We’re not the perfect family. I’m not even sure what that is. Something invented by a marketing department in the 1950s, I imagine, for a billboard selling dish soap. Real families are noisy, messy things that tease, lose tempers and slam doors. They argue at the dinner table and hoard dirty teacups in their rooms.
My new book, Diary of a Wimpy Dad, is much to do with this real life chaos and clutter in a house of three teenage boys; a preteen girl; their busy, working mum – and me, shuffling about in a band tour T-shirt between minor crises, having scaled down my career to allow me to be a stay-at-home dad.
Throughout the book, I variously describe us as the Addams Family, or as a band that’s been on the road together for far too long; the boys as hairstyles on stilts, seemingly unable to enunciate in any articulate way; the girl as pathologically cheerful one minute, and explosively hormonal the next.
This is the family that inhabits a rambling house of cobwebs and questionable art; a house where socks are trying to escape and the garden is trying to break in; where every appliance conspires against us – and at the heart of it all, is a toothless, farting, postman-hating Pointer named Molly.
We brought Molly home as a pup, soon as the youngest was toddling. In no time, she became part of the madness, dragged around by the ears by a doting girl, never complaining, even when made to wear a cloak for a co-starring role in a princess play and given out to for shaking off her paper crown.
I don’t reckon any of our kids can recall a time before Molly, before every door in the house was scored by her persistent scratching (she insisted on the freedom to roam, room to room, to check on everyone, which she would do by standing and staring adoringly before being ejected for farting).
Certainly, in the magic little window onto the mayhem of our daily lives that is Diary of a Wimpy Dad, it is as though there has always been Molly, as though she is somehow the very manifestation of our perfect imperfection; loud and messy and crazy and funny and utterly, unconditionally loved.
Take it that even though Molly isn’t mentioned in every chapter, she’s there, whimpering at the window as she waits for the postman, or face plopped in my lap under every dinner table, or standing in the kitchen barking at nothing because that’s how she’s trained us to give her a snack.
There’s at least one chapter, one of the few in which everyone isn’t either arguing, banging around, or begging the rest of the family to ‘for God’s sake please pretend to be normal’, where there’s a hint that I realise Molly isn’t getting any younger, but that I can’t imagine the house without her.
But where the book ends, life goes on. We got a second dog because Molly was turning twelve, and we needed her to teach Pepper how to wait in the front window to attack the glass when the postman came, how to roll in dead things and how to clear the room with a fart. Which she did.
Our teenagers began to turn into twentysomethings. Much of the chaos was replaced by the quiet of college. The house was changing. People began to move on. We were six, then five, then only four of us were left at home, and though we didn’t notice at first, all the while, Molly’s health was declining.
There were times when Molly simply couldn’t get out of her basket, and she began to lose bladder control. We took her to the vet. The problem was chronic arthritis and kidney failure, and it would get worse. “She’s very, very old,” said the vet. My wife and I knew we needed a difficult family talk.
“We’re trying to decide what to do about Molly,” is how we broached it. The boys, young men by now, understood right away what had to be done. The youngest dissolved in tears. The eldest, now living in Brussels, arranged to come home, and then we set a date to have our Molly put to sleep.
That night I stayed up after everyone had gone to bed. Molly staggered after me from room to room. When she paid her nightly visit to the kitchen to bark at nothing, I videoed her, then sat beside her on the floor, put my arms around her neck, smelled the top of her head, and sobbed like a child.
Molly’s last two weeks were sort of like Christmas, in a strange way. The whole family was home and we hung out together in the living room choosing movies to download and watch while Molly snored on her pouf. Everyone was being nice. It wasn’t so much a sadness in the air as a sort of reverence.
The day came and we had presents for Molly, little dog snacks wrapped in gift paper. We all took her for a little walk. We’d decided that if one of us felt we shouldn’t go through with it, right up to the minute we arrived at the vet with Molly for the last time, we would turn around and take her home.
We all squashed into our tiny car. The youngest was in the back with Molly, but it was too much and she asked to be let out before we got to the vet. When they gave Molly her final injection, our eldest had us all put a hand on Molly to feel her heart, so strong to the end, until she sighed and it stopped.
Each of us dealt with grief in our own way. For days, I could still feel Molly, a shadow nearby. I kept turning to see her only to find myself surprised she wasn’t there. We drifted back to the things we had to do. That Christmas, the kids put a photo book together of Molly’s life for us and I cried again.
It’s more than a year on and we still haven’t dealt with Molly’s kennel, because I can’t bear the idea that some toy or bone she treasured might still be stashed at the back behind her blanket. I think of her often though, and vividly imagine the feel of her fur under my hands, and the smell of her head.
Our family becomes less chaotic month by month as the children of Diary of Wimpy Dad continue to grow and mature. I’m not sure what way we are evolving, or where we’ll all someday be. But I know that the Molly shaped hole in each of us is something we will all share, together, as a family, forever.
Diary of a Wimpy Dad by David Diebold is out now, priced €11.95. It’s dedicated: ‘To Molly, Queen of Farts. She was a good dog.’