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 http://www.the-mothers.co.uk/2014/05/janet-bess-and-teddy.html

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful words, beautiful photos! Nice work Dan! Fatherhood is the greatest pleasure I had never planned!