Kes, one of my sister’s rescue lurchers, doesn’t play like the other dogs. It’s impossible to know what she went through in her early life but you can watch her on the sidelines, wanting to join in with the others, wagging her tail, but something holds her back. It’s like she just doesn’t know how to do it.
A great sadness about growing up is that so many of our mentors and influencers seem hell-bent or eradicating joy and fun in favour of something apparently more meaningful. “Don’t be so childish”. As if children were anything other than incredibly precious.
There have been times over the years where people have told me that they find it hard to engage with their young children, that it feels awkward to get involved with their make-believe, or that the interminable horror of glitter and paint is something which sends a cold shiver down the back.
Once, in a park when my children were very young, I saw another father laughing and playing with his children. He was chasing them, hauling them up onto his shoulders and they, in turn, were howling with laughter. I was aware of a gap between where he was, a place I recognised from somewhere in the past, and the space I occupied at that moment which felt altogether darker and bereft of the joy I desperately wanted but could not find.
At the time I worried that I had somehow fallen out of love with my children, but I came to realise that I had simply fallen out of love with myself.
On holiday recently Tom, now almost out of his teens, reminds me of the holiday we had to Greece where I read six books within a week. I remember that holiday as one where I felt so disconnected from myself that the most comfortable place to be was in someone else’s story. I told him I felt ashamed and he asked me why.
“Because all that time I spent in someone else’s world was a time I wasn’t spending splashing in the pool with you and your sister”.
Tom’s memories of that holiday were less severe than mine. Indeed when I went looking for photos there was evidence that I did play with them, but I could see an absence in my own face.
I too have sometimes stood on the sidelines wagging my tail unable to find a way to join in.
Sometimes, in the absence of understanding how to be different, if we can just behave as if we remember it starts to come back to us. Better still is if we have a guide.
The sad irony of feeling unable to engage with our own children is that they offer us a model every day of how to do it. They are naturally great at fun and joy.
I hope I have largely been the father my children needed and wanted, but to whatever extent this is true they played a significant part in creating the best of him.
Since Daisy arrived my sister’s dogs have had to tolerate an excitable puppy and her constant demands to run and play.
Over the months they have accepted her and taught her the ways of the pack. I know that she has benefited from it and I always hope that they have too. There is something beautiful about being exposed to the sheer exuberance of childhood.
In the hot weather, the dogs are at the lake. Daisy is a water dog and needs no invitation to dive in. Basil bounds through from one side to another while Flynn chases Daisy across the divide.
Kes, usually standing on the edge watching quietly, suddenly and without warning wades in barking and wagging her tail furiously. She chases Daisy and Flynn up the bank and off into the distance, chasing squirrels across the scorched grass.