Strawberry Milk Forever
Mark Mordue on why modern-day fatherhood is all about eating breakfast standing up.
It’s Father’s Day morning, the year 2011. No Glad Wrap in the house. Do you have any idea how that screws with dad’s main day of the year? Three kids, lunches to make and pack, no Glad Wrap! My day is in tatters, man. Ruination. It’s going be a big climb back after this kind of start, let me tell you.
The kids are up early. I notice on special sleep-in days like this they always wake up early. They’re excited. There are two different father’s day events at the two eldest kids schools. I’m a guest DJ at one. Which effectively means loading up my ipod with 70s rock, 80s post-punk pop and a few hip hop tunes and old country numbers, then I’m on my way to found my own groove nation.
Of course you try to be a crowd pleaser, but personal taste creeps in. At the last minute I get cold feet about the prospect of playing Nick Cave’s ‘No Pussy Blues’ at the school Fathers’ Day breakfast. What was amusing and irreverent last night when I put my ‘mixed tape’ (I’m so old) together now seems crude and likely to offend. Dear me - what to do?
I’ll swap it for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s ‘Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile’. I always remember one of my friends’ fathers accusing me of being a homosexual for liking that song when I was 12. I think it was because Harley wore mascara and a fur coat with no shirt on in the video clip, which seemed kinda cool to me at the time – not that I ever adopted the look for myself.
Anyway, back at Masterchef Central I use some disposable plastic containers – left over from takeaway Indian meals and rinsed clean – to pack the sandwiches in. Dads are genius improvisers like that. My partner is meanwhile trying to make sure the kids get dressed – and put their shoes on as well! Then we are finally out of our own private madhouse and on our way to a larger, school-organised one.
My DJ efforts prove to be somewhat frustrated as the hall stereo keeps getting turned off due to surges brought on by all the tea urns. So I stand beside the electrical mains switching the power on again every time it goes off. It strikes me this is not the safest way to celebrate Father’s Day, but damn it, I put David Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’ and Johnny Cash singing ‘Solitary Man’ on this mix, and whether the crowd wants it or not I am giving it to them. ‘Golden Years’ comes out a little like this: Golden ..ears, G..ears… Wah.” Long pause. “Wah.”
My partner has been co-opted to do the barbecue and has disappeared into a cloud of smoking bacon fat. I am amazed she can smile at all but she seems to be enjoying herself.
Somehow my youngest son has attached himself to my leg, and is weeping and crying because he wants a bottle of strawberry milk from the canteen, which is still officially closed. Which means he cannot have that strawberry milk. The tears and screaming suggest he has been through a savage beating or received news of a death in the family.
I have to drag him across the stage where I am DJing in front of audience of about 100 other highly distracted dads and their families. Most of them are busy dealing with their own kids or trying to have a conversation over my annoying music, but I still feel my crying-son-attached-to-my-leg-and-being dragged-along look lacks the right aura of parental harmony and love that I am seeking to project. He finally lets me go and I make a break for it as he lays resentfully in a tantrum-ish heap.
I decide to get a bacon and egg roll off my partner and a coffee as well. What the heck. It’s 8am and I’m just a modern guy, as Iggy Pop used to sing. Every now and then as I walk around with breakfast in my hand – and isn’t modern fatherhood the art of having breakfast standing up? – I catch another father’s eye, and get some weird amused smile or a hard-working, stunned nod of the head.
Up on the stage the kids all start reading poems for their dads that are very hard to hear, then the whole event declines into a rambling multiple-choice quiz that no one ever wins. My partner takes off with our two youngest children to the next port of call, the Father’s Day celebration at my daughter’s school down the road. My son goes to his class. I’m left with his football and my ipod throbbing to Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ in an almost empty hall.
Outside the sky is grey as my hair, threatening rain that does not seem to come. I’m able to stop for a more solitary and calming coffee at a local café where what sounds like Johann Sebastian Bach is being piped through the stereo. It’s now 10am. And there is plenty of Father’s Day yet left to burn. I promise myself not to yell at the kids tonight when they bicker and harass me. All the time I sense the main game is tolerance, patience, listening, and more patience. It’s the lesson I keep having to re-learn every day.
I know the kids have surprises for me, cards they’ve made, presents they have picked up at the stalls being held at their respective schools. A key ring, a bottle opener, a bath flannel with a football team logo, maybe I will even score some red wine as well if I am lucky. I realize I can get some Glad Wrap at the shops on the way home, and feel a new mood of fatherly zen begin to descend over me. The static of the morning is still subsiding, and yet what I find I want – and need – all over again is my family around me once more. Though maybe not attached to my leg. Just to be safe, I’m thinking I’ll buy some strawberry milk as well anyway.
Mark Mordue is the 2010 Pascall Prize Australian Critic of the Year. He is currently working on a biography of Nick Cave.