Waking up to the sound of screaming. Half expecting a freezing cold glass of milk to be thrown in my face (because that had happened more than once before), just to be told I’m already late for work before I even get out of bed. Squeezing all my wavy lines into the sharp edges of a pin stripe suit and preparing for another day of talking to people I didn’t really like, about things I just couldn’t care about. That was my life.
Sometimes, usually around spring time, just as the nights got lighter and the horror of going out to work and coming home from work in the dark was beginning to lift, sometimes I’d catch a glimpse in the shadows of the people we used to be, the dreams we used to share. She would laugh at the same point in a TV show as me and in that laugh a wee spark of conversation would erupt for just a moment, ‘ that was so funny, ‘I know, I know, it reminds me of the time….’ And for a few minutes we would be almost alive, dissecting the humour, talking about writing, remembering creativity and the processes we once used. Then just as suddenly it would stop. A call from upstairs for a juice, a wet bed, a dog looking to be let out or let in and that flash of reality would root us back into this life, the now, the struggle to live up to the people we had become, parents, bread winners, decision takers, bill payers. There seemed to be no way out.
In my free time (I call it free but always felt as though I was stealing it) but in my free time, I’d scribble. I bought a book. A big book. It was yellow. It was my book and no one else was allowed to touch it. No drawings, no sticky stuff, no lists. I bought it, I announced it as mine, I put it away safely and it was two years before I wrote anything in it.
We carried on as people do and I got buried under responsibility and just forgot to turn on the old flashlight of creating form time to time. Every now and then I’d find myself stuck somewhere, a doctors waiting room, at the school gates, on a train and I’d pull out the book and make a few notes. I wanted to perform, to be a performer but I kept thinking that I needed a whole new life. Maybe I had missed the boat.
The turning point was an unexpected incident. My daughter was six, and although I haven’t really given her much of a good press so far (she was the thrower of the cold and even the occasional hot liquid), she was and is a beautiful, funny, loving little soul. She was quirky as a child and I liked that. The funny things they say and do, she did a wee bit longer than others. We now know she has autism but at the time the only issue in our lives relating to her was a relatively commonplace heartache, she had no friends. But we didn’t let that get us down, we were her friends and I spent lots of home time making things that would make her laugh and acting out wee routines to see if she found them funny. Every now and then I’d scribble a few more notes in my big yellow book and my moments of lustfully waiting for that one big break became less and less as I enjoyed more and more just being a funny Daddy. Her laughing was an infectious applause and as children often do she became my biggest fan and my fiercest critic. If she didn’t like it she didn’t laugh. Without knowing it I was producing a creative product, I had a target audience in the room to act as a tester and a gauge and my confidence was building as I grew into the role and the whole concept of using my creative skills to meet a practical need was developing.
And then the incident arrived like a bad thing and I suppose in hindsight that’s a lesson in perspective. My daughter endured a lot of hurt in the classroom over birthday parties. She had not received invites so many times she now adopted a policy that she didn’t attend birthday parties and in line with this, ‘its not my thing’ identity she also didn’t have them. It was sad in a way but we were always having a good time at home so we just rolled with it and carried on. But then for a reason we have never really understood or had explained she came home one day to inform us that we were having a party, the whole class was coming and it had to be great.
And then my daughter whose very existence I credited to be the cause of my loss of freedom, creativity and opportunity to follow my dreams, gave me a gift. The gift only a daughter could give. Belief.
“I need you Daddy”, she said, “I need you to be funny”.
And so it began. The party was a huge success. I’d like to say the best part was that my daughter got for once to be the belle of the ball, and she did. I’d like to say that was the best part, and it is up there in the top spot, but just between me and you, a strong contender for best was the moment my life changed, I performed a ‘show’. Compared to what I do now it was pretty rudimentary, but hey, my audience were really there for the sweets and, they were captive. Whatever the reason the show was seemed to swimmingly and at home time I had kids hanging onto my leg and saying I was the funniest man in the world. (okay, along with the sweets they may have been high on caffeinated drinks with barely legal food colouring) but it was great. Just as I thought it had gotten as good as it could be, one Mum doubled back and said the magic words, ‘Do you have a card?’
I laughed. Which was okay, because I was the funniest man in the world, ‘Or a website?’ I just stood there speechless for a moment, ‘I’d like to book you, for her party she explained, probably wondering why I wasn’t engaging. And again it was my small hero who saved the day. She jumped to her friend and arms entwined the two of them spun around shrieking, ‘my daddy is doing your party, my daddy is doing your party!’
And I was back, ‘No card’ I said, ‘but I’ll get you my number’.
Four years later, I look back on that first party and it always makes me smile. I didn’t intend to dive in, I just dipped my toe and it turned out the water was warmer than I thought.