Over the Bank Holiday weekend I enjoyed my first visit to a trampoline park. If you’ve never had the pleasure of going to one, imagine an aircraft hangar full of bouncy flooring, foam pits and soft balls. A kind of Mecca to the exuberance of childhood and the sports bra of motherhood.
But for fatherhood (well, mine at least) it was a different proposition altogether.
I like to pride myself on not being an archetypal competitive dad. The kind of snarling fool who used to implore his son to break my leg from the touchline of Under-11s football for example. Or the insufferable git who sees every conversation as a chance to tell you his daughter is applying to (yes, just applying, like anyone can) Cambridge University.
My stated mantra has always been to emphasise to Dylan and Nathan, even at this tender age, that enjoyment is the important thing, not being the best. I will never push them to love the hobbies I love, take the Sergeant Major approach to their physical and mental development nor be disappointed if they end up preferring Les Miserables to Match of the Day. Yet surrounded by fellow parents and the tempting prospect of 50-odd trampolines, I found my entire parental approach called into question.
Having begun by privately mocking the bloke who had turned up in full sports gear (including Lycra shorts and a headband), I suddenly found myself levering my way to the front of the queue before somersaulting fulsomely into a foam pit. Worse, I then passionately encouraged Dylan, aged 4, to do the same.
I mean, honestly. What’s next? Will I start bellowing at my eldest son to ‘bring him down’ during a friendly 3-a-side at Little Kickers? Or find myself demanding that Nathan, nearly 2, abandons our fun game of Humpty Dumpty on the poolside in favour of a full length headfirst dive with perfectly pointed toes?
Is that single somersault (which was bloody great by the way!) the start of a slippery slope into full blown competitive dadding? Perhaps I have awoken a dark instinct that even the most laid back of fathers would have to admit is lying latent inside. Yes, it may only reveal itself with the occasional fist clench behind the back when our son or daughter runs faster, climbs higher or displays better table manners than our friends’ offspring of the same age (or even better, older). But trust me, it’s there. We all know it.
The trick is keeping it suppressed deep inside. Right down next to the part of us that would happily have a threesome with Judy Dench and Helen Mirren but would rather not give up a seat for them on the train. So I guess my only hope is that, like various other addictions and isms, the first step to overcoming competitive dadism is admitting you have a problem.
So…my name is Alex and I’m a competitive dad.