Gary shares what it’s like being Dad to a daughter who’s growing up.
I won’t for a minute pretend that I handled a recent stint of unemployment well. Just ask The Omnipotent One, who had to put up with having me around 40 hours a week more than she normally would, and with a slightly whiffy demeanour to make matters worse.
Things started off positively enough. Firstly, a couple of trips away. Then, the opportunity to strap on the Mr Mum apron by helping out with the school drop-offs, homework and extra-curricular activities. I was cheerfully indulging in a new role as one of the school mums, and looked forward to chatting with the girls each day about school mums’ stuff.
I got into the best exercise routine of my life. After my daily workout, I’d potter around on the computer for a bit, emailing contacts about potential work, whilst simultaneously maintaining 15 games of Words With Friends on my iPhone.
“I was cheerfully indulging in a new role as one of the school mums, and looked forward to chatting with the girls each day about school mums’ stuff.”
Then, a leisurely lunch while reading the paper, sometimes even sneakily foregoing the business pages for the gossip section. And afterwards, the afternoon could be spent doing those jobs around the house that never seemed to get done. Our garage was cleaned out so it could actually fit a second car in, our cornices de-cobwebbed, and even that drawer where you put stuff you don’t know where else to put was thoroughly reviewed and reordered.
Life was great. And then I realised something: I wasn’t actually happy. I just wanted to work! Without ever knowing it, I was one of those guys who defined himself through his work. It didn’t matter how sparkling the kitchen was, I needed to have something constructive that I put my energy into and received reward from. And consistently beating Kerry73 at Words With Friends was really very nice indeed, but it just wasn’t enough.
I became anxious and irritable. The Omnipotent One had gone from loving having me around to herself having a full time job keeping me positive. It was bang in the middle of the hot, sprawling summer school holidays and she was having a hard time deciding whether it was me or the kids she wanted out of the house more.
And then, through much coaching and at least a bit of pleading from her, I finally got it. I just let go of it all and decided that I needed to get back to seeing what I was going through as a positive experience.
“It was bang in the middle of the hot, sprawling summer school holidays and she was having a hard time deciding whether it was me or the kids she wanted out of the house more.”
I eventually managed to get it into my head that these circumstances were pretty rare. How often would I get to spend a summer at home without having to go to work?
So I made the most of it. I watched nearly every ball of The Ashes. I went to the beach most days. We had barbeque dinners at 5 o’clock. I was getting into the swing of this.
I took on more writing work. It was a formerly unknown freedom to be able to take time enjoying the creative process rather than write in my spare time with an impending deadline looming. Unfortunately, I’m not quite at JK Rowling’s earning capacity so there was the minor issue of the mortgage that still needed paying each month, but life was great – for real this time.
And just as I’d got my head around it all, I got a job. And I’ve gone straight back to old habits. Instead of stressing about not having a job, I stress about work-related things. Odd-jobs around the house remain undone. Exercise, when it happens, is squeezed in twenty-minute bursts. During the week I only see the kids for an hour at each end of the day.
In other words, it’s back to normal. Only now I don’t take my time off for granted. I look forward to weekends about as much as years ago when they meant party time, and the sight of a public holiday in the distance is like a desert oasis.
And writing? Unfortunately I’ve had to give most of my newly acquired writing jobs up. The only ones I’ve kept are for the very best publications.