Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Gareth, Leo and Clement

Name: Gareth

Leo and Clement (5 and 2)


Expectations of fatherhood:
I expected things to be hard, for there to be sleepless nights, and lots of crying. The amount of times I heard, "Ooooh, you're not going to know what's hit you," during the pregnancy from other men perturbed me and I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to it. I blocked things out and probably pretended it wasn't happening. It's all a little bit abstract for men; they don't suffer any sickness, have any pain, feel someone kicking inside them. All I felt I could do was offer sympathy and nod and smile because it wasn't effecting me, yet! 

I had never had any designs on becoming a father; it made me feel uncomfortable if I got involved in conversations at work about the subject. I can probably trace this feeling back to an event that happened when I was 10. Holding my newly born cousin for the first time and the whole room seemed to scream at me because I wasn't holding her head properly. That episode really effected me and I always politely declined to hold babies, if the opportunity arose, for years after.

Reality of fatherhood: The reality was incredibly different from what I thought it would be. I found the transition to being a father fairly easy, much to my surprise as I'd expected to be a bit of failure. The enjoyment I get from spending time with my boys is unparalleled. Of course you have to make certain sacrifices and I thought that giving these things up would bother me a lot more than they actually did. I've described the feeling to my Wife, Jane, as a door shutting on my previous life, and I honestly can't remember what I used to do with my time before the children came along! Don't get me wrong, it isn't always easy, life isn't it it? It's far more interesting though, and second time around, with Clement, has been made the whole experience of being a father of two energetic boys, simply fantastic. 

Taking your children home: Bringing Leo home was a surreal experience. We left the house on the Wednesday morning about 6am, in an ambulance - we had been due to have a home birth and had a water bath set up in the living room. Things happened rather quickly though and I only managed to get about 6 inches if water in it. Jane gave birth some 3 hours later at 09:01. We were home, with our baby, just after lunch. We didn't have a manual, no one to give us any training we just got on with it I suppose! We had a couple of visitors, drank some Champagne and started being parents. I do remember one particular day, the Sunday after Leo was born, we had visitors all day. Every time someone left, someone else seemed to arrive. When the final visitors left at 6pm we were both worn out and emotional. When we brought Clement home, things weren't as strange, we actually knew what we were doing. We did get help from Janes Dad and Stepmum, they were incredibly supportive and their help in the first few days was invaluable. 

The best/worse advice: I didn't really get any advice. Just the negative comments on how it was going to ruin my life!

The hardest Part of fatherhood:
Wondering whether I'm being a good dad, especially when I'm out and about you feel the world is watching you and judging you on how you deal with certain situations! I put this down to the lame stereotype of dads on TV who can't control the kids, burn dinner etc. Just for the record, I'm a good cook and I can control my children...most of the time! Vomit is one of the hardest things to deal with, In the middle of the night. It's always in the middle of the night.

The best parts of fatherhood:
for me it's the laughter, the silliness, the hugs, the conversations. Leo asks so any questions, he has a real interest in transport and the world around him. I love his enthusiasm. Clement loves to be out and about amongst people, he has a real lust for life! Chasing him around the shops is always good fun. I love how different they are, but share many characteristics.

Has it fatherhood changed you?
On the whole, yes. I used to be a bit of a raver, I love house music and would spend most weekends in clubs. For obvious reasons I had to hang up my dancing shoes, although they do sometimes get an airing for special occasions. As I mentioned earlier, the thought of having children used to bring me out in hives, but now I have two boys that I adore and love working with children (having recently worked as teaching assistant).

Hopes for your family:
I want us all to be happy first and foremost. I've recently given up working as teaching assistant at a school in North Manchester to become a stay at home dad. Two of us working just wasn't practical and was causing strain in our marriage. Thankfully, almost over night, the stress has gone and life is much easier. Jane has recently been promoted at school and is working 10 and 11 hour days at the moment. I'm pleased I can do all the housework, drop kids off at school and nursery and have dinner on the table when she comes in! I will return to work in the future as I have a real passion for working with children. I really want the kids to do well at school, I was never pushed, never encouraged and pretty much left to drift during my time at high school. I was bright enough, I just needed a bit of direction. It worries me that could happen to my boys, Leo is a sensitive soul and the thought of him at high school does concern me a little. It's up to Jane and I to ensure they are both on the right path.

Advice for new and expectant fathers:
Love is the most important thing you can give your child, don't get bogged down in books, don't get overly concerned about buying gadgets that tell you how wam or cold it is, ignore any advice that starts with a deep influx of breath, breast isn't always best, be you, stay calm, enjoy the ride.

More info: "Breast is best" is a slogan you might find in George Orwell's '1984' and it's a slogan that, quite frankly, gets on my tits. Not all women can breast feed; it's just not going to happen, it's one of those things. However, these women are treated as some kind of pariahs. Both our boys weren't breast-fed, (we had planned too) it meant I did my bit. I did my fair share of night feeds, Jane and I were a team. I didn't pressure her, unlike the midwife who wasn't going to let us leave the hospital unless Clement had latched on. Another thing, co-sleeping. There seems to be a huge deal about it in our culture. We co-slept with Leo from 6 months onwards and often felt, on meeting other parents who's children were programmed to go to bed at 6:30 every night, that we were some how being week and doing things wrong. We weren't.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Danny, Bess and Teddy

Name: Danny 

Children: Bess, 5 and Teddy, 2

Location: Levenshulme, Manchester

Expectations of Fatherhood: To be honest, I expected to be an amazing dad and it would all come very easy for me. For as long as I can remember people had said "Oooo you'd be an amazing dad". This was not based on any experience, or evidence. I didn't look after my nieces or nephew at all, and truth be told hadn't really spent any quality time with them. I had babysat a few times as a teenager, but this mainly consisted of eating their biscuits and watching Blackadder. So I figured there must just be something intrinsically 'fatherly' about me which others could see.

I had always wanted to be a dad, was desperate to be one really, but it had never happened. I even thought of adopting as a single parent, I so wanted it. When I was 37, I resigned myself that being a father wasn't going to happen, I would just be the best uncle I could be. It was soon after this that I got together with the love of my life, Janet. She was just the perfect person to start a family with; she was passionate about positive parenting and making sure our children fulfilled their true potential. We planned to get married two years after we got engaged (to give us time to have a baby - a family was our priority). Very soon after getting engaged, Janet was pregnant with Bess. Finally, I thought, my chance to show what an amazing, sorted, calm father I was.

