device that permits faultless reverse parking, the gigolo's combination of words and gestures that dupes women and large dogs into thinking they can trust you, and the look that tells any child "One false step and I tell Miss Kilgore who put the crab in her aquarium".
It's obvious when you think about it. My father came to visit me and my then young lady in Oxford. He nipped upstairs to relieve himself and, it seems simultaneously, fixed the cistern, changed a washer on the tap and re-attached the shower head.
A glance about the garden had him prune a bush, find a Spanish doubloon and win over the neighbour who hadn't spoken to us since our Varèse With Bongos party.
Other contemporaries have confirmed this. A later lady friend had lived in Vienna for years, spoke passable German and naturally still struggled with the trip-wire etiquette of the Austrians. Her father turned up from Liverpool and declared "I'm off to get some sausages". His daughter explained that sausage mean salami in the Habsburg realm, and wished him luck.
Thirty minutes later he declared "I found a master butcher, went in, and explained what I wanted. He'll have the bangers ready by four." And they were. Our attempts to repeat this feat led to solicitor's letters. We were not Dads.
All falling into place, is it? I feel like those Watergate blokes when they realised it was Nixon all along, except I'm right.
Yet I'm still awaiting the call. I've not had the hand on the shoulder, the tap on the wrist or, for all I know, the palm gently cupping my nads in the gents at John Lewis. What have I done wrong? Why isn't it my time? Why can't I open jars? How long can my neighbour's wife keep hiding behind that bush?
Perhaps it's because I've worked it out. And let on.
"La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas."