A Good Way to Dress Yourself And Beat the Flamingo Fade

Flamingo chicks are born grey. Their feathers only turn pink when their parents start to feed them. And as the parents begin to care for their young, their own lurid plumage fades.

I think I know how this feels.

I’ve never boasted a lurid plumage but since fatherhood my hair has thinned to the point that a small wispy island has appeared at the front. Behind it, a bay of baldness is spreading backwards. Dispiritingly it seems to be growing off-centre so it looks like my remaining hair has been put on wonky. Of course while my own hair scarpers, my sons’ locks have thickened from their fine baby curls to luxuriant barnets, sarcastic and mocking.

The flamingo-fade has happened to me on an even less literal level. My wardrobe has splintered into two distinct sections. There are smart clothes for work. And there are filth-ridden rags for looking after my children. Most of which carry the historical stains of spewed breakfasts, snot-trails, and puddle splash. These days I may as well dress myself in tarpaulin.

I have a coat which exists only to be caked in mud. It’s my mud coat. When I bought it the coat was spruce and stylish. I had a relatively robust social life back then and I used to swish the coat about as I hit the town. Now it is just worn to operate children outdoors. So it serves both as a grime-shield and as a metaphor for my life.

I think about clothes less these days. Partly through a lack of time and energy. Partly through a lack of available funds. I used to regard clothes as a means of achieving marginally more success with women, a shit peacock with a Top Man tail. But since I’ve snuggled myself into a safe loving marriage I have become complacent. Which is probably why my wife wants me to make more of an effort. My current look can probably be described as ‘distressed’.

I like clothes. But I don’t like buying clothes. I get paranoid in clothes shops. I imagine that the salespeople are watching me and quietly judging me. Every time I hold a button-down chambray shirt in front of me. Or meaningfully stroke a slim-fit jean. They’re judging me. The worst panic was in a specialist trainer shop in Los Angeles, where I suffered what can only be thought of as a funny turn and had to go for some air on the sidewalk outside.

But my wife found something to protect me from these situations. The Chapar is an online service that selects clothes for you, sends them in a big box and then takes away anything you don’t want. I was attracted to the fact that there was no subscription fee or no requirement to sign up and cancel membership later. I got to put on my own fashion show and strut around like a peacock with a higher-end tail for free.

The Chapar service picks out options based on details you provide online and information gained from a phone conversation with a stylist: items you are looking for, prices you’re willing to pay, places you shop in. Discussing my look with a personal stylist felt a bit awkward at first, but also oddly glamorous. But the stylist sensed my discomfort and put me at my ease. And if there was any judgement I didn’t sense it. Even when I said I bought all my clothes from Uniqlo.

When the box arrived I opened it with same childish excitement as my sons at Christmas. It was stuffed full of jeans, shirts, jumpers, shoes, socks, a belt and even a bottle of fragrance. Also included were some suggestions of how certain items could be worn together to create an outfit. Suddenly shopping for clothes was fun and not frightening. Everything was done in the safety of my own kitchen, away from the harsh eyes of a thousand fashionable salespeople, neck tattoos pulsating with judgement.

In the end, I plumped for two very smart pairs of turn up jeans and a stripy top from Whistles (a shop I’ve never thought of looking in before). The rest was collected a few days later. Even if I’d sent the whole bundle back it would have been worth it – it was free after all – just for giving this faded flamingo the vague vain thrill of having my own personal stylist. Which is why I’m giving them this minuscule piece of free advertising.

Any good?

I Think I May Have Run Out Of Parenting Juice

Sometimes I think I can pinpoint the moment we decided that we wanted to stick at two children. It was the first Christmas after my second son was born. Both children were upset, it was Christmas after all. We allocated a child each and swooped in for a cuddle. We had made a neat little square of need and nurture. I wondered where a third upset child would fit into this formation. Perhaps they would be a fifth wheel, a tiny gooseberry sobbing into the scraps of wrapping paper. It was a question of basic mathematics: too many tears, not enough hands.

The argument is absurd of course. A family of five is normal and natural. I was one of three and I haven’t grown up feeling like I’ve withered through a lack of attention. But when the first of my pals announced that they were expecting a third it caused such a jolt in me they may as well have said they were expecting a badger. What I especially boggled at was the continuing, relentless requirement for energy this news meant for them.

