It's a funny business being a Dad. It reminds me a little of Carry On Abroad. Just as Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams and the gang discovered that the five-star hotel they were booked into on the Costa del Sol wasn't a bit like the one in the brochure, so it's beginning to dawn on me that fatherhood isn't the sexy lifestyle choice it's presented as being in certain glossy magazines.
Remember Dad: The Magazine For New Fathers? This publication, funded by the Department of Trade & Industry, was launched with great fanfare last year to cash in on the fact that being a father had suddenly become extremely fashionable. In its pages the likes of David Beckham and Pierce Brosnan shared space with features on MPVs and the latest Sports Utility Prams. Doe-eyed toddlers were pictured kicking balls around with fit young men in short-sleeved shirts. Welcome to parenthood.
For the generation of lads who'd been brought up reading magazines like Maxim and FHM--men like me--the message couldn't be clearer: Babes were out and babies were in. It was time to stop boozing and start breeding. Gentleman, start your engines.
I first realised that fatherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be, at least from a style point of view, the day my daughter came home from hospitable. I was cradling Sasha in my arms, making googly noises at her, when she suddenly projectile vomited all over my crisp, white Turnbull & Asser shirt. I was so shocked I almost dropped her on the floor. Indeed, it came out of her mouth in such a thick, powerful jet I half-expected her head to start revolving as she recited passages from the bible backwards. The situation wasn't helped when my wife and mother-in-law doubled up with laughter.
I quickly learnt not to go anywhere near my daughter without spending at least 10 minutes draping little strips of muslin over myself. Even then she managed to home in on the one patch I'd left uncovered. Why doesn't some enterprising British menswear designer come up with a paternity line? How about an entire shirt made muslin? Better yet, a giant babygrow, like the kind Churchill used to wear in bed. If you're reading this, Richard James, wake up and smell the baby sick. There's money in them there spills.
Two weeks later my wife and I went on our first family shopping trip. I realised that the designer clothes Caroline had been talking about weren't intended for me when she dragged me into a shop called Bonpoint. "Aren't these adorable?" she said, picking up a pair of tiny trousers and holding them against herself. I was tempted to reply that she might have trouble squeezing into them, but thought better of it. My wife was back to within five pounds of her pre-pregnancy weight, whereas I'd yet to lose the stone-and-a-half I'd put on in the previous nine months.
That was over a year ago and I still haven't bought myself any new clothes. It's not simply that I can't fit into them--I've yet to lose those 20 pounds--I can't afford them, either. (A better name for Bonpoint would be Cashpoint.) Why is it that young mothers are so anxious to spend their husbands' money buying oodles and oodles of things for their newborns? My theory is that they're making up for lost time. It's the post-natal equivalent of overeating during pregnancy: shopping for two.
While I've had to make do with replacing the collars on my shirts and sewing patches on my jeans, Sasha seems to acquire a new outfit every week. The upshot is that my one-year-old daughter now has a bigger and more expensive wardrobe than me. Given that she grows out of all these clothes approximately every three months I can't help feeling that they're a colossal waste of money, but experience has taught me not to say anything. These days, as Caroline returns from a trip to Bonpoint with a mink-lined babygrow, I simply nod and smile appreciatively.
Men only have two functions when their wives take them on shopping trips: to produce their credit cards and carry the bags. On one recent trip to Westbourne Grove I saw a man nervously fingering his Barclaycard as his wife inquired about the price of a Burberry nappy bag with black leather trim. Answer: £275. Caroline seemed to think this was quite reasonable on the grounds that I'm such a fashion victim I'd be perfectly happy to lug a nappy bag around provided it had the right designer label.
The only thing I've added to my wardrobe in the past 12 months is a baby sling. If a more emasculating item of clothing has ever been designed, I've yet to see it. My theory is that they're a way for wives to avenge themselves on their husbands for all the indignities they had to suffer during pregnancy. They've spent the best part of a year waddling around with a baby hanging over their trousers, so we can jolly well see what it's like. You might as well put a sticker on your MPV that says: "Eunuch On Board."
Eighteen months have passed since Dad first came out and a second issue has yet to appear. Chalk that loss up to the taxpayer. In America, two similar publications--Dads and Fathers--both went belly up after two issues.
What the publishers of Dad failed to grasp is that, while women might find pictures of men playing with their babies sexy, fathers like me know better. When I open a copy of Heat and see a photograph of Becks making his way through the Heathrow Arrivals Hall with Brooklyn on his shoulders, Romeo in a pushchair and his pregnant wife beside him, I don't think, "Gosh, David, you're so cool." I think, "You poor bastard."