Reality of Fatherhood: Hmmm... It didn't quite work out as I thought. Don't get me wrong, there are times that are sorted and calm- but this isn't the default position and a lot of being a father didn't come easily for me. I am a primary school teacher, I have taught nearly 450 children, and each and every one of them would be aghast if they saw how much Bess and Teddy ignore me, outwit me, do the opposite of what I ask and generally give me the run around. They also wouldn't understand how I love Bess and Teddy unconditionally and how I am actually proud to have such strong willed, confident children who want to mould the world to their will and not the other way round.

My first traditional bit of fatherhood was when Bess was born. We didn't know Bess' sex before she was born, so when she was (via C section) I asked the doctor if I could tell Janet if we had a boy or girl. When the doctor showed Bess to me, I checked and for a split second I thought, "We have a girl. Is she? Is that what a girl looks like? Yes, definitely a girl" - well that's what happens to your brain after a 33 hour labour. I turned to Janet and said, "It's a ggggggiiirlll" and had my first real cry as a father.

Crying is a reality of my fatherhood. I have never hidden my emotions under a bushel; I remember bawling my eyes out to the last episode of 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' when I was 8 or 9! The tears I shed for my children are generally happy tears (unlike the end of IAHHM which is incredibly sad - but still doesn't make up for the shows blatant racism). These tears of joy can be from watching Bess read to Teddy, watching Bess in her nursery nativity play or Teddy just being Teddy. 

When I first held Teddy, I cried uncontrollably. However, these weren't happy tears; I was filled with guilt. Guilt because I loved someone as much as I loved Bess. I kept saying "I'm sorry Bess", whilst looking down at this new born perfection. I didn't love Bess any less, it was just that my love had grown to encompass another child. These feelings had come out of nowhere, and I was really struggling to cope. Even though I understood the guilt had no basis, I couldn't stop. Bless Janet, she had just given birth to a 9lb 5 oz baby and she now had to reassure her big, blubbering husband that it was all ok and Bess knew I loved her. I managed to get myself together, and Janet got me to ring round with the good news (to get me out of the room I have no doubt). Well, as you can imagine this started me off again. Crying is good. I am by no means the sort of bloke who would go into the woods for some primal scream therapy and random hugging, but you are helping no-one in your new family if you can't let your feelings out and claim them for what they are.

Responsibility is a reality of my fatherhood. The weight of responsibility is enormous, it can overwhelm you if you are not careful. The care, love and upbringing of Bess and Teddy is shared between Janet and I. We do our best everyday. I feel an extra responsibility to provide for my family. I returned to work and Janet devoted her every waking hour to making sure Bess and Teddy soared to the stars. This wasn't any traditional gender role thing (Janet is also a primary school teacher, and a much better one than me), we both knew that she was the best person to make sure they shine. Janet took them to every baby group going, whereas I would have been trying to get them into Xbox and occasionally popping to the park. I did promise Janet that I would make sure she didn't have to go back to work until she wanted to. I am pleased to say she hasn't had to go back to teaching since Bess was born. Janet now runs her own cake business from home, and I work as a tutor and exam marker (as well as teaching full time). I do feel proud that I have provided enough financial support for Janet to be the mummy she has always wanted to be.

Tiredness is a reality of my fatherhood. Everyone knows they are going to be tired when they have children - just think about everything you have to do for them. Bess and Teddy were/ are breast fed, so I didn't have to do any 1 o'clock feeds, but I was determined that Janet got as much sleep as she could. So I would take the children downstairs and they would fall asleep on my lap, I would stay awake for as long as I could so Janet could rest. It might sound like a heroic thing to do, but I was quite happy playing on the Xbox till the early hours (I have just noticed I have mentioned Xbox in the last two paragraphs, be rest assured I am not being sponsored by them... But if Bill Gates wanted to send me a new one, then fine). It has never been the mental tiredness that has gotten to me, it's the physical tiredness. The almost constant tidying up, picking stuff up, putting stuff away and washing stuff; only to turn around and see that Teddy has been following me about spitting out apple skin onto the floor or emptying a jigsaw on the cat. So doing it all again and again and again.

Poo is a reality of my fatherhood. I dealt with Bess' and Teddy's early poos in hospital - it was hard to eat Marmite for a while after- and it has been a constant in my life ever since. They have both only been in cotton nappies so there is no quick disposal method. I really, really can't wait for Teddy to be potty trained. I really can't wait. 

Joy is the reality of my fatherhood. Just pure, unadulterated joy at everything they do. Today we had a parents evening at Bess' class and I was almost in happy tears because I was so proud of her. Also today, Teddy was sat in a cardboard box singing and dancing to Gangnam Style to himself. Pure, unadulterated joy.

Taking your child home for the first time: I don't drive (and at the time of Bess' birth neither did Janet) so I remember practicing to fit the car seat in my sister in law's car. We assumed we would have to take Bess home in a taxi. Janet and Bess were in St Mary's for 5 days, because of the C-section, and when we were told we could leave I was terrified- they were being so well looked after in hospital, how could I do it? We decided that a taxi wasn't going to work. We'd be too nervous. Bess' future Godmother came and took us home. She was so careful and left us to go into our house alone- she handled it perfectly. We did return home in a taxi with Teddy, an excellent example of being more relaxed with your second child. All credit to the taxi driver, he drove with the utmost care and consideration.

We toasted both children with Champagne when they came home. Bess, in a very weary clink of glasses over her Moses basket, and Teddy, when a hyper-excited Bess had finally gone to bed.

As a child I'd loved the TV series 'Roots' and I wanted to present my children to the universe, like Kunta Kinte's father does. When it came down to it, I realised that I didn't have the nerve to hold them aloft over my head and say, "look Bess/ Teddy, the only thing greater than you". The garden of our little terraced house was not quite the rolling Gambian Savannah, but I did take them outside (wrapped up and held securely next to me) and showed them the universe- as well as showing the universe them. I said something like, "this is the universe and the world, you can do want ever you want in it and daddy and mummy will be there for you". I then hurried back in, to the security of the home. It sounds a bit pretentious now I write it, but so be it. I just remember it being something I really wanted to do. I meant every word.

