Saturday, mid-afternoon at the local park. Young dads like myself are out in full force. Some are here, I’m sure, to spend some time with their kids after a busy workweek. Most, however, are here to ensure that their wives get a much-needed break and don’t end up, as my better half once put it, “going a little cray-cray”.
As I wait for my turn at the swings, I overhear some fathers talking tech. There seems to be rapport among the members of my community that I have missed out on for the last six years. Part of me wants to introduce myself to these guys, being a proud new father just like them, but I simply don’t like people enough. Sometimes I wish I were more like my father, who would start conversations in elevators. Ava seems to share my father’s appreciation of people, as she stares intently at the little people running between the swings and the slides. Speaking of swings, or more specifically, the baby-bucket swings, the children using them at the moment look suspiciously over-age. I feel like I should say something, but then I remember I am a strange man in a park filled with youngsters, so I decide keep my mouth shut.
You think I’m being paranoid? I kid you not. These parents look relaxed, comparing their Galaxies and iPhones, but each one of them is vigilant as a East-German border guard. Once in my pre-child days, when my sister visited from overseas, and we took her kids to the playground. We were sitting on a park bench, and I was just about to take the first sip from my cappuccino when she leaned over and whispered, “keep your eyes peeled, there’s a strange guy over there.” I looked, but I couldn’t single him out, but nevertheless I ventured the question, “how do you know he’s strange?” to which my sister answered, “he’s got a beard”.
You have no idea how precarious my situation is. I am one baby away from having my description read out on the local police radio frequencies. It doesn’t help that Ava’s primary interest right now is the other children. This coupled with my rather anti-social demeanour probably makes for a rather confusing mix for the other parents, much like a pit-fighter who uses luxury foot cream.
A very small part of me worries they’ll think that Ava is not mine. This is not a bizarre thought for me. Often on long walks I daydream about being questioned by the police over the matter, my imagined reaction varying from a polite and cooperative Ned Flanders to Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield.
Now, it may sound like I’m trying to portray myself as some kind of misfit, but that’s not true. Looking at myself then at the other fathers, it is impossible to distinguish me from them. All of us are a little doughy and worse for wear, wearing casual-fit jeans and sporting a little Saturday stubble under our chins.
All in all, I guess I haven’t yet embraced the social aspect of fatherhood, or at least mastered its vernacular. In other words, I am not yet comfortable with speaking “parent”. Not to worry, though. Ava, whose presence in my life has reacquainted me with public swimming pools and petting zoos, hasn’t quite mastered the Queen’s English yet, so I still have some time to prepare.