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

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Steven and Joel

Name: Steven

Joel, 9 months (at time of photos)


Expectations of Fatherhood: We found out we were having a boy at the 20 week scan so when I thought about Fatherhood it involved images of me playing with an active little boy; kicking a ball about, teaching him to ride a bike, swimming. I had an active childhood full of sport and play so I guess the ideas were conjured up from there. I also viewed Fatherhood as giving advice or guidance for situations later in life; being the person that Joel could turn to if he needed something. When my wife was pregnant, perhaps strangely, I didn’t see ‘Fatherhood’ as starting when he was born. I thought of having a baby and Fatherhood as two very separate things. 

Reality of Fatherhood: The reality was that Fatherhood actually started before Joel was born. Thinking about how I wanted to raise him, what kind of parent I wanted to be, how the practicalities of life would change. All these questions started long before my wife gave birth. The thing that struck me early on was how it was our job to make every decision for this new baby. Bottle or breast? Dummy or no dummy? Reduce my hours at work or stay full-time? Every question needed answering and every answer would have an impact on him.   

I remember starting to understand the importance of my decisions for him when we were discussing names. I realised that the choice we made would have an effect on how people might respond him in the future (“Hi, my name is Peaches”). This started to highlight the responsibility my wife and I were taking on and how our choices would determine parts of his life in the future. Joel’s initials are JFK. We had several conversations about whether it was fair to give him such famous initials. The bonus of them is that he’s got his own airport.  

Fatherhood is fun. Especially when Joel started reacting to things I did. Once (and I don’t know how this came about) we discovered that the word “Pants” made him laugh. We just repeated it over and over and he would laugh uncontrollably. It was so simple and yet one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. 

Taking your child home for the first time: I remember making a really big deal of what album would be playing in the car when we drove home from the hospital. This might sound like a strange thing but I was really conscious that whatever we played him would be the first music he ever heard. I chose Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (“Joel, this is Noel”) which was an album we had bought on our last holiday together when my wife was pregnant. We listened to it constantly driving around the south of England. It was nice to have that link between the pregnancy and Joel finally being there. Everybody’s on the Run, the first track on the album, is one of my favourite songs and the first song Joel ever heard. I like that we will always have that, especially when he’s older and I can put the album on and tell him the “coming home” story.

Best advice: Don’t judge your baby / parenthood on the first 6 weeks. This was a good mantra to repeat when parts of the early days were a struggle. You are tired, happy, emotional, scared, overtired, overwhelmed, running on adrenaline, and don’t forget tired. Everything can seem too much and you feel like you’ve waited so long for this amazing thing to come into your life and now it won’t stop crying or go to sleep and you don’t know why. It was good to have been told that it would change and get easier, and to know that other people went through these difficult early days, because it can feel like it will never change. But it does. As time passes, you become more confident and things don’t feel as daunting. You learn about your baby, it finds its natural routine and life regains some form of order. During the first 6 weeks though, this all feels like a world away.

Worst advice:
Surprisingly the worst advice I got was from a Midwife who told us, “Don’t let him go more than 4 hours without food.” This was on day one and we were about to take him home. I asked whether we should wake him up after 4 hours having been told numerous times throughout the years ‘you never wake a sleeping baby.’ The Midwife was very evasive when I asked if we were lucky enough to have a baby that slept that long, whether we should set an alarm. Her words “I would never say set one, but you shouldn’t let them go more than 4 hours without food.” 

Needless to say Joel slept for 5 and half hours that night and I woke my wife panicking that he hadn’t had enough food. When he eventually woke up and fed he had no issues with having gone so long. 

We spoke to a different Midwife who visited us at home the next day and she said that 8 hours without food is fine. That first night was the longest Joel slept between feeds for a good few months. It’s a shame I spent it worrying because the sleep would’ve been nice.