The best/worse advice on being a father: The worse advice I got was that I should get a dummy for Bess. This was when we were going through a continuous crying stage with Bess. I said to Janet (who I knew was anti-dummy) that we should try one. Janet- to her credit- kept calm and told me to research ear infections, delayed speech etc. I googled dummies and these issues, went back to Janet and said ‘fair enough no dummy’. Janet's initial reaction could have been a lot worse, but I think she had just had a glass of wine before I brought it up :)

There is a bit of advice that I have always tried to follow, and it fits into being a father perfectly - choose your battles. There are times when trying to get your way is not worth it. For example, if Bess wants to wear her trainers for a country walk but I might think that wellies would be better, is this a battle worth fighting? Probably not for me. It's not that important. Janet often reminds me: "Remember you're the grown up" (when she says this I fall to the floor crying, 'not fair not fair'). The trainers are more important in Bess' mind than the wellies are in mine. So, as the grown up, I should back down gracefully. 

Buy strong coffee and a cafetiere was the advice from my brother in law. Great advice - especially in the first months. 

Janet bought me a book from the charity shop called 'The Expectant Father’; it was to be a prop for when I told my mum we were expecting a baby (I sat at her dining table casually reading it, until she noticed the title). On the train coming back from my mum's I randomly opened it up and started reading the best advice I've had. It was about supporting your wife during and after pregnancy by making sure you did your share of the housework etc. Janet breast feeds on demand, works incredibly hard raising our children full time and needs some down time. I do every job I can around the house to make sure she has some down time. For example, I get both children ready in the mornings so Janet has some more sleep. I am not trying to say, 'aren't I brilliant' (though I am), it's just that if I didn't do it I would feel so flipping guilty for not doing my bit, my share.

The hardest part of being a father: Worry. When Bess was a baby I worried constantly about room temperature. It was something I could control and focus on. There was a room thermometer in every room, a Glo Egg by the cot and a fan ready to go at a moments notice. I could recite the correct sheet/ clothing combination for every temperature range. You could often here me saying "the Egg's Red!" or " the Egg's blue!" with a sense of dread (if you don't know what a Glo Egg is, it is £20 worth of worry).

I find it hard to cope with the worry of everyone being ok. This includes Janet, who suffered from Post Natal Anxiety, which wasn't diagnosed until after Teddy was born. I was so worried that the person that I loved more than anyone was feeling so anxious and cross. Mixed this in with coping with children and I was worried for my families happiness.

We have never had anything major happen to Bess and Teddy, but there have been times when they have had to go to A&E. They both suffer from croup, and the first time Bess had it I was nearly paralysed with fear and shaking from a massive adrenaline crash. I am calmer when it happens now, but my mind always jumps to the worse case scenario. 

One of the worse accidents was when Bess fell down the stairs. She complained of a sore neck so we took her to A&E. On the way, and waiting to be seen, it became apparent to us there was a problem with her memory. She kept asking why we were in the hospital and couldn't remember falling down. Janet and I just looked at each other with real fright in our eyes. I was sure all the learning she had done was falling out her head - see what I mean by worse case scenario. It was concussion, and I stayed with her in the recovery ward till it got better. We have been fairly lucky with Teddy, which is a surprise as you could put that boy in a completely empty room and when you turned round he'd be balancing on a chair and waving a knife around.

I am worried about my children's future, I just don't want them to be unhappy. I am already angry at the first person who breaks their hearts. I know, I know, totally irrational but there you are. We are hopefully raising our children to be confident, defiant and with high self esteem so they can cope with what life can throw at them. But wait till I get my hands on those heartbreakers.

I worry about me. Am I being the best father I can be? I know that I am the main male role model in their lives. I am going to be a major influence on how Bess and Teddy relate to other men, as well as how Teddy sees himself as a man. So I really do need to be the best I can be, which isn't all the time. Sometimes I am too tired (or can't be bothered) to take them out scootering, or to the park. Sometimes I raise my voice when I am feeling frustrated. Teachers self evaluate constantly, and most nights I evaluate my fathering. It's hard not to beat yourself up if you don't think you have done your best. But I always try to do my best and I do apologise to Bess and Teddy if I haven't. They can have no doubt, however, about how much I love them, how much I admire them or how much I will protect them.

The best thing about being a father: I honestly didn't think that fatherhood would be such a laugh. Bess and Teddy have a great sense of humour. Once, walking through Manchester, Bess (who was 3), Janet and I were playing eye spy. Bess decided that for her turns she would have an eye spy for every 'rude' word she knew "I spy with my little eye something beginning with W" etc. ('W' was wee by the way- she's not that advanced). With every word, Janet and I laughingly told her to stop which she agreed... Only for her next one to be poo or something else. Her enjoyment of the game only being heighten by our mock horrified cries of 'Bess!'. Teddy once took my keys and refused to give them back, and what followed was like something from Laurel and Hardy. Teddy running round one side of the table, while I went the other way; both of us laughing. Teddy then made a break for it, giggling like a loon, and me giving chase. He ran to the cat flap, threw the keys through it, turned to me with his hands open and said 'ta da!'. We both looked at each other and laughed heartily. 

I love watching them develop and grow. From first steps, first words to starting school and becoming more independent. I love watching them play together or sitting watching TV together. I wasn't 100% about having two children till I took Bess to the park once when she was 2. She was going up to random children with a big smile on her face saying, 'hello, I'm Bess'. She was ignored by each and every child, but she kept on going round introducing herself - she was desperate to play. I realised that Janet was right, Bess needed someone she could play with, grow up with and and rely on when she was older. Her brother would also have this special someone. It's great that we have given them each other.

I love eating Santa's mince pie, drinking his beer and chomping into Rudolph's carrot on Christmas Eve (if Bess or Teddy are reading this, then the last sentence is obviously daddy's little joke. We all know it's really Father Christmas).

If we are talking about the best thing, then it is just them sitting on each of my knees calmly reading a book or watching TV. The comfort we are getting from each other, the closeness, the bond. Just sitting in each other's company and enjoying our time together. That is definately the best thing about being a father.

Has being a father changed you? Totally. I was very much on the path to Headship before I had the children, that desire vanished almost as soon as I looked at Bess. My focus shifted to my family and how much time I could spend with them. If I see a new job that does interest me, I weigh up the travel time, the extra work load, etc. and if it is too much time away then I don't apply for it. Being a father has made me a better teacher, I am more empathetic towards the class. People say that I am a lot happier now I am a dad and, surprisingly, a lot calmer. 

