Tag Archives: fatherhood

The Return of Listen With Dudelet

It’s felt like it’s been ages since dudelet listened, really listened, to a record with me. At some point, the toddler who’d boogie in his seat to Aphex Twin or the five year old whose favourite record was Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible became the eight year Harry Potter fanatic who only wanted to listen to the John Williams soundtrack and build towers in Minecraft.*

Attempts at “What do you think of this?” or “Do you want to choose anything?” met with a shrug or a “Whatever.” Meanwhile, Minecraft seemed to be colonising most of the conversations we were having.

Don’t get me wrong – we were talking a lot. But it was 40% Bin Weevils, 40% Minecraft and 10% whining about being required to get off whichever screen he was accessing either of them through. (The remaining 10% tended to be me commiserating with him about the latest bout of appallingness from his little sister. But that’s another story).

Anyway, there seems to have been a sea change. Possibly he’s humouring his rapidly aging father but he caught me the day before yesterday listening to Led Zepellin 2. He paused, then sat, nodding along to the first few bars of ‘Ramble On’.

“I really like that,” he said.

“Uh huh,” I said. I felt like a caveman (well, we were listening to Led Zep) keeping a hungry wild dog in my peripheral vision as it edged cautiously towards the firelight and a scrap of left-over reindeer meat.

“It’s really…it’s got a good tune.”

“I’ve had that record for 32 years.”

“And it still plays?”

Little elf bounced in and sat down to listen too. A few minutes later, supermum stuck her head into the lounge, probably to find out what all the lack of noise was about (apart from the very loud music) and found little elf on my lap, dudelet leaning on my shoulder and John Bonham pounding through a slightly surplus-to-requirements drum solo (‘Moby Dick’ hasn’t aged well). She backed out again, quite quickly.

Yesterday, dudelet asked me to put on “that pretty song” again and gave us a full-on demonstration of virtuoso air guitar. Then I played him the guitar solo in ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and he wanted me to start the record again so he could hear it twice.

Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll see how he gets on with Baroness…

*I feel I should add that there are a million and one things he could be doing that are less worthwhile than the admittedly creative pursuit of Minecraft. But there’s only so many brick-by-brick descriptions a dad can take.


Dudelet and I are walking to the Underground on the way to pick up supplies from the Japan Centre.

“Look, those girls are smoking!” he says, clearly disapproving but also fishing for my reaction.

“Not good for them, is it?” I offer feebly.

“How did they get the cigarettes? I thought shops weren’t allowed to sell them to children?”

“Well, maybe they got an older kid to buy them. Some shopkeepers don’t pay as much attention as they should/“

“Did you ever smoke?”

Oh dear. Here it comes.

“Yes,” I say, wondering if I should lie.

“When did you stop?”

“January 1st, 1998. Wish I’d done it sooner. Hope it wasn’t too late.”

“When did you start?”

“When I was thirteen or fourteen.”


Why indeed? I’m stuck with being honest now so I plough on.

“I suppose I was trying to impress other, slightly older or cooler boys – at least I thought they were cooler at the time.” I decide to leave out the fact that I actually started smoking in Scouts.

“Oh. Were they a bit thuggish, then?”


“Mummy says she never started because she tried one cigarette and it was so disgusting, she never went near them again.”

“She was very sensible, then,” I say, half-wishing I’d given the same answer.

“Yes. Did I tell you I’ve started writing a script?”

Virgil, Dante’s “Sweetest Father”

I finally finished Dante’s Purgatory, the second canticle of the Divine Comedy. I suspect many of us get rather stuck with the Inferno and I certainly don’t know of any video games based on Purgatory or Paradise but, much to my surprise, I found the mountain of Purgatory a much more compelling journey than the long descent through Hades.

Initially, its a tougher read. We are in the heart of the medieval Christian mindset here and at some level, one needs to suspend disbelief, as it were, and surrender to the idea that man can only be saved through grace. But Dante’s vision is also an optimistic one – the sins of Purgatory are all sins of love misdirected and demonstrate man’s natural potential to be good. Further, the sinners are there, gladly, to be purged, to be made ready for Paradise. Quite literally, the souls of Purgatory needed only to ask (or ‘knock’, as the Biblical exegetics amongst you might note).

But Dante also realises the relationship between Virgil and the Dante of the poem in a wonderfully subtle way. Virgil, his mentor as a poet and as a man “lost in [the] dark wood” of his middle years struggling towards some kind of maturity, is ever at his elbow – encouraging, cajoling, instructing. For Dante, he becomes the ideal father figure for a man in the doldrums of middle age and as the poet travels through Hell and Purgatory faced with spirits, devils, centaurs, angels, and much else, he grows to depend on Virgil’s firm-minded kindliness and good counsel utterly.

