Daddy, the Champion of the World

Picture of me by my toddler

We don’t make a big deal of Father’s Day or Mother’s Day in our house. Sensitive to the greater cultural environment, my eldest son had prepared a glitter-filled piece of art about a sunset as well as a loom band in the Daddy Approved colours of green and purple; my daughter improvised a puppet show which included a crocodile eating a dragon and finished with me being knighted; my youngest gave me a picture that he had declared earlier was a crocodile – and it very much was, in a not-yet-three kind of way, though the real Father’s Day treat, such as it is, was the portrait he made of me on his chalkboard a few days earlier (see above).

What really made it good for me was doing the things I always and already do that make me a father: going out in the rain to do errands for the family, trading silly jokes, and best of all, reading the bedtime story. The celebration, for me, is in the doing.

We’ve launched on a corker, too, and very appropriate for Father’s Day. We’ve just come out of a long cycle of reading a chapter or few from the long and progressively mature and spiky Inkheart books by Cornelia Funke. This, too, has high Dad Content. A central character is Mo, a bookbinder who is ostensibly a single dad to a preteen (and yeah, that becomes a factor in the latter books of the trilogy) girl named Meggie. Only, wait! He’s not a single dad by choice, but he read Meggie’s mother into a dark and creepy fairy story when the girl was just a toddler. And when he read her “in”, he read a bunch of other characters – good, bad, and indifferent – “out”, and so the ramifications spill out. The first, as you can tell by this thumbnail sketch, is an original take on fairy stories, and we all really enjoyed it, though it got rather intense for the younger listeners. Nonetheless, the desire was to press on, so we did. I don’t care to spoil plots, and this plot, with its accompanying cast of characters, is actually a real toughie to summarise. What I’ll say is that though it remained compelling, it made me wish she hadn’t been quite such a sensation with the first book: it gave her latitude to write but added pressure to write quickly. More time and a firmer editor’s hand (perhaps some of the faults may also lie with a rushed translation) would have resulted in books that were shorter and better. Marketing – it is a double-edged sword (and a tale that Howie Becker would recognise).

So, we wrapped that up just at the start of the weekend, and a change of tone was definitely in order. I picked up Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World.

This is appropriate for loads of reasons: the aforementioned Father’s Day, of course. And, it goes without saying, the kids love it. And so do their parents. So, several plusses to start us off. Not only that, here we are in Wales, in Cardiff, in more or less the beloved Llandaff of Dahl’s youth. At least once a week, we pass a blue plaque marking the old sweetie shop he used to haunt. And it being the Dahl centenary year, we’re right in tune with the zeitgeist.

A final note of significance: a year ago this month, I had flown down to Cardiff from Edinburgh for a job interview – my first one after many, many applications for which I wasn’t even shortlisted. I left the interview feeling pretty good – not exactly confident that I’d nailed it, but I had a good feeling. So before catching a bus back to the airport, I stopped at a second-hand book shop to pick out something for the kids. I had done this back in 2011 after my interview for the PhD scholarship in Edinburgh, this time supremely confident that we would soon be moving there as a family. And indeed I was, so the little “Edinburgh 2011” inscription under each of their names has a special significance. Could I work the same magic this time? Well, I found something for the eldest and the youngest. The toss was for the middle guy: Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Dahl’s Danny? I loved Dahl, though Danny was one I hadn’t read. But I read over the blurb, and it seemed like I cold prefigure some excellent father-modelling with this book, so it’s the one I chose. And he did love it, and I did get the job. A happy anniversary to celebrate, and yet another great way to “do Daddy”. Ties, ashtrays, and breakfast in bed be damned.

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