I used to be the first one out and the last man standing, then within 6 months I'd met Janet, gotten engaged and Bess was on here way. I can't say which was the greatest catalyst for change, but my friends were shocked at the change in me, to say the least. There was a period of adjustment for everyone. I can't imagine being that man again. Funnily, all my drinking friends are married with two children and we went out for a drink a month ago. We all left to get last train/ buses home because we had to take our children to various clubs on the Saturday morning. Change is good.

I love my life and I am the happiest I have ever been.

Hopes for your family: All the obvious things of health and happiness. I have been entrusted with the lives of this two these beautiful, amazing children. I want them to succeed in anything they wish to do.

I hope we can have travelling adventures: a safari, travelling around Australia or driving across America. I think it would be a life changing experience for all of us.

I do have day dreams them inventing interstellar travel, making a brilliant biological discovery or being the definitive artist of their generation. They have the potential of doing any of these things, or anything else. I wouldn't be disappointed with whatever they end up doing - even becoming a conservative politician... Well, maybe.... No, no, I would support them in any endeavour. 

I want them to be able to continue to confide in me or Janet as they grow older. They both have Godparents and other adults they can go to if they need to. I would hate to think that they felt we'd be judgmental or not understand. I have made so many mistakes in my life. I could at least help them see that there is a way through - especially if you have people who love and care for you.

Advice for new or expectant fathers: It is perfectly fine that you find yourself singing the theme song to Something Special (or something similar - it's 'Let it Go' for me at the moment) as you potter about. Adults without children will look at you funny, parents will nod knowingly and children may join in. There is no point fighting it, your days of humming something cool or grown up have gone. So say, 'Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to run' to it.

Your partner needs you to be strong, supportive and sensitive to their needs. Your children also need you to be all of those things. You will find yourself stretched emotionally, mentally and physically. The reward for this is a child who loves you so much that they will ecstatically shout "Daddy home, daddy home" when you open the front door. That ONE thing makes up for all the difficult things, and there will be loads of experiences like that.

Do your best. That's it really. Always try to do your best. Someone, someday might just say "Oooo you are an amazing dad".

P.S. since starting this questionnaire, Teddy has done a wee in his potty. Get in!

Danny's wife, Janet, has featured on 'The Fathers' sister site 'The Mothers'. See her post here

Thursday, 6 March 2014

David, Maya and Olivia

Name: David 

Children: Maya, 8 and Olivia, 4

Location: Chester

Expectations of Fatherhood: Nobody becomes a father with the expectation that, some years later, you will end up alone with two young children. But I did. It’s been two years now since I separated from the girls’ mother and we now share the childcare equally.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my expectation to remain a big part of their lives. I always understood that fatherhood was a big commitment and honour that to this day. I want to be there for them. They’re part of me.

Reality of Fatherhood: It’s tough being on your own at times. It can be exhausting and frustrating, plus you make a lot of personal sacrifices – as any parent does. But that’s the deal. On the other hand, being with the girls brings me moments of happiness, laughter and pride beyond all imagination. 

I’ve started taking them with me increasingly on travel journalism assignments and I love sharing these new experiences with them. As they get older, they’re becoming true little companions. That makes me very lucky.

Taking your children home for the first time: My memory is of struggling with a baby seat on a cold February afternoon while the nurses looked on, shaking their heads. I was better prepared for number two.

The best/worst advice: I feel I’ve learnt a lot of things the hard way but my advice to dads going through a divorce is to stay engaged. It’s easy to become an absent father. Your children need you in their lives; they need you to be around and involved in all the everyday things from homework to school runs, as well as school plays and parents’ evenings. So value yourself. You’re important too.

The hardest parts of being a father: The hardest part for me over the last couple of years is being both bad cop and good. It’s easy to be the soft one but tough to set the boundaries and enforce the rules, especially when you don’t have any back up. I’m aware that, at times, I’ve been way too strict, or gone over the top reacting to something, often something inconsequential. I’m still trying to find the right balance. I’m doing my best.

The best parts of being a Father: For me, it’s about making the whole journey. It’s the everyday things that throw up special moments. In particular, I try hard to foster a love of reading and words, and I encourage the girls to get outdoors and appreciate nature. That why we spend so much time exploring the park opposite were we live, tracing the changing of the seasons. I love seeing their enthusiasm reflected back to me.  

Has becoming a father changed you? Totally. But I'd like to think I've held onto a tiny bit of me. Being a dad is a huge part of what defines me today in both my personal and professional life. But I’m also, deep down, still me.

Hopes for your family: To be together and happy.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant dads? Remember dads matter too. 
As a dad, you have rights and increasingly society recognises the importance of your role. Don’t let yourself loose sight of that.

I've taken a whole new career avenue over the last couple of years, turning to family-travel articles as the mainstay of my journalism. There are not many dads writing about travelling with their kids, even fewer single dads, and I'm finding my voice in a mother-dominated sector.

I won a travel-writing award for one of the first pieces, a story about going on a Barbie cruise; read more at
I’ve also blogged about some of my travels and experiences with the girls. 
Read more at, or follow me on Twitter at

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Lee, Louis and Poppy

Name: Lee

Louis 3.5 yrs, Poppy, 7 mths 

Expectations of fatherhood:
I didn’t have any expectations of fatherhood really, but as the day approached I had a sudden realisation of the responsibility that was coming. We’d been married for about 2 years and decided it was time to have children, but it all happened so quickly. Even in Rachel's pregnancy I hadn’t realised the implications of what it really meant. Of course, I got swept away with buying all of the paraphernalia, going to the scans ...etc...but didn’t have the chance to reflect on fatherhood as such.

Reality of fatherhood:
I don't think I realised what responsibility really meant till Louis was born. I was used to having our flat to pay for, and bills etc, but this was different. We were totally responsible for him in terms of his growth and development, and bring him up. 

It really hit me immediately after Louis was born. Rachel had to go back into theatre and I was left in the waiting room. It was me and Louis in a room, in the middle of the night, on our own. We couldn’t go anywhere because of restricted access. This little thing looking up at me, and me totally unprepared with no bottle or equipment. I just thought, 'What do I do?' Panicking, and feeling total shock-horror; what you're supposed to do with a brand new baby? He'd been born at 11.47pm and Rachel ended up being in theatre for about an hr and a half. It was quite scary. That was a massive reality check. 

