- 18 Jun 21
Father Does Not Know Best
They say that children are a blessing, although some – perhaps wisely – decide it’s not the type of benediction that they want anything to do with. I’ve got two myself and, of course, I’m contractually obliged to say that I wouldn’t trade them for the world and that I would unhesitatingly jump in front of a truck to spare them a stubbed toe, etc. etc. I’d be lying if I said that having kids was easy though, they can be a right old pain in the arse, guaranteeing, as they do, both an empty wallet and many sleepless nights.
We’re not here to talk about that though. Let’s talk about fathers instead, and not the type of wise, old dad who’s always there with a smile and a kind word as he slips you a handy five bob note and gently tosses your hair. We’re talking about fathers who are a bit of an eejit, if a loveable one, and I don’t doubt that my daughters would include me in this category if asked, for I seem to embarrass them by merely walking into a room. Thankfully, I’m not alone. I can at least count David Diebold amongst my number, an eejit dad who hoists himself with his own petards several times over in the pages of Diary Of A Wimpy Dad.
This is the likeable Diebold’s second book, following on from This Is How We Dance, where he recounted his high old adventures around the world, adventures that, for the most part, took place before he tied the weighty anchor of several children around his ankles. My father used to claim that the name of our house growing up – ‘Dunrovin’ – was a reference to the fact this his travels were over once we, his children, arrived, and here Diebold reports from a year in his similar roots-down domicile out in Skerries.
Diebold and his long suffering, very-much-the better half have four children – three teenage boys and a daughter at the end of primary school. The boys he memorably describes as “the King s Of Leon” – all hair in their eyes and skinny jeans on their legs – and his daughter is obviously his angel and favourite, which is only right and proper. One might say the house was chaotic but only if one has never lived in a house with kids themselves. You do your best to keep things clean and tidy but sometimes - many times - that chaos wins out. A gaff with children living in it often looks like it has been picked up and vigorously shook. Mrs Diebold rallies the troops when others are coming to stay or - in adherence to the odd tradition that Irish mothers have been conscripting their offspring into since the notion of paying someone else to do it for you was first arrived at - to clean up before the cleaner comes, but there's an element of Canute down by the shoreline about such flurries.
One of Diebold’s problems – and again, I’m with him here – is that he’s (getting) old. His year with swelling appendages starts off with the eighteen year old having a party, one which his Pop is not invited to, despite the fact that it's in his house. Hold on, he says, I can remember being eighteen. Can’t we all, brother? Best to stay in that play room where you’re put, you might feel young enough to get down but to everyone else you are Lascaux interior decorating ancient. It comes to us all, and it’s not pleasant. “Hey, I’m cool!” we tell our children. “Not if you had ‘Zanussi’ tattooed on your forehead and dispensed ice cubes out of your arse,” they might well reply. Stopping random kids to discuss vinyl, as Diebold does at one point here, does not help his case either, and may, and possibly should, result in attention from the authorities.
King David is obsessed with his food, something he documents regularly on social media, the same social media that he accurately calls out as a disappointing end to “six million years of evolution”. For Thanksgiving - he's American by birth - he prepares enough food to give Napoleon’s ranks a Russian chance. Then there’s his daughter asking him not to show her up at the school play. By way of reply, he points out that she doesn't know what showing up is, for he had to suffer being taken to school by his Dad in his hand-painted, battered yellow VW, only for the wind to blow up and reveal how Diebold Senior was adhering to the commando underwear approach under his bathrobe that day. Now that is embarrassing.
He tells a story of a Christmas growing up that he quite possibly ruined, perhaps to show that his kids are not that bad and that he was a lot worse, and the incident with the edible underwear proves that age hasn’t helped him in this regard, at all. The eldest brings home a girlfriend, there’s a small victory at a parent teacher meeting, a family holiday to France that’s fraught - show me one that isn't - with incident, falling for his wife’s April fool’s gag, a visiting mate reminding him what he used to be like before children, and finally getting to be a bit cool while promoting a local festival although he has to nearly swallow a wasp to do it.
Diebold’s writing is at its best when he’s talking about his own parents, whether it be listening to his Dad's stories of World War II and swing bands, or being on the other end of the phone, and on the other side of the world, as his mother heads for the destination that awaits us all. When she says goodbye to him you’ll have a lump in your throat that may require surgery. And if that wasn’t enough, the sections about the last Halloween with his daughter, her cookery classes, and then his shock to find she’s heading to secondary school and so growing up and away from her Daddy had my loudly complaining about how dusty it was in the office and ordering several subordinates to open a window and let some air in for Jaysus’ sake lest a man go blind.
Diary Of A Wimpy Dad is not going to change your life - and you’ll quite possibly groan at the odd Dad Joke conclusion, although that’s probably the point - but it might just remind you how lucky you are to have the life that you do. Years like this one are messy and emotional, but they are golden, and Diebold thankfully has the good sense to act the kid much more than any of his children do, because what’s the point of going to all the trouble of having a family in the first place if you can’t do that?