Comedian David Baddiel on Fatherhood: “It’s The Only Thing That’s Ever Properly Changed Me”

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David Baddiel was the first comedian to sell out Wembley Stadium. Here the British comic, novelist and TV presenter reflects on fatherhood and his foul-mouthed dad.

My dad has Pick’s Disease, a type of dementia the symptoms of which include obscenity, disinhibition, apathy, mood swings and extreme impatience. When the neurologist told me this list of symptoms, I said: “Sorry, does he have a disease of have you just met him?

When we were growing up, my dad was exactly like he is now: sweary, angry, and only able to show his emotions in sweary, angry ways. In a documentary I did about my dad on British TV, at one point, he is told that I’m saying, as a joke, that he never loved us… He replies: “That’s complete bollocks”. That’s the nearest I’ve ever got to my dad telling me he loves me, and tells you what he was like as a father – a man who could only say those words in an aggressive, negative way: loving, maybe, but in an incredibly male way.

My dad influenced my approach
to manhood mainly in reaction to it: I don’t get angry much, and tell my kids I love them all the time. Having said that, I am very sweary.

He never gave me any good advice, ever.

My dad sold Dinky Toys at an antiques market in the latter part of his life. A very famous TV comedian once cane to his stall and bought some of my dad’s merchandise. My dad didn’t know who he was, but later, having been told, went and watched his show. When the very famous TV comedian came back for more toys, my dad said to him: “I saw your show. It was shit.” Soon after, the comedian’s career crumbled. But more importantly, what kind of salesman was my father? We desperately needed money at the time.

I was 37 when I had kids. It’s the only thing that’s ever properly changed me. For the first time, I really felt a psychic shift towards proper empathy, towards thinking about how the world looked to someone else, to thinking about someone else and their needs first. It’s made me, in a small way, but I can only move in small ways, a better person.

Having children is beyond good and bad, beyond hard and easy. These distinctions are meaningless when you have kids, it’s just the story you’re in and you deal with it.

The difference between raising a boy and a girl? My children just are very different. They just are a ridiculous example – sorry for those who would like this not to be true – of nature over nurture. They’ve got the same upbringing, come from the same DNA, but she is very, very girl-like and he is very, very boy-like.

When Ezra was a year old,
I remember him rooting about in my partner’s make up box and thinking: “Oh, OK, maybe he’s going to be quite feminine, gender-fluid, all good.” And then he picked out of it and held up, like the torch on the statue of liberty – I’m not sure what it was doing in there – a screwdriver. Like: “Don’t worry, I’ve found my phallus, dad!”