As such, the point in Canto 30 when Virgil silently departs, his mission done, is the most quietly devastatingly moment I’ve encountered in Dante’s poem to date. They have reached the River Lethe, on the borders of Earthly Paradise. After various marvels are revealed to them, Dante realises that, waiting across the stream, is none other than Beatrice, his long lost love, the motivating force for the whole of the journey and the promise – and the threat – of his regeneration. Stricken with awe and a kind of rapturous terror

I turned left – as a little child will do
wide-eyed and running over to its mama
when he’s afraid of something or he’s hurt
To say to Virgil, “Not a drop of blood
runs in my veins that isn’t trembling now
I know the traces of the ancient flame
But Virgil had deprived us of his light
Virgil, the sweetest father, Virgil, he
in whom I trusted that I might be healed*

Virgil has returned to Limbo, the outermost circle of the Inferno, doomed to dwell with the ‘good pagans’ even beyond the resurrection. The author Dante’s treatment of Virgil in the Comedy remains puzzling when the suicide Cato and the later poet Roman Statius are saved. Dante gives Virgil primacy above all other poets and draws on the Aenid again and again. Still, Dante expresses the loss of Virgil as one might feel the loss of a parent and reading these lines again, I think of the loss of my own father. Though the loss in my case is a selfish one, full of might-have- and should-have-beens. But still, there were moments. And there is always that moment on the banks of the Lethe that awaits all of us, Virgil or Dante.

Perhaps that’s why Dante’s Virgil had to leave, was unable to travel further with the man who’d become as a son to him. The hardest thing for a father is to realise that one day his children will have to travel on without him. And that’s a law as immutable as the divine judgement of the God of the Comedy.


Dudelet is digging into his bowl of Hoops and humming to himself. I have the same habit.

“How do you feel about Year 3?” I ask him. He’s only got a week and a bit of Year 2 left.

“Well, I’m a bit worried because we’ll be the smallest in the playground.”

He’s not joking. All this year he’s been one of the biggest – the Year 2s tower over the Reception class and amiably lord it over the Year 1s. But next year, he’ll literally pass through two gateways into the Big Playground where the mysteries of Years 3 to 6 lurk, tooled up and ready to rumble. Also, how typical of my son to say ‘smallest’ instead of ‘littlest’.

“How do you mean?”

“The Year 6s are really big! Even bigger than you!”

“Well, some of them. People are sorts of sizes at that age.”

“I’m a bit nervous.”

“Hmm. I know it’s scary but there are always going to be those gateways. Like when you went to Reception or when you go to High School. I can’t remember my first day at primary school – your Year 3 but I still remember when I went to High School.”

“That’s funny! I was just going to ask you that!”

I look at him. He’s actually interested.

“Well, you know how teachers at your school, when you squabble…”


“Kind of argue or push or shove each other for some reason. You know how teachers tell you to be friends and perhaps make you sit in the thinking corner for a bit?”

“Yes. I suppose that happens. Sometimes.”

“Okay. Well, on my first day at High School, I got into one of those squabbles with another boy in a craft class and we got sent out. And the craft teacher – a really huge man who looked like he should have long fangs like a goblin – grabbed us and threw us out of the classroom. So we were a bit nervous and we decided that we’d explain to him that we’d made it up and sorted things out and so on. And…”

“And what happened?”

“He came out, whacked us both on the side of the head – it really stung my ear – and told us not to do it again or we’d be up before Brother X, the Headmaster and he’d give us six.”


“Look, you know they used to hit children in schools? And how they aren’t allowed to do it anymore?”

“Yes I know. Phew.” He shakes his head solemnly.

“So, anyway,” I finish up, a bit lamely. “Year 3 is nothing to worry about.”

“Okay. Can I watch telly now?”


I sit down for two minutes to eat my toast (I can hear that little elf, who is a complete grump in the mornings, just like her mother, is in-bound). I don’t want him to pass those gates any sooner than he has to. But here they come.

Three things I tell dudelet each night

Warning: Contains parenting. And sentiment. And a teeny bit of very un-Dad Who Writes-like slush.

Something which supermum and I noticed a while back (and continue to struggle with) is how a bad day with dudelet (nearly seven years old at this point) can overshadow all his many wonderful qualities, actions and general all-round fabulousness.

So, much to my surprise, I introduced a little positive thinking practice into our bedtime routine. The last thing we do before “lights out”* is for me to tell him three things he did during the day that I loved. I’ve set myself a few parameters

  • No reference to anything bad that’s gone on, like particularly naughty behaviour
  • No comparison with his little sister
  • No use of something I’ve heard from supermum – they all have to be from actual, real, concrete interactions I’ve had with him.

On work days, this can be tricky. But I manage it. If I forget, he reminds me. Ands recently, he’s started asking me to add three things that I’ve done during the day that I think where pretty good or worthwhile (I’m paraphrasing). So I suppose he’s now reforming me a little.

Is it working? Who knows? I suspect all parenting techniques are essentially homoeopathic, if you see what I mean.

But at least we both remind each other that every day, he’s given several new reasons to love and value him so it’s probably doing some good somewhere.

*It’s actually “Lights turned down a bit” as dudelet often reads himself to sleep