ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Boredom

It seems to be one of those issues that nearly all parents that I know struggle with. How much TV do we let our children watch and, for parents of older children, how much time are children allowed to spend playing video games etc…? TV watching is certainly something that is a consistent live issue in our house, and is likely to be for many years to come; and it is not something that is new. I remember that many of my school friends were not allowed to watch commercial TV at a time when children’s programming was on for only a couple of hours a day, something that seems very tame against today’s media choices for children.

Over the years there have been many reports and (oh the irony) TV programmes about how much children should or should not stare at a screen, whether it be a TV or computer (and the differentiation is becoming less all the time); and the internet has brought what seems to be yet another layer of worry to the already fraught lives of parents.

The alternative to this often seems to be that we must entertain our children if we are not going to allow them their electronic fix, which is where I found a story on the BBC website to be of great interest. It reported on work by Dr Teresa Belton of University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, who argues that boredom is not the negative issue that it is often made out to be because out of boredom can come our most creative moments.

I can see much sense in this argument since I have certainly found inspiration during times of inactivity, most notably when I spent six months in bed after a back operation in 1986; and in the months between my redundancy and the beginning of my coaching course last year. In both cases a complete change of direction in my life occurred and I regard them as very creative times in my life.

Now I am not suggesting that we submit our children to anything like that level of inactivity, but that we should sometimes resist the temptation to see the alternatives as being either ‘watching’ or doing something with Mummy or Daddy. Yes it may be boring: but boring can lead somewhere.

As I am thinking about this I realise that we saw something of that last Sunday afternoon. We had just come back from being outside in the freezing weather, we were all very cold, and I for one was certainly not wanting to entertain any further trips outdoors. All I wanted at that moment was to defrost with a hot drink. The boys were hankering after some TV and did not seem to be in the mood for anything else, when up popped the suggestion to get the Play-Doh (other malleable putties are available) out. An hour later the boys were still playing, occasionally involving us in their game and serving us Play-Doh food (Jake, apparently, was the Sous Chef). They played nicely together and were very creative.

Only time will tell whether reading about Belton’s research will change the way I parent, and there will always be times when it is easier to switch on the TV than any of the apparent alternatives. Nevertheless, thinking about it will make me less afraid of the ‘b’ word, and I will try to get the boys to embrace their boredom in the future who knows what they may create as a result.

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In the beginning

One of the responses to my post on being on my own in soft play centres was from someone writing his first ‘Dad-blog’. It was a post that outlined how it was for him finding out that he was going to be a Dad for the first time. This got me thinking that part of me wishes that I had started to writing this blog at that moment, but also took my mind back to the time when I found out that Karen was pregnant with Jake. It also provided me with a further link to my last post in that it is my experience that Dads do not tend to talk about such things, including birth stories, as much as Mums do; and this perhaps skews the literature on such matters. In many ways this is quite understandable since the woman has a far more intimate experience of the pregnancy and birth.

So anyway so vivid were the the memories I was having that I thought it would be good to recount how it felt for me to find out I was a Dad for the first time not only because I would enjoy thinking about this again, but also to provide a Father’s perspective.

Karen and I were actually on our honeymoon when we found out. We had got married the previous year and decided to go on a round the world trip, ironically completely missing our first anniversary on a flight from San Francisco to Auckland since going over the dateline entailed missing out that very day. We were staying with friends in New Zealand and on a trip out on the first day Karen had disappeared into a chemist, as it turns out to pick up a pregnancy kit.

When we got back to our friends’ house I can picture the scene as if it was just yesterday. She went off to the bathroom and came back with a very nondescript look on her face before announcing that it was positive. Now if you had asked me beforehand how I would have reacted to this news I really could not have told you, and I certainly would not have expected the explosion of joy that came from inside me as I gave Karen a huge hug, something that I can see as clear a day when I close my eyes.

We were so excited that we ignored normal conventions of waiting and told the friends we were staying with straight away, and then had a glorious three and a half weeks in New Zealand and Hong Kong to get used to the idea, before getting back to our jobs; and Jake is always rather confused when I tell him that he has already been around the world.

I have many memories from my life and, as regular readers know, memories are something I think about quite a bit; but none are quite as explicit as that moment when I became a Dad-to-be. I would also like to say at that moment that everything changed but actually for me very little changed at that moment. Rather the changes were all ahead of me, something which I think (because I cannot say for sure) I viewed with a mixture of excitement and sheer trepidation.

It was a first step into the unknown. An unknown that I now know to be a joy, a huge responsibility, and a challenge.