Taking your children home: 
I was happy to have left the hospital to start family life, but is was quite daunting. I remember driving home and feeling very conscious of the speed at was going at. It was a very exciting experience for both of us. My parents were on holiday at the time, but my brother came up immediately. We arrived home and had about an hr to ourselves before the visitors started arriving.

Best advice/worst: We were the first to get married and have kids amongst our friends, so I don’t really remember being given any advice. 

The hardest parts of being a father:
Quite recently we tackled potty training with Louis and it's been pretty horrific and stressful actually. As an adult it’s second nature and you don’t remember learning the process, so it's hard to stay patient with them while they get their head round it. We tried everything under the sun: bribes, presents, Elmo's potty time...nothing worked. It was difficult not to get frustrated, but when he eventually got it, nothing seemed to have changed, it was as if as light bulb had just suddenly flicked on his brain. 

With Poppy, about an hour after she was born they had to take her to the Neo-natal unit 
because her temperature was low and they just wanted to be sure it was nothing serious. Surrounded by wires and incubators, I just felt really helpless. We were relatively confident parents by the time Poppy was born - I knew all of the simple skills to look after her - but this time I really did feel out of control. There was nothing we could do and it all happened so quickly. It was really challenging - both physically and emotionally - especially after all of the excitement and happiness around the birth. It made me put into perspective how poorly some of the other babies in there were. 

The best parts of being a father: When they come in to our room in the morning and try to wake us up. I know some people aren't that fond of the early wake-ups, but for me it’s a joy.  The cuddles can’t be beaten either and the big beaming smiles from Poppy, with her babbling away. It's brilliant.   

I work away a lot and it's great that I can now have phone calls and proper conversations with Louis.

Fatherhood is also a chance to relive you youth - e.g. playing with lego.

Hopes for your family in the future:
I hope that they are happy in whatever they choose to do. I hope that Rachel and I are there every step of the way and we can join them in what what they choose to do. I’m sure Rachel would expect me to say I want them play for Forest.

Has being a father changed you?
I think it has, in quite a big way. Prior to having children I was in a totally different career. I worked all over the place, with a 12hr day minimum. I took a huge pay cut, and now I'm doing a fairly normal 9-5 job. Personally, fatherhood has meant making massive changes, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to spend so much more time with them, and that's great.

Advice for new or expectant fathers:
 I've found that second time round I’m a lot more relaxed and I'm realising how important that is. I used to religiously check on Louis while he slept, to the point where I insisted on getting a mat that tracked breathing. 

It’s so much easier 2nd time round though. I would say try not to get too caught up on what the books say and what others advise - you’ll find your own feet in terms of routines. We have, however, been blessed with two very easy babies - they’re great. They sleep well and don’t wake each other despite sharing a bedroom. I feel very lucky.

I would stress that couples should make time for each other too. We find time alone is still very important. For example, when Louis was 9mths we went away for a week to New York 
 and when Rachel was pregnant with Poppy we went away on our own again - I know others have opinions about this, but for us it was important. We trust their grandparents to look after them - our parents are very important to us and to the kids. They love the kids and the feeling is mutual. I really feel that Louis and Poppy benefit from having time away from us too, for example they settle in really well with new people and they’re both very independent. From a selfish point of view we need our own time and try to remind ourselves of how we were before children - they are everything to us, but we’re not just parents. 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Jeremy and Albert

Name: Jeremy

Albert, 14 


Expectations of fatherhood:
I’m not sure I had any clear expectations of what fatherhood would be like, to be honest. I suppose I always felt like I wanted to be a dad, but I don’t think I had a strong image in my mind of what that would be like, or what kind of father I wanted to be.

I never really bought into the idea that women are necessarily better and more ‘natural’ at caring for children, but my upbringing certainly taught me to keep a check on my emotions, and I think I was trained to focus much more on workplace success than on matters of the heart. Perhaps because we didn’t have much of an extended family, my experience of children was also quite limited. So looking back, I think I was guilty of allowing myself to conform to the stereotype of taking a back seat whenever they were around, and could easily have slipped into being a rather distant father.

Unsurprisingly, then, I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision that I was ready to have a child. It felt more like being swept along in an inevitable drift; my then wife wanted children and I accepted that this was the next logical step.

When I found out I was going to be a dad, I do remember a bubbling excitement. But it was the kind of feeling you might get about a nice holiday you’ve planned – something new and interesting to look forward to, rather than a passion about to be fulfilled. As I write this, I’m horrified at how disconnected I must have been, and the extent to which I allowed myself to stumble into something so huge!

Reality of fatherhood:
When Albert arrived, the reality of fatherhood hit me like a ton of bricks, right there in the delivery room. We had a water birth, and I remember watching him arrive in the water, with his eyes closed, all silent and calm. He seemed to be there for ages – as if he could have stayed submerged forever - and I felt this sudden rush of awareness that we’d made this amazing, beautiful thing, whose life was in our hands. 

A few minutes later I found myself alone with him for the first time, all wrapped up and meeting my eyes with this really clear stare. Waves of pure, unconditional love ran over me, like nothing I’d ever experienced. In those moments I think it finally dawned on me the seriousness of becoming a father - whatever else, he was now without question the most important thing in my life, and suddenly everything else was secondary.

Parents feel like this, of course - it’s how we’re made. But for me it was a total revelation: like my heart had suddenly changed channel; like the axis of my world had shifted. I remember thinking that I must look different, and looking around to check if people were staring at me!

It’s not always easy being a dad, but that sense of him being at the centre of everything has never left me. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to experience that.

Taking your child home for the first time: Albert was born in August, and at the time we were running a guest house in the Lake District. So I remember the very surreal experience of cooking breakfasts for a house full of people, just a couple of hours after he’d been born – trying to get everyone’s orders right when I’d just had the most mind-blowing emotional experience, had had precisely no sleep, and had only got back to the house ten minutes before they all came down. Not my finest hour as an hotelier, I suspect.

