Dating For Dads 2

She was my first internet date, and I was a bit nervous.

Firstly because I knew that this was my first journey down the dark side of online dating, that murky avenue where the discarded remnants of failed relationships lurk in search of company and maybe some form of social acceptance.

To set the scene, it was a popular, well-frequented suburban watering—hole-cum-restaurant roughly halfway between us. The sort of place where your husband-brother-or-father would watch rugby. But on entering the crowded and chatty building from the always full, pine-fringed car-park that night I felt as if all eyes were on me, that everyone knew why I was there.

At least that was my thinking then. Because who does this sort of dodgy online dating stuff anyway?

That was about two years ago, and not long before a boyhood school-friend and long-time New York city resident announced to the table over dinner at a Cape Town city restaurant that it’s the done thing in his part of the world. ‘Hey man, it’s the boss!’

Essentially, it was the validation that I needed, and translated the concept into a ‘good enough’ reality for me.

I had tried to call her number a few times before we met, but with no luck. So I went ahead and agreed to meet nevertheless.

Turned out that she didn’t she didn’t really live where she said she did on her ‘profile’. If you’re from these parts (Cape Town), you will appreciate that broadly speaking, while physically not too far down the road, Muizenberg is on another level, far removed from Strandfontein. In the way that socie-economics is the great separator, it just isn’t the same.

She also posted pictures of herself as a teenager. It could’ve been someone else altogether.

I could’ve walked out, accused her of ‘social fraud’, of wasting my time invested in the communications we’d had over the past couple weeks, of misleading me. But I felt bad; she had travelled far, and being all alone she would’ve been totally out of place in what for her was a clearly foreign environment.

That’s internet dating for you, and I suppose the reason why I finally relented and opted to try the Tinder app. What I imagined to be something trashy, without even having tried it, turned out to be an effective application, populated by people like me, and with no charge.

It pulls limited personal information from your Facebook page – like your profile pictures – and even highlights mutual connections you may have. So the odds are good that the person behind the profile is genuine. If the person is suddenly 30kg heavier, well therein lies the baggage gathered over a lifetime – at least youve had the time  to develop the skills of diplomacy and kindness to deal with it – and  a real person with real stuff.

And there’s a bonus that I suppose was every bit intended. Because it’s an app, you interact with it when it suits you, no shotgun-scatter emails and weirdos flooding your inbox. Welcome to the new dating generation. It beats sitting at the bar and bugging your buddies.

Camping with Small Children (And an Unexpected Link to The Elderly)

My memories of camping are of being forced to sleep in a tent on family holidays when my mates were staying at beach hotels in Mhlanga Rocks *, that year-round vacation destination extension of Durban. That wasn’t cool.

That me and my siblings didn’t enjoy going camping with an irritable parent should in itself say somethings to parents who dictate rather than guide their children’s paths through life. Taking into account their likes and dislikes, making holidays fun etcetera, which is exactly what my Dad didn’t do (my mom didn’t have much of a say).

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Judging by the fact that I wasn’t even allowed to mow the lawn before I was 15, by which stage I obviously really didn’t want to, I doubt he would’ve allowed me to get involved in erecting the tent as a pre-schooler. Many parents will realize pre-schoolers love getting involved; for those who have somehow (inexplicably) missed their little ones’ seemingly obsessive desire to help, I suggest that you change your ways now.

By denying them the opportunity for helping out, you won’t just kill off their enthusiasm to be involved, you will ensure that when they’re older and you really need their help, as in building a wall, taking out the rubbish or cleaning the pool, they won’t want to help. And that will set up its own battlefield, so you have been warned, the way that scenario plays out is in your hands. The writer’s unfortunate expression in the below picture has nothing to do with the topic – me and friend Mark were contemplating our unprepareedness, the lack of chairs and a table among them. Such are the dangers of imprompto rustic getaways. The boys obviously didnt mind.

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Camping is an easy way to involve the whole family (considering that mom wants to go). There’s nothing fussy about little kids, and likewise with setting up tents, crawling into a sleeping-bag with sandy feet, eating around a campfire and washing up. Beyond the excitement (for your child) and the positive practicalities, such as learning how to put up a tent and make and respect a fire, consider the positive effects of nature on the human psyche.

Of course, while fathers camping with the kids is almost a default scenario, the alternative reality is that not all parents enjoy it. Yes, a number of moms do, but my experience is that the older they get, the less chance they’re interested in communing with crawly things and carrying a toilet-roll in a backpack.

I went on to enjoy camping in my older years, as a 20-something by necessity, South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains and Swaziland, Malalotja Nature Reserve, coming to mind. And now it’s as if the word ‘camp’ is pitched in my subconscious, occasionally releasing scented aspects of the pleasant parts of the experience; the inside of the tent, the campfire, children’s giggles and even the early-morning scent of exotic pines.

After that it was over 20 years before I returned to the land of tent-pegs and fly-sheets at a beautiful campsite called Beaverlac (https://www.beaverlac.co.za/) in South Africa’s Cederberg mountains . Two dads with their three year-old sons, we forgot chairs and all sorts of stuff that would’ve made the experience more comfortable – for us. Nevertheless, I looked at it as a reminder, and anyway, the rock-pools were great.

John Walmsley and Fynn discussing the storm of last night.

John Walmsley and Fynn discussing the storm of last night.

And then the parenting split came, and it was three years before we got to camp again. The odious holiday parenting plan determined the we had just one night in which to camp. I’m hhis father, and I had made him a promise.

The one night ended up being on a lawn at a visiting school- friend’s father’s house, overlooking False Bay outside Simonstown, Cape Town. Jo is her name, and her Dad was John; a warm, slightly stiff English-born soul entering his 80s and battling cancer with the stiff-upper-lip countenance that becomes that generation of his countrymen. Yet when Jo suggested to him that we would like to camp on their patch of lawn, John (and his always welcoming wife Sue), despite the discomfort of almost daily ilness-related tests, probes and pain, insisted that we do.

And for the next two years of his life, even when Jo was back home in Colorado, the invitation for us to visit was there. John was in that typically English fashion a bit awkward with my son, but clealry fond of him, and I still wonder if the little man’s presence was a balm of sorts. I had noticed it with my Dad, who still remembered his grandson’s name while wondering around the garden in his wellington boots, irrespective of how far the Alzheimers had progressed. I think he had enjoyed their short time together.

My son set about mowing the lawn after we arrived for that anticipated night, after deciding exactly where we would pitch the tent. While we were sleeping, the relatively unthinkable and utterly unseasonal then happened. The ominous, dark sky rattled and rolled and eventually hurled thudding, bulleting drops of rain down on our tent. My son was asleep.

My Dad and My Son John Walmsley and Fynn discussing the storm of last night. Good view from the Jo's folk's garden, Murdoch Valley, outside Simonstown. IMG_5866 IMG_5868

Bullets of water thudded onto the thirsty grass patch on which we were pitched, and while the overflowing gutter downpipe churned like the Zambezi river’s rapid #22, I was pleased  we had put the fly-sheet on. From inside our acrylic dome not two metres from the visitors’ room downstairs, I devised half-awake escape plans that, in the event of the tent-roof giving in, involved slinging my sleeping 20kg treasure over my back only to find the door locked.

Then I woke up. We were dry. The sky above the wet, morning wet-scented grass was a clear blue, and our view over False Bay just down below was as impressive as it had been the day before, and all was good. It had been a night to remember, and I think I just may have rediscvered my appetite for tent-pegs and that tell-tale sound of the zip.

* pr. ‘umshlanga’ by most white South Africans of European descent. The combined ‘hl’ can be challenging for the less linguistcally-inclined.