The following book idea arose from my feelings following the death of my parents and my own experiences as a dad to my two children. In a way it was a riposte to all those self-help books that set out to make you a better person but can often simply undermine your confidence.

What follows is my explanatory introduction and a sample chapter. Dad or non-Dad, I hope you enjoy it.


How To Be A Not Bad Dad
A massively modest guide to having your kids remember you kindly once you're worm-food.

Introduction

Hello, and well done on reading even this far. Chances are, given the title of this book, you’re a bloke; in all likelihood a dad. And blokes, especially dads, are busy people. Practical, too. They don’t have time to read psychobabble self-help guides that claim to give you the secret to acquiring Superdad status while actually just making you feel guilty and inferior.

This book isn’t one of those books. This book is vaultingly ambitious in its modesty. It doesn’t set out to make anyone a Superdad. It probably won’t even make you a semi-Superdad.

This book has one simple aim: to get you to do something fun with your kids that will always make them remember you with a degree of affection once you’re gone.

That’s right, you won’t even be around to hear them say it. You’ll either be some invertebrate's breakfast six feet underground or scattered in the goalmouth at Millwall or borne in the breeze across a well-known beauty spot.

Where
you are at the time - are rather aren't - doesn't matter. All that matters is that at some point in the future your kids get together, perhaps in the pub or over Sunday lunch, and have this to say:

'Dad was okay. He wasn't a bad dad. He was all right.'

I'll settle for that. I certainly think it's achievable. And frankly, once I've explained my theory, I think you'll agree with me. It doesn't involve any reference to cutting-edge Californian parenting expertise or government findings or men (or women) with beards, Santa Claus excepted.

I'm a bloke. I can't be bothered to read any of that stuff either. And I'm certainly not a saint. Check the name on the front of this book if you don't believe me. And the author photo: not a halo in sight.

My only relevant qualification for writing this book is that I am a dad, and have been for well over a decade now. I have two children, a boy and a girl, and if you were ask them what I was like as a parent, I'm sure they'd come back with some ringing endorsement along the lines of: 'He's okay.'

I'm happy with that, That's as much as anyone should expect. You are after all, not only the person who buys them toys and nice things to eat, but you are also the person who sends them to bed when they don't want to go, suspends their pocket money on a whim, and tells them to tidy their room, brush their hair and do their homework. Oh, and clean their teeth, of course; such a perverse cruelty to inflict upon a child.

Any verdict in excess of 'OK' is probably abnormal. It would certainly be sickening.

You aren't perfect, your kids aren't either. Keep both those facts in mind and you'll be fine. Aim for perfection on either side and you'll just make yourself very unhappy. Aim for OK and you'll be doing yourself a favour
and your kids.

Now, having got this far, here's a bad tracing of an E type Jag just in case someone looks over your shoulder and thinks you're reading some softy self-help book.

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What a beauty.

Now, back to business.

NotBadDad-dism is a fairly minimalist concept. It doesn't involve the expenditure of huge amounts of money. There aren't lots of clever gadgets to be purchased (sorry about that). You won't have to attend any classes that clash with important TV programmes or stand in a room alongside a load of other embarrassed dads attempting to breath calmly and clear your mind of all thoughts of how stupid you must look.

In fact, there are only two essential requirements. The first is that you are good at solving really simple anagrams. The second is that you 'vole'* your kids.

(*NotBadDad-dism also aims to spare its more rugged male followers any unnecessary sentimentalism and soppiness.)

The 'voling your kids' side of things is a foregone conclusion really, because if you didn't already vole your kids I can't see why you would pick up this book in the first place. Unless it was to throw at them.

And if you really and truly vole your kids, well, then there's probably no sacrifice you wouldn't be prepared to make for them. That's already enshrined in the Parenthood small print, of course. But, let's be sensible about this: a small sacrifice would obviously always be preferable to a large one.
So, as achievability is a key tenet in becoming a Not Bad Dad, the movement strongly favours sacrifices so small as to be barely perceivable.

This may sound selfish. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is liberating. It will help you achieve Not Bad Dad status as you will have nothing to hold against your children when they - and you - are older. You will not be able to argue that they ruined your life by stealing your time and your energy. They, in return, will not be able to say that you ignored them completely. Instead, you will both remember the happy and fun things you did together, and they will forever vole you for them. After you're dead. (Sorry to keep banging on about that.)

So, in a nutshell - and despite what I told you just a moment ago - here are the
three things you actually need to become a Not Bad Dad.

1. Children. (Very important. The Pope may very well be Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, and live in a rather nice palace with easy access to all the pizza he can eat, but he will
never be a Not Bad Dad.)

2. A willingness to devote a small amount of thought, time and energy to engaging in fun activities with your own children. (Other people's children must make their own provisions, and on the whole are always best avoided.)

3. A copy of this book. (Blatant marketing ploy.)

Armed with these three, let us march forward arm-in-arm into the rosy-hued dawn of NotBadDad-dism. Or at least get onto the next chapter.