-oOo-

Note: As I was writing this in my favourite cafe two women came and sat down on the table next to me, one of whom was pregnant. The other proceeded to unpack a large bag of baby clothes and they talked at length about motherhood, birth and pregnancy. I found it to be a very moving moment especially in the context of what I was writing. But I wondered whether two men would be having the same conversation about births and pregnancy that they were having. Of course I did not join in, particularly as I do not really have experience of such significant changes to my pelvic floor.


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Singing Dad

 

I remember watching a TV series with Karen many years ago, I forget which, where a father taking his young son to a singing session with the parents of other toddlers was depicted as a comedy moment. Apart from our ‘hero’ there was one other father and the rest were mothers. The other father was shown as someone who was doted on by the mothers because he knew how the session worked and somehow played the game. The comedy of the scene was that the ‘hero’ did not and so was looked down upon by the teacher, the other father and the mothers. Much embarrassment ensued with hilarious consequences.

This had a big impact on me at the time and I remember saying to Karen something along the lines of: “if you think I’m ever going to do that sort of thing you have got another thing coming”. And this has very much been the case until a few weeks ago when I started to take Sam to a sing and sign session at a local soft play centre.

So was it anything like it was depicted on TV? Well yes and no. In the four times that I have now been with Sam I have been the only male over the age of five on one occasion, and one of two on the other three. What it has not been is a case study in ritual humiliation. So from that point of view I am happy to go because Sam really enjoys it, and it is a great way for us to spend our Mondays; especially when it is cold and rainy.

However, like many things to do with early years child care, I find the soft play centre to be a very female environment. Those working there tend to be female, and it is overwhelmingly mothers and female carers who take their children there. So should this matter? Well in someways it should not, but I would say that it is a much more social occasion for the mothers who come along; as I recently posted on Facebook “the soft play centre: where mothers have friends and fathers have iPads”. One of the responses I got to this was that men would rather stare at a screen than try and connect with other Dads (or Mums) and I suspect that there is more than a scintilla of truth to this; but I think that it is also the case that, in general, Dads tend to go to these places on their own rather than in groups.

So what is my point here? Well what I think is interesting is that despite the recent increase in interest in Dad-related issues, and the number of blogs like this is going up all the time, little seems to have changed in the fifteen years or so since that TV programme was made, from my recent experiences at least.

I wonder why that is? Is there an expectation that such things are still the Mother’s domain? Or do Dads feel uncomfortable about going to singing sessions and the like? Maybe is it simply that Dads are out at work?

I am not sure I know the answer to these questions, but what is certain is that I have written this sitting on my own in a soft play centre while the Mothers around me are being far more sociable.


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Balls!

In my last post I warned against the temptation of talking bollocks to keep inquisitive children at bay. Today, however, I am going to talk bollocks: my bollocks.

Now this might seem like a radical departure for this blog, but please bear with me because what I want to talk about today is yet another thing that never gets mentioned by other Dads when they are telling you about the joys and tribulations of fatherhood. That is that as a father, certainly of boys, I have found myself to be regularly in agony from a stray foot, knee, elbow and a variety of inanimate objects hitting my testicles. This is at least a weekly event, often enough for me to say to Karen “every single &%$^*^$ time” when it does happen.

I am sure that the boys do not do this on purpose and, as I have said in the past, I do like a bit of roughhousing. In fact I am positive that they do not since they clearly do not yet have any conception of how much it hurts to be hit there, as evidenced by their much repeated surprise when I scream and my eyes well up with tears. But surely a clue also lies in that last sentence, that these things are the source of their life, they were key to their conception: surely there must be some sort of biological/ evolutionary predisposition that means they would avoid that area. But no. I keep on getting it there again and again. How ungrateful!

The last straw, which finally drove me to write this, was when a slipper flew across the room last week and hit me squarely where it hurts most (as we men like to say). Jake was not aiming for there but it was a ‘lucky shot’ and that, by itself, would not be so bad. However it was one of so many ‘lucky shots’ over the last 5 years and, really, it is getting rather too much.

I also have to say that I do not get a great deal of sympathy for my suffering. Comments such as “well it’s clearly a design fault”, “have you thought about a codpiece” or “you should try childbirth” may, on one level or another, be fair comment but they hardly pour balm on my aches and pains. So I guess I either have to do something drastic, stop playing so much with the boys, or just man up and get on with it; and I guess that the latter is most likely – but not before getting it off my chest, so to say.

That we all have to make sacrifices when we become parents is clear, and something I understand and accept. Nevertheless there are a few things that seem to be above and beyond the call of duty. But I guess that is just it. Being a parent tends to move that bar higher: the bar that measures where you think the call of duty might be. And as that bar moves up you can be sure that, sooner or later, it will hit you squarely between the legs.

