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Dad may have had 11 children… but he doesn’t have any parenting tips | Parents and parenting

Asking my friends for parenting advice is tough, because we all know next to nothing, but good because we do at least agree what we’re doing is very hard and we should be proud of ourselves. My dad, by contrast, is the exact opposite. He doesn’t really dispense parenting advice, even though he had 11 children and fostered half a dozen more. He’s basically the end-level boss of dads, the one you have to fight once you’ve dispatched Tom Hanks, Richard Madeley and Liam Neeson’s character from Taken. There’s nothing I’ve done as much, or for as long, as he’s done parenting, but when I ask him specific questions, he always seems slightly bemused I’m having any trouble at all, as if I’ve rung him up for a refresher course on tying my shoelaces.

‘Just do what you think is best,’ he said on the phone a few days ago, when I related my trepidation around introducing the imminent baby to our son. He uttered this with the sort of breezy dismissal that suggested he’d feel more panicked sliding some keys off one fob and on to a different fob. Maybe deep investment in the small anxieties of fatherhood is just one of the first casualties of having so many children. What can trepidation really mean to someone who’s sat through more than 100 school plays? What could perturb a man who has been witness to the gory loss of 220 baby teeth – and had to shell out cold, hard cash for each? My fears about welcoming another child into our family fell on deaf ears, not because my dad is unfeeling, but because he has introduced a new baby to an older sibling no less than 55 times, and can’t remember it ever being much of a problem.

My friends and I spend parenting chats nodding our frowning heads sympathetically, riveted by the noble difficulties of our challenging lives, and the fresh offering of new hurdles that come with every milestone. Not so my dad, who had seven kids under 10 by the time he was my age, and spent a period between 1999 and 2000 living with six teenage daughters at once – an experience which resulted in his capacity for anxiety being permanently cauterised.

‘Should I get him a wee present from the baby?’ I ask, hoping this leading question will force some specific advice from him in a pathetic act of ventriloquism.

‘Maybe,’ he says, ‘but then you’d better be ready for them to want a present from the baby every time they see them, so prepare for that!’ The financial sting of all those baby teeth clearly made its mark, I think to myself.

My dad is, of course, merely a proponent of the theory that parents know better than they think they do, and experience has taught him that worrying about every little thing is useless. By the end of the call, I know it’s the best advice I could receive, precisely because it fails to flatter my problems the way I tend to prefer.

Luckily, I relate his responses to some friends the following day, along with my frustration at being told everything will be fine. ‘That’s so hard,’ they say, and we frown, happily, once again.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats



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