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'Pizza makes a bad dad's day better'

MY wife is away for the weekend, leaving me in charge once again, against what I feel sure must be the better judgement of many, including, I don't doubt, neighbours, other parents, fellow dog owners and, quite possibly, various emergency services of land, air and sea.

Not that I am irresponsible. I am an adult male in his late forties, after all - and there must be some way of finishing that sentence with solid examples of how being an adult male in his forties left to his own devices for a weekend, feeding of children and dogs notwithstanding, can pass without incident.

Historically, however, I'm afraid this is simply not the case where I am concerned.

I routinely begin any of my wife's short absences with a list of things to do. By the time she's due back, I'm working through a list of things to undo.

Alone, I have been locked out, become lost and been stranded more times than you can curl your toes at. Alone with children and dogs, at best I can only say that my injuries have not required hospital treatment, at worst that I have only narrowly avoided making television headlines.

An entire conspiracy of household appliances, it seems, awaits my wife's departure and usually, no sooner is she on the tarmac taxiing for take-off than foam begins to billow out of the dishwasher, the fridge spontaneously defrosts and the toaster bursts into flames.

And when my wife returns home to find everything pretty much returned to normal, bar a little fresh paint on part of the ceiling and a faint, lingering aroma of burnt plastic, she'll say something like, "What's that about?" to which I'll trail off into a mumble as I attempt to dig a small hole in the kitchen floor with my foot: "Oh that?" I'll say, "That's just a... you know, um, frbty... mrffl..."

Things have become somewhat easier, however, as time has gone by and experience has taught me to leave the house as little as possible while she's away and not to use anything electrical or mechanical unless it is a life-or-death situation.

These are hard-won lessons, I won't lie. I once took it upon myself - I say 'once' like it is something almost lost in distant memory; it was only last year - to take the kids and dog to Wicklow while my wife was away for the night.

I will never forget being halfway up a mountain trying to get a phone signal and realising, with mounting horror, that I'd left bacon under the grill, then looking down the valley to see smoke billowing skyward from the direction of the cottage where the children still slept.

Of course, both bacon and children were fine, the latter having woken and gone outside to rekindle the bonfire from the night before. Sometimes the hell you make for yourself is only in your own head.

Me? I was sure I'd killed the lot of them AND ruined breakfast.

This is the parade of images my mind's eye peers at through clenched fingers as I sit in our tiny office down the town just a few hours after my wife's plane has taken off this time and rain now billows down the empty street in sheets on the sort of day that even the parked cars seem to huddle for warmth.

I venture out just once, on an errand which takes about twenty minutes longer than the time I'd put on a note on the door, returning to find my sole customer all day has gone away disappointed, after scribbling 'Back in half an hour my foot', or words to that effect, on my note.

Unsurprising, perhaps, when the phone suddenly chirrups beside me on the desk, I look at it like it is some sort of elaborate trick.

As it turns out, it's the youngest. "When are you coming home to make dinner?" she says.

I look at the time. It's still the middle of the afternoon.

"I'd say about now," I tell her. No point in risking things here any longer. Best leave while everything is still in working order.

"What are we having?" she says.

"What do you suggest?" I say.

"Well," she begin laboriously, "usually if there's only a few of us for dinner, mummy orders pizza."

"Usually?"

"It means she doesn't have to cook and we don't need to clean any dishes."

So, I tally up in my head: no cooking, no knives, no open flame, no rebellious dish-washing machine. This girl puts up a convincing argument.

"Pizza it is," I tell her. "I'm on the way."

Fact is, we bad dads don't necessarily get so much better at flying solo as time goes by; our kids just get better at helping us help them.

"Can you buy some fizzy drinks, popcorn and sweets on the way," she says. It's not really a question.

"I suppose," I chuckle and she hangs up.

Pizza night passes without incident. I collect my wife from the airport the next evening.

"Am I glad to see you," she smiles.

"Likewise," I tell her, meaning it.

"Anything happen while I was gone?" she says, handing me her bags.

"Absolutely nothing," I say. "Pizza," I say, suddenly remembering. "Pizza happened."

"I knew you'd spoil them," she says.


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