I think I need to go and lie down now.


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Why? Oh! Why?

There is a time bomb ticking in our house, and the more time that passes the more I realise just how huge it is going to be. It has gone off once before, but then we were in blissful ignorance about it so it was not any cause for concern. It is only a matter of time before it goes off again, and this time it is going to be massive because we are still dealing with the fall out from the last one. Actually the effects of the last one are getting more pronounced all the time. It is something that I should be pleased about, and on one level I am, but it is something that is draining and challenging. Something that requires the development of many new skills and knowledge.

Why, you ask?

Exactly!

Sam has progressed onto the ‘What’ questions (‘What’s that noise?’ being the most common example), so it is only a matter of time before he first utters that word now; before he says:

‘Why?’

First of all it will just be ‘why?’. Over and over again. Then gradually the questions will become more and more finessed, more and more complicated; and will require me to delve into issues requiring knowledge of such as philosophy, astronomy, quantum physics, religion, biology, history, economics and transport systems of the world (and that was just last weekend with Jake).

Do not get me wrong I think that it is absolutely brilliant that Jake is showing such an interest in the world around him, and the last thing I would want to do it blunt his desire to learn more, to know more, and to understand the world around him. But boy is it exhausting and the thought of two sources of this inquisitiveness is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

I am beginning to see what parents have told me in the past when they say that their children are sponges of knowledge, and I find it amazing that Jake and, very soon, Sam wants to know so much and is picking up so much in such a short time. I also feel a great responsibility to tell him the right things (although in some cases there is no right or wrong answer) in a clear and concise manner. I am also conscious that the things we say to our children at this age help shape their worldview in the future, so I want to tell him things that are defensible and sensible, while at the same time helping him to work things out for himself.

So this is yet another example of the huge responsibility that we have towards our children. To respect them and respond properly. In other words not to fob them off with any old rubbish, or be tempted to answer with such as ‘Why not?’, ‘Why do you think that?’, or ‘Because it is’.

I have to admit, though, to sometimes resorting to that last one in particular.

Why?

Because, frankly, I am really not wanting to engage into a conversation on the meaning of life when it is bedtime and all I can think of is an hour of quiet before collapsing into bed myself

I know that this is hardly being consistent, but can we please discuss that question on another day.


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Sticks and stones

While we were on holiday last week I left Karen and the boys on the playground for twenty minutes while I went to get a coffee and download my daily ‘paper’ onto my tablet. When I came back there was a full scale search underway, since Jake had lost his special pebble that he had picked up at the playground at school. He was inconsolable since no one could find ‘the’ pebble amongst all the other pebbles on the playground.

At this point I tried very hard to be supportive, asking him what it looked like (round, brown and shiny) and whether another pebble could be picked up from the playground to replace it (I could not). It struck me at this moment how the boys so quickly place such special meaning onto such things, in this case the pebble, but more usually sticks that they find on walks. Those sticks have to be clung on to throughout the walk, and then reverentially put in the car boot, before being put in a special place in the garage rarely to be thought of again.

I find it very easy for me to satirise this behaviour. It seems somehow funny that they should place so much store on something that they have seemingly picked up at random, and there seemed to be something quite comic about our searching from a pile of stones for one particular stone. But Jake’s demeanour was far from comic. He really felt the loss of the stone that he had developed an affection for and which, at that moment, felt like real grief.

So while the episode was quickly forgotten (with the purchase of an ice cream on the way back to our accommodation) it did leave me wondering what was behind such behaviour (and I do not mean that pejoratively).

As we know all too well, from the many fights between the boys over toys, they are quite possessive of different things, and like to develop rituals which I think help them to make sense of the world and establish their own place in it. One good example of this being breakfast time when each boy has his own bowl, mug, and two specific spoons (one to eat their cereal with and one to stir their drink). At home any variation from this is met with incredulity, how could we suggest they use the spoon with the squares rather than the stars (yet on holiday it was strangely never an issue).

So does the stick or the stone provide them with something tangible to hold onto when they are out in an environment where they have no possessions of their own with them? Does it provide them with a sense of safely and familiarity, like their bowl, mug etc… obviously do and, perhaps most importantly, are they really any different from adults in this? After all we all have our own favourite mugs etc… (well I certainly do), but we have more of a control of when we have them and when they are available. The boys are more dependent on us for these things, and so have to be more insistent about having them. As a result they appear to be over possessive of things. But are they really?