Albert was born in a midwife-led unit where they really took the time to get breastfeeding established before sending you home, so he didn’t come home until about day 5. So I spent those first days screeching around the countryside between the hospital and home. When we brought him home I remember being paranoid about him waking up the guests in the night, but in fact our part of the house was far enough away for it not to be too big a problem and even then he was a pretty chilled out character, not prone to whingeing, so his outbursts usually turned out to be mercifully brief. Saying that, I do remember singing songs to get him to sleep for what felt like hours, and in the first few months I got to see plenty of our little corner of Cumbria by moonlight.

The best/worst advice: I don’t remember people ever giving me advice on the subject of fatherhood, but I remember fondly one of the midwives showing me how to bathe him. For her this encounter will have been entirely routine, but for me it was an absolutely key moment in which, with patience and skill, she passed to me the confidence to hold and wash my boy safely and effectively. Such a little thing, which I could have worked out for myself if she hadn’t shown me, of course, but by taking a couple of minutes to share her experience, she made me feel like I mattered. I really think that helped set me off on the right track as a fully independent, confident hands-on parent. So for that I will be forever thankful. 

The hardest parts of being a father: Emotionally, the difficult bit is the passing of time – them growing up so fast, and you ageing and starting to acknowledge that at some point you won’t be there anymore. I felt it most acutely when he got to about 11 and his friends started to become more important, and I started to feel like he needed me less. He’ll always need me, I know, but it felt like a painful shift, and took some getting used to. But then what happens is that your relationship with them changes and grows in a different direction. The love’s still there and you find new ways of relating, of enjoying each other’s company and of learning from each other.

We’ve been very lucky with Albert – he’s always been healthy, touch wood. When I hear about families where the children get ill or die, I can’t bear to think how awful that must be. There are so many mums and dads out there dealing with terrible situations. I think it’s important to remember that, and keep our own little stresses in perspective.

On a practical level, the things we struggle with most are probably pretty typical: managing his screen-time; getting him to accept that there is, in fact, a world beyond the X-box; and persuading him to do his bit around the house. I’d hate him to end up one of those useless men who can only talk about football and can’t look after himself properly. He’ll get there in the end, I’m sure, but I can be too soft with him sometimes and need to keep reminding myself that these years are our last chance to drum some domestic skills into him. 

The best parts of being a father: There are so many. Having him in the house – he’s with us less than half the time so when he is, it’s special. Cuddles. Laughing and taking the piss. Watching him learn and grow. Seeing little glimpses of how he might be as an adult. Bearing witness to his fantastic relationship with Paolo, my partner. Watching him sleep. Just being together, shooting the breeze.

Has becoming a father changed you: It’s given me a purpose in life. I could have found another one, I’m sure – I don’t go for this ‘cult of parenthood’ thing, where the only reason we’re on this Earth is to reproduce. But having done it, I think you’d have to be a pretty selfish, shallow person if you didn’t put parenthood at the centre of your life’s work.

I think it’s helped me access my emotions, and made me more empathic. I can’t watch anything that involves children dying now. I’m also much less judgemental than I used to be.

It’s changed the slant of my career; in the early years of becoming a father I did a PhD about it, and I now have a job promoting involved fatherhood and lobbying for a more father-inclusive Britain.

Hopes for your family: Dead simple – I want him to be happy and healthy. He’s awesome and I’d like for us to be around long enough to see him all grown up and making his way in the world. What more could a father ask for, really?

What advice would you offer to new and expectant fathers: 
Don’t let work get in the way of the important stuff. I’m lucky enough to have the kind of job you can do from home, and I know everyone can’t do that – but too many of us get stuck on a treadmill of wanting big houses, nice cars, fancy clothes etc, and lose out on the precious years as a result. Lower your aspirations – life’s not about stuff. 

Those early years really do fly by. Remember to relax and enjoy them. It’s easy when you first become a parent to get obsessed by doing it ‘right’, and to beat yourself up if your family life isn’t ‘perfect’. Don’t become so ‘good’ a parent that in fact you’re just being efficient at controlling their behaviour.

Take pictures, make films, record their voices, write stuff down. There’s so much you’ll forget.

We all want our kids to have a nice life and be successful, but it’s easy to take that too far. Don’t push your own insecurities onto them.

If you end up not living with your children full time, have high expectations for your involvement and do your best to spend as much time as possible with them. If for whatever reason you can’t achieve a 50/50 split, try not to get bitter, but find ways to be present in their lives, and remember that you’re a father for a long time, so sometimes you need to learn to play the long game.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Adam and Effie

Name: Adam
Child and age: Effie, 7 years
Location: Prestwich, Manchester

Expectations of Fatherhood: I knew that I was going to be a Dad and that I was going to be very tired but that’s pretty much where I allowed my expectations to end. I was certainly a bit scared of all the unknowns (of which there were clearly a lot) but not to such a degree that I felt compelled to confront them. Thinking back I guess there were a number of reasons for this.

Primarily I think it was down to me being a rather naive sort of person who tends to expect the best of situations. I knew that whatever happened I’d get through it. The notion of ‘How hard can it be? People have babies all the time.’ was my mental comfort blanket and it carried me through the pregnancy. That this mindset was naivety bordering on stupidity, and that I was soon to learn this, was beside the point. It worked for me.

I also backed off from preparing the ground as part of a concerted effort to be unlike some of the Dads I encountered at parenting classes, who were ‘hands on’ to a degree that seemed domineering and interfering. One man in particular stuck out. He showed an obvious relish for the more gorey aspects of childbirth and made it very clear that there wasn’t an area of the pregnancy, the birth and everything beyond that he wasn’t going to be deeply involved in. I didn’t want to be that kind of Dad and, judging by her winces whenever he spoke, his wife didn’t want him to be that kind of Dad either. Having met him I resolved to distance myself from the whole process a little more than I otherwise would have.

My wife, Emma, made this easy. Emma is hugely organised, incredibly responsible and has acted as the rudder for my life for the last 16 years. Everything I have that I consider worthwhile is down to her guidance and support. Because of this she had done all of the reading and planning, which essentially allowed me to outsource the expectations to her. I knew she’d have it all covered and that left me free to paint the nursery and assemble furniture, looking forward to my imminent excuse to go to toy shops and watch cartoons. I also didn’t tie myself in knots fearing a problematic birth or stressing about any number of other potential problems, I just assumed the best. In retrospect this was a good thing for Emma as it meant she didn’t have to deal with a flapping, clucking husband ramping up her own fears. However, it did make me a clueless man-child whom, had I been the subject of a broadsheet cartoon would have been depicted smiling idiotically, completely unaware of the ‘Parenthood’-branded anvil plummeting toward me.

