“Do you hear that? Daddy is going to abuse us for his stories!”

Patrick van Rhijn (52) is a novelist and freelance TV editor. He lived all over the world and has five children. For his columns he draws on an endless source of recognizable and remarkable stories about fatherhood.

It is well past dinner time and our stomachs are rumbling after a day of shopping. Together with Rikki, my 13-year-old teenage princess, and Jazz, my 11-year-old eighth grader, I drive on the A20 ring road near Amsterdam.

Strong adolescent opinion

In the distance the building of the Telegraaf. The last time I wrote columns there (for the Saturday supplement Woman, from 2016 to 2018, ed.) The kids in my backseat were still so small that they had no idea what their father was doing. My novels also date from the time when those two were still fluid. But times change. Both Rikki and Jazz now have strong opinions about my hair, my tummy, my choice of clothes, my dance moves, my dating life, the food I make for them every day, the way I wash their clothes, the jokes I make in front of them of their friends and girlfriends, why they are not allowed a second ice cream and yes, about what not? I zoom past a truck. I look in my rearview mirror with light but cheerful apprehension. There they are, those dots. The TikTok sounds from their mobile phones fill the car.

Writing about fatherhood

‘Hey babes,’ I say, ‘guess what, I spoke to some people from Kek Mama yesterday, and I will be writing a weekly column again in the near future. About my paternity. Enough bizarre stories to tell with five kids…’

Not a single response. Then, suddenly – as if my words entered her in slow motion – a deadly look. From Ricky. She even lowers her phone. ‘Your paternity?! You mean about us!’

‘Let’s see… I’m a father, among others of you. Um… yes. Also about you.’ Through the mirror I smile at her with exaggerated bared teeth.

‘Is he going to make his lame jokes there too! On our backs!’

But Rikki doesn’t want to know about it. ‘Yes, bye,’ she says, ‘I didn’t think so, Daddy!’ Then she nudges her brother. ‘Jazz! Hey, do you hear that?’

Jazz looks up from his phone in dismay. ‘What?’

‘Do you hear that? Daddy is going to abuse us for his stories! He’s going to write columns for some platform for parents. Is he going to make his lame jokes there too! On our backs!’

Read also: Patrick has five children with five mothers: “But”, I say to my colleagues, “nothing is what it seems”

In exchange for Starbucks

My son shrugs and puts a Haribo piglet in his mouth. “Buckle.” Then he looks at me. ‘Nice, Dad… Do I get credits too? Ten bucks per column I’m in!’

I laugh out loud. ‘Yes, bye.’ Now I adopt a supposedly menacing tone. ‘But if you ever act ugly to your sister or you say something very embarrassing, it can just end up in a column from now on.’

I wink at him in the rearview mirror, but Jazz has already disappeared into his screen. He lets out a squeal of excitement. Something about reaching ‘a new world’, in Roblox.

Rikki suddenly agrees with her brother’s twist. Her face is suddenly in a no-shot-is-always-wrong-because-I-see-opportunity position. ‘Okay Dad,’ she says, ‘I know it’s well done. Every time you mention me in a column you have to take me to Starbucks as payment.’ She looks at me smugly.

“Every time you mention me in a column, take me to Starbucks as payment.”

‘No way,’ I reply with a laugh, ‘butrrr, but, but…’ I pause for a moment. “As a show of goodwill, I’m willing to take you to a fast-food restaurant.”

Excitement and cheers in the backseat. Their selective hearing is now ready. As they think aloud about which menu and drink to choose, I ask, “So that’s a deal?”

“Deal!” they shout in unison.

With a big smile I take the exit towards the Mac. I won’t tell them that I was actually planning to anyway. Yes, you don’t think that after a day of shopping in the store I will also cook for those guests, do you? Let’s just hope they don’t get to see this ‘story’.

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