To The Shires

According to Instagram, I’ve been gone for about three months now, from this account, from this online identity. In that timeframe, there have been office moves, work stress, and all the pressure on a family that a house move can bring. That barely scrapes the murky barrel of anguish and crisis of the last three months, but it’s all I’ve got for you just now I’m afraid.

So now, in negation of my London Daddy identity, we’re out in the English Shires. Land of open space, cheaper houses, reduced crime, and endless pubs. Not that I ever struggled for pubs, or crime for that matter, back in West London, but space was the big issue. A two-bedroom flat can be small for two big personalities, and it’s positively minuscule with four of them.

We’ve had nursery dramas, from tears at the departure from one, to tears at the arrival of another. Then more tears trying to get to and from this new nursery, down country roads where giant SUV/tanks would insist on driving 2 inches from your rear bumper if you didn’t hurtle around blind corners at 60mph. To then yet more tears at the cost of removing Elodie from one nursery early, to settle her into a third new nursery in a month. Thankfully that’s all settled now, and there are far less tears.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might have it’s limitations (does Wifi fit into ‘Physiological Needs’?), but we’ve spent quite a bit of time in the bottom half of the pyramid. It’s left no time for anything else, outside of the home, outside of the self.

We’re still not quite there. Just because there’s a rapprochement within the realm of ‘self actualisation’, there’s a lot to do amongst the Esteem needs. But we’re taking one day at a time.

And a misnomer or not, London Daddy is back.

…Until I Became A Father

There’s a particular phrase I hear from some dads, spread thinly throughout the year, but clustered around Father’s Day:

“I didn’t know what it was to be a man until the day I became a father”.

It’s a lovely sentiment at first glance, and I’m pleased that this realisation of how to be, finally came.

But it does make me admire the mother of your child or children: Apparently she had the foresight and trust that you’d finally learn to become a real, fully rounded person. Who can say how much of a gamble that might have been for her? To trust that, once the baby was here, you learn the required skills of empathy and responsibility.

Personally if I hadn’t, eventually, learnt how to become an actual human being instead of a travesty in shoes there’s not a chance Elodie’s mum would have wanted to procreate with me. I needed to show empathy, responsibility for my actions, demonstrate a willingness and ability to be the father of our child. But before that child was conceived, not afterwards. And it’s still a work in progress.

This, after all, instead really a dig at men who become better people due to a baby-shaped epiphany. Because we can always be better. We must always be better. Stasis is death and decay and our children deserve better than that.

Dads and Daughters – The Overprotective Father Trope

I’ve not posted in a while, partly because I’m a) tired a lot and b) I’m still concerned that a post on toxic masculinity in the InstaDad and Dad Blogger community isn’t going to go down very well. But this is related so I’ll just go ahead.

Everyone knows the trope of the over-protective father of a daughter. The “I’m just protecting her from boys like I was” and “she may never date”, or “I will generally hint I will intimidate, shoot or otherwise harm the future boys in my daughter’s life”. It’s pretty common, people say it a lot and, just for the sake of form, I’ve occasionally gone along with it. Nothing makes people feel quite so comfortable as fulfilling their behavioural expectations, no matter how ill-considered, wrong-brained or toxic.

Because it is stupid. First of all, parents of boys, the first bit is on you. Don’t spread your toxic, outdated gender tropes to your boys and this meme dies on the vine instantly. Boys will not be boys, they behave as they are taught is acceptable. Behaviour is a social construct. Do something about it.

But since I can’t count on a paradigm shift in social norms sometime in the next decade or two, here’s what I’m going to do for my part:

  • Keep writing posts like this
  • Including that one about toxic masculinity in social media
  • Teach my daughter about consent
  • Do my utmost to make her a confident, self-assured young woman.

Because there’s no point complaining about the state of the world. We must create the change we want to see.

Transition

I’ve been very lucky. Most fathers get a few weeks of paternity leave after their child is born, before their contact is cut brutally short to evenings and weekends. Instead, for the last five months I’ve been at home with the baby, interacting with her, spending time with her, singing silly made-up songs to her, catering to her every whim. It’s been tiring, a dramatic change of pace from all of my previous personas; ‘Dad’ was just something I loved being. Obviously I still have that identity, but the parameters have reverted back to the more traditional; an office-based job now takes up the bulk of my day.

I know most fathers go through this sooner than I have. I know mums go through this when they return to work after their maternity leave. I’ve been very lucky. But it’s no less of a wrench handing the baby over to strangers in the morning, to not see her again for 12 hours. I feel like I’m missing out on her development, on those little milestones that come thick and fast in that all-important first year.

I’m forever tempted to phone up the nursery, to ask them what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, what she’s been eating, whether she’s had a nap, what they’re doing with her. Are they giving her enough tummy time? Introducing her to textures and toys and sounds and languages? Will the nursery staff hear her first words? See her crawl for the first time? Are they forming a close bond with her? Will it be a stronger bond than I had with her?

