Fatherhood is filled with fun noises: the night-time scream which heralds a day of falling asleep at one’s desk, or the wet, convulsive sound of a full-bottle milk vomit spring to mind.
But if you’re in the market for unironic, grin-inducing noises, it’s hard to beat a child’s interpretation of a roaring combustion engine.
Chicken or Egg
The truth is that I’m not sure which came first: a prompt from me, in the shape of a half baked engine noise made whilst playing with his toy cars, or an honest-to-goodness-impersonation-of-the-vehicles-passing-the-house from David. But I do know that he ‘got’ the connection between his tiny toys and the great metal beasts rolling around on the road almost instantaneously.
The process began on David’s first birthday, when both sets of grandparents presented him with automotive gifts.
I’m sure they were working on the basis that boys get cars, girls get dolls or something similarly traditional; sentiments I would disagree with in principle, but which I think are relatively harmless and commonplace. What none of us could have predicted was how strongly David would respond to this particular kind of toy.
Within a few weeks, wooden cars were the preferred source of amusement in the house. This quickly escalated to a love of the wooden truck, closely followed by anything else with wheels.
All the time, as his passion grew, David’s play was punctuated with that signature sound: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!
The Next Level (or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the Reversing Alarm’)
I have a much clearer recollection of the young man’s next milestone. It started with me trying to be a smart-arse and ended in almost intolerable cuteness.
Ordinarily, our play would work like this:
- David would pick up a car, then drive it back and forward exclaiming: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!
- In 50% of cases, I would take one of the other cars and join in, to his delight.
- If I didn’t immediately join in, David would pick up another car of his own accord and present it to me with an urgent grunt.
- I would then consider myself ‘told’ and join in, making engine noises of my own.
Sitting on the rug, playing with his wooden truck, I decided to mix it up a little. I drove the truck forward in the customary manner then, after a few seconds, stopped and began slowly reversing it whilst projecting a steady beeping in my best sing-song voice.
If I’d known just how quickly David would seize on this new and enthralling detail, I might have paused for a moment before introducing it… but probably not.
Within minutes, he was alternating enthusiastically between growling acceleration and the high-pitched metronome of the reversing alarm. This habit has not left him since; endearingly he makes no distinction between forward and backward motion when deploying either sound.
Why stop at Trucks?
At some point during an unsettled phase, I hit upon the idea of streaming videos of vehicles on my phone to entertain a very tired and ratty David. The ploy was an instant hit.
Searching for new videos to show him, I happened upon a cache of clips featuring plant machinery: from the official promo videos produced by JCB, to the shaky, hand filmed footage of an earth mover which someone had recorded in their own street. David’s reaction was incredibly enthusiastic, particularly when one of the diggers so depicted began to emit a reversing alarm.
“Beep! Beep! Beep!” he responded, as if he had finally encountered something with which he could have a sensible conversation.
Over the following weeks, toy diggers rose to the top of his playtime food-chain. His favourite, from the Early Learning Centre, even makes its own (oft-copied) engine sound at the push of a button.
Reaching the Pinnacle
A few weeks ago, my partner emailed me a picture which represents perhaps the high point of David’s life so far – at least in his opinion.
After months of admiring and coveting the vehicles of others from afar, David finally found himself behind the wheel. Admittedly, this particular model had all the technical sophistication of Fred Flintstone’s favourite drive, but that mattered little: a landmark had been reached.
Reports suggest that David, for once in his life, made very little noise whilst in the car. He simply beamed, rolled it around and beamed some more.
So he likes cars. What’s your point?
My point is this: I have no special affection for motor vehicles or plant equipment – but I have, for the first time, been able to appreciate what it is like to encourage my child in an interest I don’t share.
Often, I’ve wondered if I would be disappointed should David fail to share my love of say, Science Fiction, or tabletop gaming. What I’ve realised is that it’s completely lopsided to think about his interests in those terms.
It’s not my job to notice and react to the ‘gaps’ in David’s spectrum of enthusiasm, because as human beings our passions aren’t concerned with what we don’t care about. They’re affirmative statements about the things that seize our attention, that grab hold of us and stake a claim to territory in the landscape of our brains.
I won’t have time to worry about the places where our interests as Father and Son don’t overlap, because I’ll be too busy marveling at the things which do excite him and thinking about how to help him milk the most enjoyment from them. David’s happy, roaring engine sounds make it irrelevant whether, in the future, he cares about Star Wars or not: right here and now, his eyes shine at the sight of Haulage yards and Fire Engines, Tractors and Fiat Puntos.
I’m going to focus on eliciting more and more of those happy reactions… and I already know where I’m heading next.