The hardest part of being a father: The thing I found the hardest was making decisions in the middle of the night when I was extremely tired. I was trying to figure out if he was hungry, wet, cold, hot etc and my head felt like it was underwater because I was so tired. I tried to read the signs and follow some form of process but the crying wouldn’t always stop. We live in a terraced house and I used to worry that the neighbours would think we were rubbish parents and that just used to add to the panic.
In the very early days I used to feel helpless. My wife breast fed and before she started expressing I felt like a spare part at times because I couldn’t actually help with the feeding. Joel fed every hour and a half to 2 hours in the early weeks and there was nothing I could do to help either of them. This was hardest in the middle of the night because I could see how tired my wife was. The first few days I stayed up in the night with her at feeding times to offer some form of support. After a few days it became clear that even if I got 2 hours more sleep than she did, it made the next day a bit easier because I could function slightly better for being a bit more rested. I could then help with the other things that were needed to keep the household going.

Learning Joel’s routines and signs when I’m not with him all day is difficult. Some days I’ve come home from work and done something with him that I’d done the day before and he’s reacted differently and my wife has said, “Oh that changed this morning.” However, this is just the reality of being the parent that goes out to work and we just make sure we talk about his day so I always know what he’s been like and where he’s up to within his routine.

To leave the house, especially in the early days, we needed so much stuff that remembering everything was difficult. When he was 6 days old we took Joel to Altrincham for lunch, when we arrived we realised we had forgotten the adapters that turned his car seat into a pram and we had to drive all the way home. We laughed about it but it just highlighted that we were no longer able to do anything impulsively or without thought. 
Then, on the first day I looked after Joel all day on my own I had a similar experience. It had been going so well; I’d taken him to get his passport photo done. When he started showing signs of hunger I walked into Costa (other coffee chains are available), ordered a coffee, got set at the table, took him out of the pram, coat off, reached into the back for the expressed bottle and …No bottle. I did what everyone does in that situation and although I knew for certain that the bottles were on the kitchen side at home in their insulated bag ready to go into his changing bag, I searched the changing bag over and over in the hope they would turn up. I left Costa quickly (coffee still hot and untouched) and rushed home. Joel fed and was fine, but I felt awful. I kept questioning myself, ‘What kind of Dad forgets his son’s food?’ 

The best part of being a father:
It’s a bit cheesy but making him laugh is brilliant. Knowing that it is a completely instinctive reaction and he is happy makes me feel great.
Coming home from work and seeing his reaction when he sees me enter the room. The big smile and the excitement he shows never fails to wipe away any stress from the day.

Just being a father is a great feeling. My wife and I were trying to get pregnant for over a year. Waiting month after month to see if she was pregnant became very stressful. We both questioned if something was wrong with us and I went for tests to see if everything was in full working order. We had some serious conversations about what we would do if we couldn’t have children. I don’t think I realised how much I wanted to have a child until I thought there was a possibility I couldn’t have one. When my wife told me she was pregnant I’ll admit there was a very primal part of my brain that was just glad my balls worked. 

Hopes for your family: 
I hope Joel is happy and healthy.

I hope we can travel with him, show him some of the world and allow him to see what a brilliant place it can be.

I hope we can teach him good values and give him skills to cope with some of the unexpected things life can throw at you.

Finally, I hope he earns enough money to pay for a decent retirement home for us.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant fathers? 
Don’t judge your baby / how parenthood will be on the first 6 weeks.

On a practical level, get organised at night: Knowing where nappies, wipes etc are can make things a bit easier when you’re trying to calm a crying baby. You don’t have the added panic about where everything is.

Encourage your partner to make friends with other new mums. Most men get to go back to work after a week or so and resume some form of normality, a regular routine and enjoy some adult conversation. I found my wife having a support network around her of new mums (they came from our NCT class mostly) really helped her. She was able to swap advice and fears or just get out of the house and mix with other people off work at the same time, going through the same feelings and emotions. Be prepared though, it costs a fortune in tea and cake.

Steven’s first novel, Suburb, is available to buy as an eBook from