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."


Gorilla Bananas said...

Well, Boyo, the Dads you are talking about are practical men of the world, who passed their driving tests when they were still in their teens. They didn't waste time watching arty-farty movies or learning foreign languages. You'll just have to accept that you're cut from a different cloth.

Kevin Musgrove said...

It's infinitely more difficult these days: when was the last time you saw a balsawood aeroplane in a tobacconist's?

Mrs Boyo said...

Boyo, you've worked out the truth about dads. But Gorilla Bananas has worked out the truth about you.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I miss the smell of the old dads: Embassy cigarettes (or maybe Guards), damp Harris tweed, Evostik, and just a faint whiff of quiet desperation.

I hope you get the call soon, Boyo! (Except for the last bit).

Kevin Musgrove said...

I have the faint whiff of desperation but not the fatherhood.

Real dads came home from work with a quarter of Sports Gums (thre real ones with the proper black flavour) and a copy of the Hotspur that he might let you read if you kept quiet during the cricket.

M C Ward said...

I am moved by your comments to leave my sabbatical temporarily. I'm sure the tap is coming.

Why are you quoting Keyser Soze (sic) in French, though?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I suspect that real Dadness (Dadliness) went out with advent of Nintendo. Nintendo just took the umpf out of it.

No Good Boyo said...

Snoop, some of us genuinely don't know what Nintendo etc are, and have a social circle of damp, tweedy chums in the same position. An aversion to frivolous technology is the only thing I have in common with the Ba'th regime in Syria.

Kevin and Gadjo, it's all so Proustian, isn't it? To quote Alexei Sayle:

"That's a bit of balsa,
You can make a model out of that."

GB, you should drop by sometime. Mrs Boyo's always looking for new members of her firing squad.

MC, Cole Porter didn't know he was quoting Lamartine when he wrote "Ev'ry Time we Say Goodbye". The authors of The Usual Suspects say the same, and so do I.

Gyppo Byard said...

"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."

That was your Dad? The only reason that we objected to "Varese with Bongos" was that it went on all night after I had exhausted myself playing at a lock-in Messaien jam session with the Irish band at the Bullingdon Arms just down the road (we are talking Randolph Street down Cowley Road way in the early 90s, are we not?).

*You* try playing the Turangalila on Uillean pipes, fiddle, bouzouki and bodhran and then have to endure several hours of Arcana with an added Latin beat.

Your dad is a charming chap, btw.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Don't worry, Boyo, you can contract an awful lot of this stuff out these days. Mr Pouncer has paid for an expensive public school education for our sons in the sure and certain hope that the Housemasters possess all the qualities you outline. Apart from an unspent criminal conviction here and there, we have had no complaints.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gyppo, hurray, you're a Messiaen fan - I take back everything I said about Wagnerians!! Did he ever use a gamelan? I think it's very possible.

Anonymous said...

Here via Gorilla Bananas.

Dad-ness comes when your toddler realizes that while, yes, Mothers are safe and comforting, its Dad where the action is. Stated differently, it is bestowed upon us by our children when they're still young enough to believe us when we tell them that all James Bond movies are modeled after us -- before we met their mother, of course.


No Good Boyo said...

Remarkable, Gyppo. That was indeed us, in 1991. Dan Thornton, who gamely served as one of the bongos that evening, is now serving as HM's second secretary in Addis Ababa. He keeps seed in the cranial dent we caused for the feeding of the small birds.

Messiaen is what you get when you give a French church organist a peyote/LSD highball, lock him in an aviary and make him listen to the score to Forbidden Planet for a week. I like the symphony and especially the Quartet for the End of Time, which takes about that long to perform.

I apologise for my father and your then young lady, by the way. He'd had a few and didn't realise that she wasn't a pair of twins, otherwise he'd have behaved himself.

You make a good point as ever, Mrs Pouncer. The family of Mrs Boyo are visiting at the moment, and so Arianrhod's being tutored in the ways of Cossack righteousness. My father-in-law is taking her by goat tomorrow to a "polyclinic, for tests". Not sure what to make of that.

Howdy, Mr Sherman. Any swinger from Gorilla Bananas's tree canopy is welcome here. I take Enver Hoxha as my source of emulation. I believe he used to tell people that Charlton Heston in the Towering Inferno was modelled on him. It's good to be the king.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I once fixed a friend's shower-head by removing the build-up of deposits with some hot water and a wire brush, turning a painful, needle-sharp dowsing experience into a pleasurable sprinkling of all external parts. He was impressed. I didn't realise it was because I'd recently become a dad.

In our house, though, it's the missus that does most of the practical stuff with electronics and the like. She's the one that goes out and earns the dough, so it's only right that she gets the dad-like glory associated with being a handyfrau, while I get the aahs of appreciation for putting dinner on the table. Emasculated I might well be, but at least I'll likely not die from electric shock.

No Good Boyo said...

And you've no recollection of how this all happened, Pop? Very likely. You're in on it too. I feel like William Shatner most of the time, but now I feel like him in The Twilight Zone.

Emasculation without the electric shocks is no fun, I hear.