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.

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.

Baby Proofing Your Relationship – Part 1

This is a precarious subject to write for about, for a variety of reasons: 1) I’m no relationship expert, if there is such a thing, 2) If I ever claim to be an expert in relationships, I ought to be punched in the face, I’m an idiot, and 3) baby isn’t here yet. However, NCT do raise the topic of baby-proofing your relationship in their classes, but don’t really give any answers, so I’m going to give it a go, from a dad’s/husband’s/male co-habiting partner’s perspective. But, because I want a chance to laugh at myself and illustrate how wrong I was, I’ll write Part 2 after baby’s been here for a few weeks and I’ll let you know how I got on!

Communication

That’s got to be a pretty big one, right? If you don’t talk to each other, discuss your hopes and fears, your wishes for the birth and raising of your child, your aches and pains, anxieties and general state of mind, you’re pretty much sunk. Sure, it’s general advice for any relationship, and one I’ve disastrously failed to take in the past. But the need for it is amplified tenfold during the emotional time of pregnancy, and I can imagine hundredfold after your tiny human is with you. Make decisions together, air your fears and grievances. Tell her you love her and that she’s beautiful, not because she needs to hear it (though she does), but because it’s true and that truth will shine from you. Tell her you’re excited, what you’re looking forward to, speculate with her how your baby will look, act, develop, what foods it will like, whether it will get on with the dog or be academically gifted. Discuss your own childhoods, and what bits you thought were great, and which you as parents never want to inflict on your child.

Get Out

This is an important one during the pregnancy: Get out and do stuff. Go to the theatre, the cinema, go out for meals, meet people, go to galleries, see beautiful things, take walks along the river. It could be all too easy to stay inside with a tub of ice-cream and her favourite soap, but going out, doing things together, seeing new things or things that are beautiful and calming is good for all three of you. Despite what everyone tells you, life doesn’t end as soon as the pregnancy test shows positive.

Positivity

Speaking of ‘Positive’: Positivity is going to help. She feels massive, can’t see her feet, struggles to waddle down the street, Facebook and her friends will shower her with unhelpful anecdotes, and she’s about to try and push something the size and weight of a watermelon out of her vagina. If she can’t do that, they’ll cut it out of her, then expect her to figure out breastfeeding, then you have a small fragile human you now have sole responsibility for, for about 20 odd years. By the gods, don’t be a misery guts. Don’t add to the potential negativity, don’t ruminate about all the things that can go wrong, don’t scare her. Make sure you’re informed, sure, but don’t terrify her. Or yourself for that matter, you’re of no use to anyone as an anxious wreck. (No offence to anyone with actual anxiety). Be a beacon of light and positivity, in a maelstrom of uncertainty.

Get Involved

Seriously, don’t be that guy. Go to the NCT, Daisy or other antenatal classes. Read the books. Read the websites. Get the apps. Whenever you can go to the midwife meetings. Definitely go to the scans. Talk to other dads and don’t let them brush you off with embarrassed banalities. You’ll be able to help make informed decisions, you’ll feel part of the process rather than divorced from it, and you just don’t want to be that guy. You know the one I mean. That stereotype of the clueless dad, uninvolved, disinterested, baffled by the ‘womanswork’ going on around you. That guy that’s the reason so many mummy blogs and pregnancy books write articles extorting dads to maybe once in a blue moon maybe try helping out a little bit during pregnancy. Please. Don’t be him.

Preparation

Okay, you’re involved, you’ve ready the books, you’re supportive, open and positive. What else? Well, good news, there’s practical things you can do. Obviously there’s the dishes and general housework. But if you have a few favourite dishes you’re adept at making, make a ton of them and freeze them! Nobody will feel like cooking in those first days after you come home with baby, so having something you both love that you can make with zero effort is a win. Research! There are about 80,000 different baby products being released every half an hour, and the choices are bewildering. If you can help narrow the choices as to which pram to buy, or what the benefits of different cribs, cots and moses baskets are, it will be a big help. Assemble the pram and the cot. If you’re going down that path, decorate the nursery. Pack your own bag for the hospital! (I’ll write a separate article for that). You can’t grow a child, and when it’s here you’ll likely not be able to help feed it for a while. But with a bit of prep, there are practical things you can do, to ease the way.

That’s it, that’s all I have for now. I hope it helps!