Thursday, 04 February 2016
A Dad's View: Dressing-up
Oh dear, Tom Dunmore is surprised to find himself mildly traumatised by his fun-loving son’s dressing-up antics
We’re already late for nursery and Erik is refusing to take his sister’s princess dress off. I’m getting furious while Lise radiates calm. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I’ll take him up. You take Ava to school.’
I breathe a sigh of relief and hand Erik’s clothes over to my wife, then watch in horror as she balls them up and shoves
them into her handbag.
‘Come on Erik,’ she says, opening the door as Erik gleefully skips outside, pausing only to aim a sly grin of victory in my direction.
I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded sort of parent, and I’m used to Erik raiding Ava’s dressing-up box and singing along to Frozen in the privacy of our own home. But as I watch him skipping off to nursery in a sparkly Elsa dress, my liberal values begin to crumble.
‘Maybe you should put his trousers on?’ I half-heartedly shout after Lise, but she’s out of earshot already. So I deal with my contradictory emotions in the most British way possible: I grit my teeth, knit my brow and spend half an hour mumbling to myself while walking aggressively.
Soon my ethical dilemma is subsumed into a general malaise, which then becomes a dull headache. By the time I speak to Lise at lunch I’ve managed to slip into a comfortable state of denial. Until she asks, ‘Can you pick up Erik?’
‘... still wearing the...’
‘The dress? Probably. I put the change of clothes in his bag. The assistants thought it was hilarious – apart from Keisha.’ Lise seems pleased. I begin to pray Keisha has done the right thing and dressed him in trousers.
When I arrive at the nursery, Erik is still in a dress – much to the amusement of the other parents and staff. I force myself to smile. I don’t know why I’m having such a profound sense of humour bypass, but it could be related to the fact that I had three brothers and no sisters. Our home was full of sports equipment and pretend weapons – but no dresses.
So when my mum caught my six-year-old brother hiding under her bed, trying on her tights, she couldn’t keep it quiet – and for the next 40 years the story has been rolled out to every girlfriend, grandchild and random visitor to the family home.
On my way home, a couple of tourists ask me for directions. I reach for my phone and show them a map, while Erik chases a cat. ‘Oh, your little girl is running away!’ exclaims one of the tourists, pointing at my disappearing son. I don’t bother to contradict him, I simply roll my eyes and run.
Erik refuses to take off the dress even when it’s time for bed. ‘But boys can’t be princesses,’ says his big sister, bluntly.
‘Yes they can!’ replies Erik, picking up his sword to defend his honour.
‘And boys don’t wear dresses,’ says Ava, content to stick to emotional warfare.
‘THEY DO!’ screams Erik, pointing his sword at me. ‘Daddy wears a dress!’
‘This is a dressing gown,’ I explain.
‘A dress gown!’ says Erik.
‘Like a ballgown?’ asks Ava.
I sigh. ‘I suppose so. They’re all just clothes.’
‘Except Erik’s is prettier,’ points out Ava. Erik does a twirl, then thwacks me with his sword and shouts, ‘Chop your leg off, Daddy!’ I fall to the floor, defeated. Turns out, no matter
what they’re wearing, boys will be boys.