What if she doesn’t recognise or like me any more…

Irrational fears, I know. And someone once told me that feelings, while real, aren’t reality.
But that’s an intellectualisation, and it’s not going to quash my fears or help me not miss the baby.
I have to learn to become a different kind of father now. Learn to rely on others.
It’s important.
But I don’t have to like it.

Four Things for Four Months

Originally posted on The FMLY Man blog.

“Four months” doesn’t sound like a lot of time. And yet somehow it feels like our little one has been here forever, retconned into all past memories. I can no longer imagine or remember a time without her, just like I can’t remember a time I wasn’t tired.

In these four months I’ve learnt that every day is precious. So much about the little person in your life can, and will, change on a daily basis. No one day is like another, and every day is a gift. Especially the day she first woke up, saw me, and gave me the biggest grin in the world. If I wasn’t hopelessly enraptured before, I was then.

I’ve learnt that family is what you make it. Outside of your little family unit, there are a number of people related to you by blood or other means, friends, acquaintances and random passersby. From within this social circle will come the champions, the supporters, the genuinely interested parties. It may surprise you who those people are. It may surprise you who those people aren’t.

Planning is super-important and nigh-impossible. There are so many things in daily baby daycare that need to happen. And without a bit of forethought to meals, activities and schedules, they’re just not going to happen, something always slips through the cracks. The laissez-faire, ad hoc life is not for you any more! Saying that though, try not to plan too much, because that deftly crafted battleplan isn’t going to survive contact with the enemy. Running a little behind for an appointment? Surprise outfit-ruining aPoo-calypse! Need to make a quick phonecall? Screaming fit!

Time runs differently now that you have a little one in your life. I don’t just mean the inability to fully appreciate how old she is, how long she’s been with you. Things just take longer now. That might be because just going to the shops to get milk is now an epic undertaking involving multiple layers of clothes, possibly vehicles, baby bag etc. It might be because when you’re tired, time stretches and distends in ways you’d never imagined. Or it might just be that suddenly there’s nothing more important in your life than this small being, and everything else, including time, just pales into insignificance.

Flying Solo

Sometimes things don’t go how you imagined. Sometimes life veers a little off-road, and you just have to steer around the worst of the bumps and forge a new path through the undergrowth. Sometimes a list of aphorisms becomes tedious and trite.

Sometimes mummy unavoidably has to go away for 36 hours and daddy has to look after the baby and the dog on his own for the first time.

The three of us do day shifts together plenty of times, but this is the first time we’ve done nights without mum at hand, and the first time we’ve been away from mum for this length of time since birth. Emotionally it’s hard for me, but nowhere near as hard as it is for her, being away from our little bundle of joy and poop.

There’s the practical side, of course, the care of a two month old baby without support, without reprieve, without assistance. Nobody to watch the baby while I quickly have a shower in record time, or to grab a nappy if they’re too far away, nobody to take a go at trying to soothe the poor mite when she’s gone into a random meltdown. Nobody to make a cup of coffee or a quick snack or run to the shop to buy some wipes.

These trials aren’t new, every stay-at-home parent, of any family arrangement, finds themselves in this situation at one point or another; maybe even every day. But for me, for all of us, it was all new. Without nearby family or a support network of any kind, flying solo with such a young baby was an emotional trial. Missing mum, all of us, every moment, but also knowing that if things went south, there would be no cavalry; no backstop, and no reprieve until mummy got home.

The diaspora of our modern lives often means those most able and willing to help are scattered around the country or even the world. NCT groups, when they work, are honestly more geared around new mums than stay-at-home dads. Society still sometimes has a point-and-stare response to a man walking around town with a tiny baby in a sling without a suitable maternal chaperone. We have to get better at this. There has to be more support; not necessarily for anything specific. But just to feel that even when flying solo, there’s a wingman somewhere out there to stop us using too many euphemisms and similies.

Nearly new father, nearly-new anxiety

Over the course of the last eight months, I’ve lost track of how often people have asked me whether impending fatherhood scares me. Whether I feel anxious, incapable, overwhelmed or ill-prepared. But apart from low-level concerns about work, money, and making sure my partner has enough of the right kind of food and sleep, what I have been unprepared for is the increasing worry for the welfare of my ladies. It feels like it’s come out of nowhere. Where previously I may have been mildly cautious, reasonable and rational, now I worry all the time. Maybe it’s the fact that everything else has gone pretty much smoothly so far, and we’re nearly at the gates of transition, so to speak, that’s amplifying my concerns. It makes it hard to concentrate on things out of worry, the increased heart rate of anxiety thundering in your ears while you try to concentrate on an important task.

I do wonder if it’s the lack of control. After our daughter is born, there are plenty of things that I can do, in terms of caring for her, raising her, protecting her and looking out for her. My partner’s health will not be affected by the tiny human growing inside of her. But for now, everything is in the hands of doctors and midwives and the gods and nobody is above suspicion. Especially not the gods. I feel that when she’s born, there are real things that can be worried about and dealt with. Right now trying to control the uncontrollable, while not knowing the unknowable, is driving me up the wall.

Only 24 days to go…