Being a stay-at-home parent can be dull but for Chris Ryan that’s probably a good thing.
As far as injuries go, I got off lightly with a broken collarbone. It could have been a busted jaw, fractured skull or worse. At 36-years-old with a 12-month-old kid at home, this kind of stupidity was meant to be behind me. But anyone who says getting older means getting wiser is a fool.
I had been a stay-at-home dad for eight months. It was a privilege to watch my son grow up so closely, to see him start to crawl and then take his first steps, to watch his personality emerge. I was like Jane Goodall with her chimps.
At the same time it was often terribly dull. There was no “fathers’ group” where I could get a break from the tedium and have a whinge over croissants and coffee. At playgrounds, I did make small talk with stay-at-home mums about nap times, toddler snacks and prams. The words bored me shitless as I spoke them.
When I caught up with mates, I had nothing to say. I couldn’t even join conversations about the footy, since I hadn’t watched a match for months. As a freelance journalist, I had nothing to write about. I felt disconnected from the outside world. I was drowning in sea of baby formula, suffocating in a skip-full of soiled nappies. This is obviously a metaphor.
The odd night out was a godsend. I would sprint from the front of our apartment block to the top of our street, wave down a cab and leap in the front seat, as desperate as a prison escapee. At the end of last year I enjoyed a night of freedom drinking at the Rock’s end of George Street. It was almost midnight when my friends kicked on to Frankies.
I was meandering home – the sensible father – when I struck up a drunken conversation with two Japanese guys loitering in the darkened foyer of a building near Martin Place. One of them said he was a professional fighter. We spoke about his craft. He asked me to show him my boxing stance, corrected it, then told me to try to hit him. He and his friend laughed together as I was left swinging at air. It was an amiable exchange, for a time. Then a woman appeared and announced to the boxer she was going home. “You aren’t going anywhere,” he told her.
“Mate, if she wants to go, let her go,” I said. I don’t recall exactly how the situation escalated. Let’s blame concussion, instead of the usual alcohol-induced blackout. I do remember the boxer getting angry – at me and the woman – and thinking that a fight was imminent.
“That’s when you should have run,” a friend said later. Sound advice but something kept me standing toe-to-toe with a guy who was sure to flog me. While I was concerned for the woman it probably was less about sacrifice than self-destruction. And at least it would be a story worth telling.
It’s a shame I can’t remember any of the details. One moment I was standing, the next moment I was on the ground with a stranger above helping me to my feet. “Do you want me to call the police?” he said. I told him not to bother – in a sense I had asked for it.
The next day an ugly mottled bruise appeared on my shoulder and I struggled to lift my arm. A week after an ill-advised visit to a chiropractor, who manipulated my arm and massaged my shoulder, an x-ray revealed a broken collarbone.
I wasted a summer in a sling, struggling to pick up my son. Golden days at the beach were cut short because of my aching shoulder. In Christmas photos I’m lurking in the background, embarrassed about my injury.
It was a shitty end to what, despite my gripes, had really been a great year. Still, I feel lucky – lucky that I didn’t come out even worse, with my face smashed on the concrete or my skull broken open and bleeding, and more lucky than ever that I get to spend so much time with my son, watching him grow up. If it’s boring now and then, so be it. Excitement is overrated.
Image © Clint Koehler used under this licence.