I caught sight of myself in the mirror the other morning and was shocked to see an unkempt old man staring back at me. Dressed in shabby clothes, with hair all over the place and a week-old beard, I looked like a mess.
I had just returned from the school run, having walked the two miles there and back in a pair of old joggers – complete with yogurt stain – an equally old coat, random hat and my wife’s scarf (as it was the nearest one to hand when I walked out the door).
I had put precisely zero effort into what I looked like that morning. Indeed, my decisions regarding clothes had been entirely functional, revolving around the requirement to not be naked while walking my child to school, and a basic human instinct for warmth.
The result was that I looked an absolute state. However, having caught myself in the mirror, I now realise that this is pretty much a daily occurrence. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost all self respect, vanity and pride. Presumably, all three did a runner about the same time as I started to deem 10pm a late night.
COVID-19 and working from home probably hastened the demise of my self respect – as ironed shirts and polished shoes were replaced with joggers and slippers – but catching yourself looking like the fall from grace, hero to zero outcast in a Hollywood movie, is a bit of a shocker.
On the days after my revelation in the mirror I began to notice, with some relief, that other dads on the school run also looked like they’d slept on a bench.
It seems that something happens to some men when they reach their mid-40s. They give up caring what other people think and are happy for fellow parents and passersby to assume they are homeless.
Hair is grown, beards and odd facial hair becomes the norm and Superdry jumpers go with everything. A pained, constantly hungover appearance is also central to the look, regardless of whether or not they are actually hungover.
School run fashionistas
However, much to my annoyance – and reluctant envy – there are also middle aged men on the school run who always look catalogue good. Clean, with carefully chosen clothes, hair that has been brushed, shaped and gelled, faces that are stubble free and an energy that should only ever belong to someone who’s high.
These aftershave wafting types aren’t doing the rest of us any favours. They are the model to which we aspire, but which is so far out of reach, we are left feeling woefully inadequate – a real-life ‘them and us’ situation where the majority are struggling to wake up, while the minority effortlessly breeze through the morning, looking like they belong in a Calvin Klein commercial.
Nevertheless, school run etiquette dictates that we must occasionally pass time together, the vagrant dads and the models, exchanging idle chit chat that is as pointless as it is time consuming. Neither party could care less what the other is doing, but the sham continues as you discuss the weather, school goings-on and work, while waiting for your children.
On this last point – work – I am often tempted to lie through my teeth and to test whether the model dads are actually listening or whether they, like me, are not taking in a single word of the other person’s detailed explanation of their working day.
“Yes, busy today. Advanced brain surgery this morning, followed by a meeting with MI5 later. Can’t really talk about it, very hush hush.”
Of course there are occasions when I do have to dress up; weddings, funerals, visits to the in-laws – but in everyday life they are few and far between. Whereas in my pre-fatherhood days, every evening out required personal prep.
The fact that I still have bottles of aftershave that I bought in my twenties is perhaps the only confirmation needed of how few times my wife and I now go out. Indeed, the last time I put aftershave on, my wife asked what the smell was and whether I’d left the gas on.
So, will my mirror-induced revelation change the way I approach my morning routines from this point onwards? Absolutely not. I couldn’t give a monkeys what anybody else thinks about my dress sense and appearance.
I am fully embracing this slipper-wearing time of life and, in my opinion, a school run should involve nothing more than enjoying some precious time with my daughter.
As for 20-year old aftershave, turns out it does smell like gas!