I’ve wanged on at length in the past about my eldest son’s very obvious preference for his mother over me. I have made my peace with this. It makes sense after all. His mum rented out her insides to him as a bedsit for nine months. Then she provided free milk from a pop-up dairy in her breasts. And even now after these bodily offerings have long since been phased out, his inclination is strongly towards her.
What is curious is that when his younger brother popped out, he decided to plump for me. Perhaps he thought that his mum had already been allocated, that his brother had already planted his flag on her. I was what was left, a Hobson’s choice of a parent, the last miniature Bounty in the Celebrations tin. So when he was at his neediest age it was normally me that was summoned for.
But now he is older, his affections have also swung over to his mum. It’s no surprise really, she offers a more premium service than me in all areas: catering, entertainment, making robots out of leftover bog roll. It’s created logistical difficulties at bedtime, when her presence is insisted on in two bedrooms at the same time.
To make his message clear my youngest has begun a campaign of brutality directed almost exclusively at me. Most of it is the sort of sporty argy-bargy you might get on a football field and some of it is probably worthy of a red card. From time to time he also bites me, maybe he actually thinks I’m the last miniature Bounty.
My wife has advised that I seek comfort in a book called Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. Normally I avoid parenting guides because they assume to know what is happening in my children’s heads. I don’t know what’s happening inside my children’s heads. Probably a million tigers, jacked up on Fruit Shoots jumping on a bouncy castle.
The reason she ushered me in the book’s direction was that it contains a section that explains that a father does not come to fore in the eyes of his son until the child is six years old. So next year when my oldest wakes up on his sixth birthday, I am expecting to be bathed in a heavenly light and the truth of how amazing I am will be revealed to him. And we’ll go do a jigsaw or have a beer or something.
The other source of encouragement for me is that whenever my sons wake in the night and hop into our bed they both like to cuddle into me. This may be because they can’t actually see who I am, but I like to think that it’s also because somewhere deep down in their dormant subconscious is some affection for me. My youngest will manoeuvre himself up onto my frame and nestle his head down on the pointiest part of my collar bone. Perhaps he does love me. Or just thinks I’m a really shit pillow.