Raising life

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Come in to work for lunch," I suggest over the phone to my partner. "Yes, both of you," I insist. "Why not? I'll be stopping to eat in any case." It seems a good idea. Why not do it every week? Here's a chance to interrupt my morning-till-night absence, and our child can break her winter isolation. These days, if she is not sick herself then her pals are ill, cutting down on the number of baby social engagements.

However, putting down the phone, I have second thoughts. Would I feel comfortable entertaining our child in the office canteen? I'll be bumping into bosses and colleagues while pushing a pram in my suit and tie. Who should I be pretending to be then - father or employee? What if our child roars and needs her nappy changed? I picture heads turned in judgement and disdain at New Man gone mad.

I suspect that I am fearful of revealing my domesticity, a separate side of myself, to the unsympathetic gaze of work colleagues. All that softness and babyness would leave me vulnerable, uncontrolled. At work you are meant to be professional and unflappable, cool and unemotional.

Our baby has visited work before. But then it was a Sunday, when normal rules collapse. You are working out of goodwill, not duty. The office has encroached on a day customarily dedicated to home life, so, for that time at least, home may intrude. Children run around to indulgent smiles. It's different on weekdays.

The phone rings again. Making the journey into the office will be too difficult, says my partner. Maybe another day, she suggests. I don't argue. Better they don't come. This shiny tower, like so many other working environments in which no one looks younger than 20 or older than 50, is threatening. If Martians landed, they would surely conclude that children and old people had been exterminated.

So I take my lunch in the canteen without the pleasure of a brief engagement with home life. And over lasagne I watch colleagues doing the same thing. Quite a few have small children and partners at home, of whom they would like to see more. Photos beam from desks, besides VDUs and piles of papers. But I too would be surprised to see those faces here on a regular lunch- time basis. The occasional visit, perhaps along with admiring grandparents, is fine - and, of course, there is the Sunday dispensation. But for the rest of the time, you don't mix work and home. It doesn't feel safe.

I eat quickly, and return to my desk. If I cut down on lunch time, maybe I can get home for bath time.