How To Be A Not Bad Dad...In Traffic Jams

'Are we still not there yet?'

Traffic jams are testing times for any male parent hoping to achieve the legendary status of Not Bad Dad. Nothing is more likely to flip a father into full-blown rage than the pressure cooker of a four-wheeled can of kids and a five mile tailback For starters, it usually means that
Classic FM or Radio Four have been ousted from the stereo in favour of Horrid Henry, the Famous Five, or worse still, High School Musicals 1, 2 or 3. Add to that injustice the metronomic seat-kicking coming from the bored brood in the back and the word 'snarl up' can rapidly take on a whole new meaning.

But if you'd rather be remembered for being inventive than for the quality of your invective a few tried and tested in-car entertainments may help. They all entail a little bit of interaction with your offspring but, when the traffic is nose-to-tail, a mental diversion may be all that's available.

First,
I Spy. No surprises here. All Dads - even Bad Ones - know that. But the traditional game rapidly runs out of steam in the unchanging landscape of a stationary stream of vehicles. Far more engaging and far more likely to win you Not Bad Dad Points is I Don't Spy - aka I Lie - which trades in invisibility. In fact, so successfully has this caught the imagination of my own kids that the original game is all but forgotten.

The 'Spyer' begins with the mantra 'I
Don't Spy with my little eye something beginning with...' followed by the appropriate letter. Let's say they choose 'X'. Almost inevitably the answer is going to be Xylophone because - and here's the other big difference to the Ur version - the Spyer wants his invisible object to be identified as soon as possible.
The skill and fun comes in choosing things that are readily guessable: A is typically an Apple, E is often an Elephant, Q is more than likely a Queen, Z a zygophyte (obviously!), and so on. Clues can be given if needed.

At a stroke this banishes the tedium of the original. No more should you have to suffer rounds that go on for decades, only to end in the realisation that the Spyer either can't spell or doesn't know the proper name for their target object: 'Oh, I thought that
bridge-thing with all the lights and signs on it was called a
pantry.'

I Don't Spy should become a Not Bad Dad staple - and if you want to pretend you invented it, go ahead. That's the point of this column. It's here to raise the status of all Dadkind without you having to work too hard at it.

Another good game is Lingo Bingo. This is a gift for Not Bad Dads who love speech radio but can never normally get to listen to it with the kids in the car. It helps if you have pen and paper available, but it isn't essential. Engine off, radio on, and let's say you land smack in the middle of
Moneybox Live. They're talking about ISAs. Compelling listening for grown-ups - natch - and for kids too if you give them each a short list of likely words to listen out for. Interest, bank, bonds, top-slicing benefit, Duggleby, those sorts of things.

First to hear all their buzzwords broadcast wins.

Of course, the Genuinely Bad Dad might be tempted to corrupt the purity of the game by giving his kids words they could never hope to hear used in a month of
Moneyboxes - plasticination, syzygy, jumentous, economic upturn. But take it from me, this way lies danger. Make it too hard and they'll be calling for Miley Cyrus back on the sound system before you can say Louise Botting.

And for the man who has Sat Nav in his vehicle (I'm
so tempted by the term 'Sat Nav Not Bad Dad') there are a host of other entertainments on offer. One good game is for each child to take it in turns to suggest a made-up street name in a distant town. This is like googling the A-Z. Again, imagination and inventiveness are key. We all know there are dozens of High Streets and Church Roads across our land. There's no fun in punching in those. But what about Trump Lane or Wobbly Bottom Close?

You should expect such offerings, especially if there are boys present. You can then thrill them by showing that there are in fact lots of Bottom Streets in Britain and, indeed, a small Staffordshire village called Butt Lane. (Incidentally, the birthplace of Reginald Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire.) And if you tap in the postcodes WA9 1RT or CT13 9AJ or DT2 7JJ, oh, how you will laugh.

Postcodes are fertile material. Get the kids to volunteer a variety of plausible combinations and see who can come up with the longest road name, the street closest to the start of the alphabet, the most distant location...

If you're lucky, this brief selection should get should you through most hold-ups and leave happy memories in the minds of your progeny. And I'm sure you can think of plenty more yourselves. Send them in to me. I bet many of them are probably Not Bad at all.


* * *

This week's boredom-busting
Not Bad Dad Facts for Traffic Jams: The M1 was not the first UK motorway to come into service. A stretch of the M6 by-passing Preston opened in November 1958, almost a year earlier than the M1. Wow, Dad! Drivers going clockwise round the M25 travel further than those going the other way. Wow again, Dad! Why? (Get them to figure it out. And if they need a clue, mention running tracks.) Government rules say motorway services have to be at least 15 miles apart. At 70mph, that could mean as little as 13 minutes between loo-breaks for little bladders. That's Not Bad, Dad - Not Bad at all!