Reality of Fatherhood: It’s hard to get into the realities of Fatherhood without doling out well-trodden lines. That you start to turn into your Dad (and don’t even mind the fact), that it’s a massive financial kick in the pants and that your bare feet will become well acquainted with the agonies of Lego are well known to everyone. But my take on it is that fatherhood is a bit like joining a cult. 

Like a cult member I’ve given almost everything over to being a Dad and am aware of having chopped my life into two distinct pre-Dad and Dad sections. I class pre-Dad as part of my protracted childhood. I had responsibilities but nothing like the ones I have as a Father. At 24 I was married with a management job and a mortgage but I was still largely infantilised, spending most of my money on selfish pleasures, coming and going as I pleased and losing entire weeks on my Playstation. However, aged 29, I joined the Dad Cult and all of that disappeared. For the most part I don’t even miss it. My PS3 has, for some years now, been nothing more than a black box that plays Pixar movies. I won’t say that I don’t occasionally stop to think of the number of zombies that have gone unshot because my wife and I chose to start a family or that I don’t pine for the free time that was once mine but this usually only happens when I step on Lego (see above). Speaking of which, parenting tip: always wear slippers. Dad ones.

Joining the Dad Cult also made it alarmingly easy for me to set aside my personal aspirations. One thing in particular that has bewitched me for most of my life is a desire to play music for a living. It’s occupied my thoughts since my mid teens and I honestly thought, and actually said this to people (the shame), that I would die if I didn’t make it. I didn’t and I haven’t and, largely because I’m a Dad I honestly don’t care anymore. I’m now in a situation where I have several musician friends, including my best friend Alex (with whom I was in my first band), who are touring the world and paying their bills through music and I don’t have a shred of the envy that might at one point have been like a dagger in my chest. As I type, Alex is preparing to go on stage at a festival in Hyderabad and I swear that I’d rather be at home, cuddling up with Effie and watching TV than in his shoes. Instead I’m simply proud of him. And considering a nice cup of tea. I still have dreams and goals (to become a writer, mostly) but being able to free up other, once essential ones feels oddly liberating.

Perhaps this has made me a more boring person than I was in the pre-Dad era but, based on my reactions to things in the Dad era, it’s probably made me a nicer one. I think a lot of that is down to the intense emotional upgrade I received when Effie was born. It totally overwhelmed me and made me feel like a different kind of person altogether. It’s been said before but I realised that until I became a Dad I’d been living a kind of emotional half life. What I’d previously thought were strong emotions now seemed like what a stubbed toe is to a fall from a building. When I held Effie for the first time I clearly remember a surge of emotion that felt like the top of my head was going to pop off. This was somewhat tempered at the time by a midwife yelling “I can’t stop the bleeding!” and rushing to fetch a doctor to stitch up Emma, who had yet to experience the joy of holding her own daughter. I wanted Emma to feel what I could feel. To pass Effie over to her and say “You have to have a go on this. It’s amazing.” And I can honestly say that I still feel that sensation every day, 7 1/2 years later whenever my daughter hugs me. And I’m not even going to qualify that with a line about it being cheesy because it’s not, it’s brilliant.

I often think about my friends without kids and struggle to not be evangelical about being a parent. Of course people have their own very good reasons for not having kids (for example, the musician friends I have who prioritise cigarettes and plectrums over food) but I feel the same way about people who choose not to be parents as I feel about people who choose not to read; they’re missing out on so much. But then there are people who would say the same to me, but about exercise, and I’m never much convinced by their arguments either so I tend to keep my opinions to myself. Instead I mention the notion of the ‘emotional upgrade’ to existing members of the Dad Cult and they reply with words of enthusiastic agreement and a faraway look in their eye. This might just mean that they’re just tolerating me but I like to interpret it my way.

Three other bitesize realities: 1) I am never, ever bored because I don’t have the time to be. 2) When I am with Effie I lose my inhibitions. If Effie asks me to sing, dance or do something ridiculous in public I will do it; I am her puppet. 3) A lie-in now means any time I can remain in bed after 7am (this never happens).

Taking your child home for the first time: I clearly remember my fear when placing Effie in her child seat for the first time before our journey home from the hospital. Though she was so swaddled in layers of clothing that I could have bounced her off the ground without her noticing, I strapped her in with a sense of terror that I might somehow break her tiny bones. I drove home at Nun-speed, checking my rear view mirror every few seconds to make sure that she was still alive. And that I was a Dad. Then internally mutter ‘OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD’ because I’d started to realise that not preparing myself for this was incredibly stupid. But we reached our street without her exploding or me having a seizure. Emma remained an oasis of calm throughout, though she was probably preoccupied with being very sore.

We pulled up at our little terraced house, carefully carried our small, delicate package up the path and opened the door, bracing ourselves for a symbolic moment of parental contemplation as we stepped over the threshold. We didn’t get it. Rita, an elderly widow from over the road, came darting down our path and up behind us before we’d had a chance to shut the door, eager to see the street’s latest resident. The street’s premier curtain twitcher, she’d been keenly watching our movements over the previous few days and now that the baby had arrived she couldn’t contain herself. Once she’d had her fuss she made her excuses and left us to be parenty together. My memories of the period following that are a bit blurred. I know that shortly afterwards both sets of our parents turned up, my Dad found a dead rat in our garden and a lot of tea was made. And that I was very, very scared.

Best advice: The best advice I was given came from my Mother-in-law during our first week as parents, and that was to get into a routine as early as you can. Once you break the day up into feeds, activities, bathtime, story and bedtime it becomes manageable. During the baby era I regularly took on 1am feed duty and every day would get up with Effie when she would wake at 4am, which she did almost every day for the first 3 years of her life. While I spent those years stumbling around like a man who’d been struck with a poison dart, I think it was the routine that got me through. Knowing that there would be an end to it and ultimately that you would get to sit down and rest had a value beyond measure.

Worst advice: There was a fair bit of bad advice knocking around that directly affected Emma but looking at it strictly from a Dad standpoint, as I guess I should here, I didn’t get a lot of advice and very little, if any, that I would consider bad. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Or maybe I was just incredibly tired and wasn’t paying attention. Either way, I’ve been fine.