My youngest has just turned two and I feel like we have we’ve downgraded from what I call “full court press”parenting. The full court press is a tactic in basketball in which teams aggressively badgers the opposition wherever they may be on the court, even if they’re pottering around by their own basket.

Up to this point we have had to maintain a round-the-clock security detail on our son to prevent him from maiming or throttling himself. But now we are relaxed enough to allow him to rampage around the lower floor of our house. Less because his sense of personal peril has diminished in any way and more that he is more robust and able deal with all the scrapes and sofa-tumbles.

Our home is also beginning to go through a process of decluttering. The baby gates have just shuffled off to the loft. The constant rockery of filled nappies won’t appear by the front door. Cots, buggies, cribs will be pensioned off to some future niece or nephew and there will be room again. We might get a cat just so we can swing it.

In the summer our boys will be sent out into the garden in the knowledge that they won’t attempt to swallow-dive through the slit in the trampoline net or sup at the stagnant contents of the paddling pool or shake hands with every prickly bush in the area. In fact the only presentable danger will be each other. With sticks. Perhaps my wife and I will raise a smug cup of lemonade and toast the fact that we’ve steered our sons through their most physically vulnerable years with only the loss of a small triangle of tooth.

And so there is a small sense of quitting while we’re on top. But mainly I cannot summon the oomph required to help rear another baby. It’s just that when I admit this to myself I can’t help pitching my imagination forward to a time when I am gazing at a third child cradled in my arms. And thinking: “I nearly couldn’t bothered with you”. And the pang of guilt that arrives almost gets my man-ovaries twitching again.

Any good?

When I First Held My Son All I Felt Was Hunger

I had hoped that once I had children a primal dad instinct would kick in, furnishing me with all the skills and knowledge needed to fulfil the dad brief. I thought there might be a higher dad gear that I might smoothly climb into. Essentially operating on dad auto-pilot, confidently tackling all the dad challenges like hosepipe connectors and nanny tax.

The first indication that this was not the case was in the very early seconds of fatherhood. I had heard men recalling the moment they were first presented their child and talking about experiencing an intense wash of emotion and love. When I pictured this happening to me I imagined the feeling to be like a chemical euphoria, a high basically: a love-numbness in my limbs, the warm pleasant prickle of love-sweat on my skin.

I felt none of these. I remember the disappointment that I was not going through what many of my predecessors seem to have done. I’d clattered into the first dad hurdle.

I only felt peckishness. I’d subsisted off Hula-Hoops for the previous 36 hours. I am reluctant to admit that I was tired also, knowing that the deprivations I suffered are so incomparable to my wife’s they don’t even deserve to be in the same sentence.

As my dad-reflexes weren’t working I decided to copy a tactic from the classic dad playbook. I’d seen on One Born Every Minute that dads like to take their babies to the window of the delivery room to show them the world that they just arrived in. But I’d forgotten that the view from our room overlooked HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, where a parade of cancerous-looking lags had just loped out for a smoke.

I noticed the first traces of dad-instinct working the next day when we left the hospital and installed the Major into his car-seat. A bizarre paranoia borne of protectiveness swept over me that the road home had become a very long fairground dodgem ride with every fellow road-user hell-bent onto ploughing into us. Fleetingly I even saw the logic in those ‘baby on board’ signs.

In the week after the birth I saw other changes in my behaviour. An inability to remove my gaze from the Major for instance. I had spotted that his toes were tiny replicas of mine, hideous long toes that look like fingers on the end of our feet. It struck me then that the Major was a part of me, a small shard that had splintered off and therefore in need of unconditional love and attention.

I was wrong-footed by my son’s ability to sleep for long periods throughout the night. Assuming that I was required to tend to him in the small hours I’d fish him out of his basket and let him doze on my chest while I watched old golf footage that I had recorded. I had hoped to persuade his mother that the ambient green light of the televised fairways had a soothing effect on him, part of a longer-term strategy to secure golf, cricket and football viewing in the future.

It was watching a golf tournament that I properly clicked into gear as a dad. Some of the victorious players had gathered their families around them to join their celebrations. Their triumph was enriched by the presence of their children. Life was richer.

It had taken a few ill-dressed millionaires to understand, but now I knew what it was to be a dad. I looked at the little form curled up on my sternum. And there was a pleasant prickle on my skin.

Any good?