His observational comedy and expert storytelling have made John Bishop one of the country’s top stand-ups.

Now, in his new book, John, 52, talks with humour and poignancy about everything from having kids to adjusting to an empty nest, splitting and reconciling with his wife and coping with depression.

How to be a family man

Being a family man has been the most rewarding and the most disappointing thing I have done in my life.

I have worked hard to be all the things that I thought a family man should be, but I probably could have done better by not trying to run a family like I was picking a five-a-side football team.

To become a family man, the first thing you need is a partner or, as I would call it, a “team captain”.

John Bishop

Melanie became my team captain and, once she was signed up, things started happening. We had our oldest son, Joe, 14 months after we got married.

As our first signing, the arrival of Joe promoted me from just being a married man to being a “family man”.

Joe, Melanie and I were now a team. We had not fully worked on our style of play before we expanded the squad when Luke arrived 18 months after Joe. Twenty months later, Daniel arrived.

John Bishop celebrates with his wife Melanie and children

If you have three children under the age of four, as I did, you have to make choices, because you cannot hold hands with all of them.

For a while, I used a papoose. These things were definitely not around when I was a baby, and if they had been, I am not sure if I can envisage my father’s generation taking to them like we have.

I am not trying to suggest that the generation before us didn’t engage with their children, but let’s just say that the expectations were different.

John Bishop and his wife Melanie and their pet turkey Bernard

My generation are the neurotic ones. Therapists’ offices all over the world are full of patients blaming their parents for their own failings.

I also have three dogs: two English bull terriers, Bilko and Tigger, and one tiny creature of indeterminate breed called Alfie, who is best described as a real dog but smaller.

Dogs have much less complicated brains than children. They have fewer reasons to try and enforce their will or to go against yours. Despite this, Tigger has always insisted on sitting down within the first 50 yards of a walk and forcing whoever is walking her into a dragging contest.

John Bishop

It is exactly the same with children. You can sign them up for the Cubs, Sea Cadets, sports teams, music lessons or the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and they can refuse to go to them without giving a second thought to the opportunity lost.

I suppose what you learn as you get older is that being a parent is bloody hard. The bits that you get right go unnoticed, and the bits you get wrong live with you for ever.

Unwilling children may be like unwilling English bull terriers but it is simply not socially acceptable to put a lead on them and drag them to the Cubs or Sea Scouts, much as you would like to do so.

Being married

Inherent in the title of a “family man” is the fact that the family must remain intact. Or you become a “divorced man” and that is a very different beast.

How to grow old

The term “married man”indicates
that a man has reached the position in life where they are good enough to attract a mate.

If you are a divorced man, the world knows that everything has gone t*ts up.

If you are expecting more wisdom from me here about how to maintain a family, I am afraid I have no magic to offer. I am not the best father in the world and I am not the best husband either. However, I do love my family, in a way that can sometimes feel frightening because, for all of my failings as a family man, I know that it is the only thing in life that is actually truly important to me.

I have been married to Melanie since May 29, 1993.

We had two years apart when the pressures of being young parents of three children, all born within three and half years, plus demanding jobs, meant that we imploded and split up.

Thankfully, after numerous sessions at Relate, Melanie and I managed to see that being together was better for us all than being apart. To me, this is the essence of being a “family” man: being part of something that is better with you being there and which makes you better, even if you sometimes don’t realise it.

Empty nesting

There is an inevitable end to the process of being a family man.

As our boys all arrived so close together, they also left home close together, and Melanie and I were left to cope with what is known as empty-nest syndrome. It’s not easy.

The first night you and your partner are sat in the house after the last child fills a bag and leaves is very strange.

You find yourself looking at each other as if to say, Well, what now?

All of your energies have gone into reaching this point, and now that it has arrived you don’t know what to say. The common enemy – the children – has left, and with them so has the common theme for 90% of your conversations and the glue that has held you together in your common pursuit.

When they leave, it’s inevitable that you and your partner will look at each other and ask, Well, do you want to carry on or just call it quits?

Melanie tried to cope with empty nesting by filling the nest with rescue animals. In addition to our three dogs we now have four horses, two Shetland ponies, chickens, sheep, geese, turkeys and two female pigs, who live in the same area as the chickens.

The animals have been a great distraction.

Without them, I am not sure how we would have coped with the boys leaving.

As the boys have all moved to London, we moved house to be closer to them. They have all moved back home for a month or so while they have been looking for a new flat or job.

However, it does not alter the fact that they will never live permanently in our home again.

We are maybe still a bit in denial about this, though, as Melanie has allocated each of them their own room in our new house. I try to say that all of those rooms are spare rooms but, in my heart, I like the fact that Daniel, Luke and Joe still have their own spaces in the family home.

Despite this, it’s still the ultimate mid-life rite of passage. We know we will never get the chance to be parents again in the way that we were.

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I will never get to sit on a couch and have all three boys draped over me while we watch TV. Melanie will never have another Mother’s Day card painted in school lessons and brought home to hang on the fridge.

I can’t deny that we miss it. I would give everything for just one day where I could pretend to be a horse and have them all ride together on my back again. But I can’t.

That time is passed.

Today, being a family man means waiting for them to visit, and hoping that we all get on well – because it’s not easy telling a bloke in his twenties, who is bigger than you, to go to his room.

Extracted from How to Grow Old by John Bishop, published by Ebury Press at £20.

Text © John Bishop