Toby Young Toby Young

How can I write like that about my family? Easy. My wife isn’t reading

People often ask how I get away with writing about my wife so often. Doesn’t Caroline mind being cast as the matronly foil to my errant schoolboy? I’d love to say that she perches on my shoulder, chortling with pleasure as she vets every word, but the truth is she never bothers to read any of my stuff. That’s how I get away with it.

The same is also true of my children, which is just as well considering the things I write about them. In last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph, for instance, I wrote a 1,600-word essay about why men with demanding jobs are less likely to complain about their ‘work-life balance’ than high-flying career women. The answer, I said, is that most fathers of young children aren’t too fussed about missing out on those ‘special’ moments, such as their five-year-old’s debut in the school play. As the father of four kids under ten, I’ve had quite enough of that particular ‘magic’, thank you very much. I would prefer to spend less time with my children, not more.

The article carried on in this vein, documenting the daily horrors of bath-and-bed, the miseries of homework, etc. It wasn’t meant to be taken literally — I wouldn’t really prefer to stick pins in my eyes than read another Dr Seuss book to my four-year-old. Rather, it contained a kernel of truth that was wrapped up in layers of exaggeration, mainly for comic effect.

But I don’t suppose my kids would have understood it in this way if they’d read it. Irony isn’t their strong suit. Not a problem at the moment, obviously — they take even less interest in my work than Caroline — but what about the future? After the piece was published, it dawned on me that it will be preserved forever on the internet.

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