The hardest part of being a father: It changes with time. At first fatherhood knocked me for six. I spent the first few months ravaged by sleep deprivation and trying to decifer the lexicon of screams at 2am while being squirted with so much gungey body waste that I felt like a contestant on an extreme edition of Double Dare. Effie developed colic early on and it remained with her for months, causing to her cry uncontrollably for hours and with a strength a consistency that seemed to drain the life from me like a nefarious super power.

But all that passes. What I now think is the hardest part of being a father is caring that much about another person. Of course I deeply love my wife, but the concern you have for a child is on another level altogether. Two occasions in particular brought this concern into sharp focus. 

The lesser of the two came last year when I was taking Effie home one evening and she whizzed down a side street on her scooter and out of my sight. Seconds later I heard her scream in a way that I’d never heard before. I ran toward the sound and saw her staggering toward me with blood pouring down her face. I ran to her and found that a big chunk of flesh was missing from the bridge of her nose. I fished her up in my arms, grabbed her scooter and ran home with her, thinking that I could somehow fix her up as blood flicked all over me. I quickly realised that I couldn’t and rushed her to A&E and to someone who knew what they were doing. On the drive there she kept passing out and I had to yell, “Don’t go to sleep” whenever she nodded off, thinking she was going to die and not knowing that this was just a symptom of shock. I had never felt so scared in all of my life. Or thought that was the case until I remembered what had happened six years earlier when I was taking Effie out of the bath one night and she suddenly stopped breathing.

I remember holding her up and shaking her gently, yelling her name in an absurd, panicky voice that even at the time I was aware sounded like a mewling Ian Beale. Her wet body felt strangely rubbery and unreal in my hands and I recall thinking “Oh God. This is it. She’s actually dead.” as her face turned pale and her eyes bulged. But I snapped out of it, recalling something I’d learnt during a first aid course at work. I flipped her over, lay her along my forearm and tapped her back a couple of times. I swooned with relief as I heard her take a big gasp and start crying just as Emma arrived in the bathroom. She’d realised that something was up (she hadn’t married a man with the voice of a mewling Ian Beale) and had rushed upstairs to find out what on earth was going on. I explained and we both burst into tears, knelt on the bathroom floor and hugged Effie and each other until it became uncomfortable and I got a cramp in my leg.

But for me that’s the hardest bit about being a father. Fear of losing everything and getting a taste of what that feels like. My big brother died 5 years ago and it is a constant marvel to me that my Mum manages to go on. I guess it’s because she is not only the single toughest human being I have ever met, but that she also has three other children to live for. We just have Effie and, focussed on her as we are, I’m pretty certain that if anything happened to her, Emma and I wouldn’t be able to carry on. It’s a heavy realisation and one that I don’t expect will ever leave me.

The best part of being a father: For me, being a father gets better all the time and certainly the best part is happening now. Getting to watch Effie’s personality develop over the last few years has been one of my greatest pleasures. She has her own strong opinions and tastes, her own quirks and mannerisms and her own circle of friends whom I love watching her interact with. Her taste in music makes me proud (she’s a hardcore fan of The Smiths through no intervention on our part) and her cheeseball sense of humour has me so in stitches that my body has developed a new, throatier laugh in order to compensate for it. She is also now socially aware to the degree that I can tease her, which never gets boring (for me at least). Telling her I’m getting a Justin Bieber cut whenever I go the barbers never fails to create amusing squeals of embarrassed distress. These entertain me now but when she’s older and they happen just because I exist I’m sure I’ll find them less of a wheeze.

But I guess if I have to pick a best thing, it’s the time that just the two of us get to spend together. Whilst I love our time together as a family I particularly relish those moments when Effie and I get to be together. Whether we’re messing around, singing songs (our rendition of Ivor Cutler’s ‘Pickle Your Knees’, with actions, is a masterpiece) or snuggling up reading I’m aware of a magical time that we have together that I know won’t be around forever. However, I’m most fond of our mornings together. We’re both early risers (mercifully she now prefers 6am starts over 4am) and her senses are particularly tuned to my movements. I get up, put some coffee on and start to prepare breakfast, waiting for the small thud upstairs announcing that Effie is out of bed. She comes into the kitchen, gives me a sleepy-eyed squeeze and we head to the sofa to cuddle, eat breakfast and harshly critique the birthday cards on CBeebies until Arthur comes on at 7am. Nothing sets me up for the day better than this. But it’s a double edged sword; nothing makes me not want to go to work more.

Hopes for your family: I’m in a dilemma about my hopes for the future. I want Effie to be able to sidestep the agonies of heartache and the gut-wrenching pain of disappointment but I know that this has value and makes you a more complete person.

However, as I was horrendously bullied at high school and often see the vulnerabilities in Effie that made me such an easy target I don’t think she’d be a lesser person if she ducks that particular life experience. What she does have that I didn’t is a stubborn, determined streak and a disinclination to follow her peers if she’s not interested in their activities. As such I think she’ll be fine but I’ve still got a feeling that I’ll be spending a decent percentage of the next few years comforting her for one reason or another. Though I guess that’s my job.

Without wishing to be a pushy parent, I want Effie to be the best that she can be and both Emma and I push her quite hard. My own parents were very free and easy with me and while I appreciated that I didn’t achieve as much as I should have and wasted my time at school and Uni. I don’t generally allow myself to live in a world of regrets, but spending my years at art college scraping by instead of capitalising on every second is one of the few that I have. I don’t want Effie to do the same and luckily she is as hardworking and diligent as I wasn’t, so I’m sure she’ll do okay.

And finally, ultimately, I want to be a Granddad. We moved into this house last year and I can already picture our Grandchildren visiting us here. If that comes to pass I hope Effie’s family remains nearby. Not only for selfish reasons but because my parents and my in-laws live 120 and 170 miles away respectively and I know that not having family nearby for support makes parenting that much tougher a battle. 

What advice would you offer to new and expectant fathers: When you’re exhausted, stressed, your baby is relentlessly screaming at you and you feel powerless, leave the room, take a deep breath and take five minutes out. This will stop you jumping out of the window.

If you are offered the opportunity (as we were) for your mother-in-law to stay with you for the first week of your parenthood, grab it. Having that support close at hand when we were just finding our feet was priceless. 

And don’t worry if you start to care less about the family cat. It’s totally normal. You’re not a monster, you just have your priorities right.

Adam can be found on Twitter as