Real lives: Man's world

MY WIFE'S pregnancy has entered the late, threatening phase, when she constantly runs her hands over her belly and says things like: "It feels like I'm going to have it tonight."

"Oh really?" I say, trying not to make eye contact as I ease open a bottle of wine. I know from the last pregnancy, and the one before that, that she will say this every night for the next five weeks. This time around I'm fairly relaxed about becoming a dad. What worries me lately is that I am becoming my dad.

I hear things come out of my mouth that have that same timbre, a sort of despairing bark, and even the same words my dad employed. Generally this happens when a set of circumstances arises where someone could conceivably lose an eye. Like my father, I see the potential for danger in everything. As I write this, my wife is downstairs assembling a mini-trampoline, the very existence of which will cause me to lose sleep for the next 10 years. It's going into the four-year-old's bedroom, which means he'll be able to launch himself through a third-storey window any time.

The other day I turned into my dad for a whole afternoon. Absentmindedly rattling my keys, I spoke to my son and my father's voice came out. I said, without thinking, "Wanna go for a ride?" When I was young, childcare for dads amounted to piling your kids into the car and taking them along while you ran errands, and this was always how my father introduced such an outing.

My son's busy schedule does not allow him to tootle about in the car for a whole afternoon. He's got places to be and people to see, so I had to settle for a quick trip to buy a new printer cartridge. To my surprise, he agreed to go, and settled right in to the soporific stupidity of this chore. We wandered through the shop, staring at rows of envelopes and ring binders, speaking only occasionally. "Shall we buy some glue?" he asked, to which I replied, "Um, yeah, why not?" Then I said, "We'd better get some tape as well," and he said, "That's a good idea." It all came flooding back.

Despite my claim that this is the sort of father-son bonding that kids just don't get any more, my wife says it's not proper parenting, and that I still have to take him to the Rugrats movie. I don't really mind, although it occurs to me that my father would sooner wear an earring than attend a full-length feature cartoon. Perhaps I should make the boy come and watch while I have my hair cut afterwards.

Right now my wife is calling to me from downstairs, pregnant, exhausted and confused, asking me to assemble the trampoline for her. Why doesn't she just ask me to dig my own grave?

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