‘Becoming a dad has given me some of the most beautiful moments imaginable,’ says Charlie Swinbourne. ‘But there have been some very, very embarrassing moments, too.’ Here he tells us his top 10, gathered over the past four years since his first daughter Martha, arrived, followed by Edie, who is now two
There are exquisite moments as a father that you never forget. Such as witnessing your daughters saying their first words, smelling that newborn smell, and building castles on the beach on family holidays.
But there are also moments of acute human embarrassment. Unavoidable, cringe-worthy moments, some of which I was responsible for and others that were fired my way by the dark, cruel gods of parenthood. Without further ado, here are the fatherhood moments that still make me wince.
1. Driving my firstborn home from the maternity unit. Very slowly
Maybe it was the fact that I’d hardly slept in three days that did it. Or perhaps I just wasn’t too sure of how well the man from Halfords had fastened the baby seat. Either way, the speed at which I drove home from the hospital that first day remains a source of amusement for my wife. Of course, there was no more precious cargo than our tiny bundle of joy sleeping soundly in the car seat, mere hours into her time on this earth. But things became farcical when, in a 40mph zone and in clear traffic, I was overtaken by a elderly cyclist.
2. Poo Daddy
I wouldn’t have minded if Martha, then three years old, had shouted out her new nickname for me in front of close relatives. My parents, say. Or my wife’s sister and brother-in-law. That she suddenly decided to point at me and start calling me ‘Poo Daddy!’, before collapsing in a fit of giggles, during a meal attended by a family we’d never met before was awkward, to say the least. ‘Is that what she calls you then?’ the husband asked. I could see from his facial expression that he really wanted to ask, ‘Why?’ There were no socially acceptable answers to either his spoken, or unspoken, questions.
3. Potty training goes wrong. On the high street
We thought we had potty training cracked. We were badly mistaken. Midway through a shopping trip, laden with bags, we detected a strong, pungent smell surrounding our two-year-old. Worryingly, we could smell it even though we were in the open air. We had no spare trousers or pants. We tried to clean everything up in a side street when it started raining. We had no waterproofs either. After using an entire pack of wet wipes, we ended up throwing the clothes away and wrapping her up in a blanket for the packed bus journey home. The second most miserable incident in four years of parenthood. Keep reading for the first.
4. The boiled man
The most recent incident. In the town we’ve just moved to, a small café serves wonderful strawberry milkshakes, which our children love. A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a cuppa as my daughters slurped on their straws, when our youngest pointed at a middle-aged man behind me and signed the word ‘man’. I praised her profusely. Then our eldest, hearing this, chipped in with her own description. ‘That man is boiled, Daddy. Why is he boiled?’ She seemed disappointed when I, deeply embarrassed, neglected to offer her the same praise as her sister for pointing out the man’s hair-free status.
5. Falling asleep… while my wife was in labour
When our first baby was born, it took nearly two days for her to arrive. So, when things seemed to be slowing down in the early stages of my wife’s labour with baby number two, I thought I’d get some rest in early. In order to hit the ground running when the baby came, you understand. So, on a very comfortable sofa in the labour room, I slept. And I snored. For two whole hours. My wife’s and her mother’s disgust grew incrementally during the intervals between each painful contraction. They have never let me forget. The shame.
6. A leak on the activity centre floor
My wife and I are both partially deaf, so you’d think we’d make absolutely sure we don’t mishear anything we tell each other about our children. Yet when I asked one morning as I was about to take our eldest out whether she had visited the toilet after breakfast, I heard ‘yes’. My wife had actually said ‘no’. Which became obvious soon after our arrival at the local activity centre, shortly after I bought my daughter – who was probably already bursting at that point – a drink of orange squash. Cue a leak of Titanic proportions all over the floor. The husband-and-wife team who owned the place mopped up gracefully. I never told them the truth.
7. Kicking the trolley
I like to keep the kids entertained during drawn-out shopping trips. Little things such as pushing the trolley away then ‘catching’ it again by grabbing their feet. Usually in empty aisles. Or at least, what I think are empty aisles. We were having so much fun in frozen foods one time that, as I pushed the trolley away, I simultaneously backheeled an old man’s trolley with a curious mix of camp and violence, startling the gentleman concerned and sending a metallic clanging sound echoing around the store. It could have been worse – at least we hadn’t called him boiled.
8. The Dindy Dondys
I have several random made-up names for my children. At the moment, I often playfully call them ‘Ducky’ or ‘Lucky’ at random moments through the day. Other variations have included Flindy Dondy, Tinky Tonky, Shondy Dondy, Tando and er, Prindo. It’s been four years. There have been a lot of names. It must be my subconscious mind’s way of mixing things up. The crucial rule is these names should only ever be used in private – at home, in the car, or walking on an empty street. They should not, ever, be used in public. They certainly shouldn’t be used in response to a checkout assistant saying how cute my children are. ‘They’re lovely Dindy Dondys, aren’t they?’ I replied before my brain could press the dignity button. Bagging our goods, giving her my Nectar card and paying the bill felt like an age after that.
9. Insulting my parents’ parenting skills
Only hours after I’d driven back from the maternity unit at 15mph with our fragile, not-even-one-day-old baby in tow, I handed over Martha to her grandparents so they could hold her for the first time. For some reason, I then decided to punctuate these special moments every 20 seconds by telling them to ‘hold her head up’, ‘be careful’ and ‘make sure you’re holding her properly’. My parents brought up three children, including me, their eldest, yet at that moment I had no faith or trust in their parenting skills at all. I’m not sure I trusted anyone in the world other than my wife. I’ve become a less protective, less paranoid dad since then. Honest.
10. A traumatic landing
I’ve told you about the second most miserable incident in four years of parenthood, and here’s the first. Nine hours and 50 minutes into a 10-hour flight home from a family holiday in Canada, we were instructed to put our belts on ready for landing. Martha, who was one-and-a-half at the time, had to sit on my lap, strapped with her own belt. Yet as we approached Heathrow, a mixture of the sensation of descending and the tightening of said belt unleashed a projectile stream of nine hours and 50 minutes worth of milk, biscuits and Calpol, drenching me, and her. It was 20 minutes before either of us could move from our seats. On long nights, I still get flashbacks of the sympathetic yet disgusted looks of the passengers leaving the plane as they surveyed the scene.
Have you had any embarrassing moments that compare with Charlie’s? Tell us in the comments below!