Babies and children love having stories read to them. Find books which you enjoy, with pictures that are pleasant for you to look at five hundred times! Keep looking for new books; use libraries or shop at jumble sales and markets, where you can go home with a shopping bag full of books for a couple of pounds. Let them see you reading. They’ll notice how you concentrate and become engrossed in your magazine, newspaper or book; how you sometimes laugh or talk about a part of the book with others. You can tell them what your book is about and that they can read it one day, too.
Play the ‘my word’ game. Once a day, ask the child to choose something in the house. Make a sign with that word clearly printed on it and let them stick it to the object. After a week, collect the signs and see if the child can return them to the right places. To help a younger child, you can draw the object on the back of the sign as a clue.
Play ‘word snap’. Together, choose the names of people your child likes, then make pairs of cards with these names printed on them. Shuffle the cards and deal equal numbers to you and your child. First, the child puts one down, then you put one of yours next to it. Does it match? Yes. ‘Snap!’ The first one to see the match and say ‘snap’ wins. You can also spread out the cards face up and together find the ones which are the same. Invent rhyme and rhythm games. Reading is about enjoying words. As you walk together, get the rhythm going. ‘We are… walking… up the … hill. Peter… is the… fastest… one. I am… catching… up with him.’ Make funny rhyming words — for example, using Peter’s name. ‘Peter, neater, sweeter, cheater, meet her.’
Leave notes. In the morning, the child finds a large, simple note on the floor of the bedroom. It includes signs or drawings to give a clue to the message. ‘Hello’ (picture person waving) ‘I love you’ (heart). ‘Boo’ (surround with dots). The signs become more challenging as the child gets older — ‘Good morning, come to our bed at…’ (picture of clock with hands pointing to 8 o’clock).
Dark suit, and, as you finish your meeting, someone points out that the baby has burped down your back, leaving a mark like the world’s biggest seagull has pooped on you. Welcome to the real world!’
You go away for three days (a work trip you can’t get out of) and find yourself in airports and shopping malls envying other people’s babies, wondering if you would be arrested if you gave a passing toddler a quick hug. You’ve joined the worldwide league of dads, men who have lost their competitive edge and don’t care. Men who have slowed down, eased up, realised what matters and are in for the long haul. Even your view of women will change… ‘Hmmm, good hips.’ ‘Wow, see how she handles that pram.’ ‘Nice way with the pulverised vegetables.’
This may sound like you are less of a career success; but, in fact, you will become better. You will have compassion, feel more interest and concern for your staff and workmates, and want to do work which improves the human race, instead of just making a quick buck. You might change jobs or move out of the rat race to a more satisfying line of work. Family life will give you depth of understanding of others which will make you good with people, and a deeper and better person all round.
I hope this short, extra section is useful. Fathering is more important than most people realise and we have a lot to learn. Rent the Steve Martin video, Parenthood, and you will enjoy some feelings of recognition. Like anything worthwhile, fathering is tough but rewarding. See you at the school gate!