Dear half-term fathers: Kids, remember them? It's their break from school and your chance to bond, says one dutiful father. But have no illusions . . . you may not succeed
Monday 24 October 1994
All half terms demand lateral thinking, but none so much as the October half term. Too cold for the park or outdoor swimming. Too wet for cycling. Too warm for snow. Too early for fireworks. Too late to rearrange the office holiday dates.
Anyway, you don't want to. This is not just a week off; it is an exercise in familial psychology, an object-lesson to show that relationships can never be fully explored over hurried breakfasts, evenings when they are tired and watching telly, weekends when they are busy.
Only during a succession of long, empty weekdays can fathers and children really begin to bond. But it's only Monday morning and you're running worryingly short of ideas.
Do not despair. Walt Disney studios are assiduous students of the British school calendar and they unfailingly plan a blockbuster for half-term release. We shall meet, you and I, eyes glazed, in a queue for The Lion King, gigantic beakers of coke and popcorn in either hand. Quentin Tarantino eat your heart out. This was not the week to open an adult movie.
This is the week when you have a flavour of what access must be like in custody cases. There can be no normal, matter-of-fact discourse, no sitting around reading and chatting. Each day must contain a treat; pubescent adrenaline in continuous flow, thrusting you from movie or football match to dinosaur exhibition, from ice skating to virtual-reality arcade, fortified, when spirits sag, by energy-boosting burgers.
But the outings are the easy bit. First, you have to get through the mornings, those unscheduled hours when churchyards yawn and kids get restless.
This is where you practise the art of conversation and end up sounding like Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous. 'How's Miss Jones?' 'She hasn't been my teacher for two years.' 'Oh, hasn't she?'
Play some games and find out they're all computerised, digital and graphic.
Either horrendously violent with kung fu fighting in dungeons, or horrendously pointless, having to jump over building sites or avoid low flying hedgehogs. RIP, Monopoly.
Men with children, but not men without women. There will be a woman there in the background to watch you foul up, remind you of that mystical paradox that while you both work, how odd it is that only she can take time off for the clinic, the parents' evening, the violin exam. So make the most of the first full week's bonding of the new season.
And you will try hard. Though tempers may fray you will turn off the mobile phone, play, chat and give them your undivided attention . . . until that devastating moment (I would say about Wednesday lunchtime) when the little ones pluck up courage and say, 'Don't take this the wrong way, but we'd rather play with our own friends, and, well, haven't you got any work to do?'
A week is a long time in family politics.
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