ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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The End of the Beginning

Change is something you have to get used to as a Father. My boys, Jake and Sam, are 5 and 3 respectively and they seem to be forever saying new things, achieving more, and developing both mentally and physically at an alarming rate.

If I am anything to go by it is the new things that tend to get noticed and celebrated. I realised the other day, though, that much of the change revolved around not doing things. This is something that did not really feature when Jake was getting to the age Sam is now. Looking back Sam started doing things as Jake stopped doing them. Now, though we are reaching a definite end to things, since Sam is always going to be our youngest.

Pram

Since the start of the year we have stopped pushing a pram or carrying Sam in a sling and stopped changing nappies. These things alone result in a significant change in the way we live our lives. We now have to badger Sam a bit to make sure he does not need a wee before we embark on some great voyage, such as to the supermarket; but on the other hand the car boot is not packed full of pram before we even try to get the shopping in.

When you add to this the many toys, books, puzzles and especially clothes that Sam has grown out of we get the feeling not so much of the ebb and flow of the tide of evolution, but the crashing of the wave of change over us; and if you are facing away from it you do not notice it until it hits you square in the back. Suddenly you are on the other side of the wave surveying the new landscape and, in many ways, starting over again as the things that you had built up to manage situations; to encourage and cajole, and to love and protect have all gone.

What is particularly scary is that once that wave has crashed you soon lose your memory of what actually happened before it came. You forget the little mannerisms, the wrongly spoken words and sentences; the vast majority of the great joys and frustrations that parenthood brings. You try to remember, and you do recall some things, but not as deeply as you felt them at the time; and they only fade more as the new takes over and demands your attention.

This is probably why we concentrate on the new in favour of mourning the old, because the new seems so much more positive, so much more amazing: it is the challenge in front of us.

Change in unavoidable in all walks of life but with parenthood, I would suggest, it is particularly marked because you get the usual bits of the new, coupled with a growing person who is changing at a much faster rate than the prevailing one. So once the wave has crashed, you are not given much chance to restore your balance before you are taken forward with the currents that come after it.

I like change for the most part, it keeps things fresh and exciting, and I am happy to be moving forward. It is a good job because, with Jake and Sam, I do not have much choice in the matter. Now were is that wet suit?


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Like Son, like Father

It has been a bit of a strange start to the summer holiday period. This was always going to be the case to a certain extent since this was the first time that Jake would be home for several weeks since he first went to nursery when he was nine months old. We have also had friends staying, and so have had five children in the house; and to add to this Sam has been poorly. In fact he has been so poorly that he has been asking to go to bed without any prompting from us.

This has meant that we have sometimes been putting the boys to bed at different times, rather that the usual seemingly chaotic procedure of getting them down together, and the combination of these different factors meant that when I took Sam to bed last night it was a very calm time which I enjoyed very much.

Sam was quite restless, it was also a rather humid evening, but he sang a few songs to me that he had learned at nursery, and for the first time we had a chat. By this I mean a proper little talk in which we were both contributing ideas, a chat that had some sort of point to it and a definite beginning and ending.

This on its own would have been quite enough for me to class it as quality time well spent with him, but half way through our conversation it struck me that the situation that we were in seemed strangely familiar. It took me a while to understand what was going on for me, and I originally thought maybe it was a repeat of a similar time that I had had with Jake. But no, I realised that this first proper chat with Sam reminded me of my last proper chat with my Father.

As you can image this was quite a revelation for me, and one that I had to think through. It was certainly the case that in the half light of the bedroom Sam certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to my Father, but it was also the nature of the conversation which solidified the comparison for me.

My last real conversation with my Father took place in hospital about four days before he died. I had always found it difficult to talk to him when I visited since the distractions of a busy ward together with his increasing deafness and the aphasia that has come about as the result of a stroke made communication very difficult. For some reason, however, he had been put in a single room and we were able to focus on each other more, and I was able to spend time deciphering what he wanted to say to me. It was a lovely afternoon that I shall always treasure.

This is where this particular bedtime with Sam I think was similar. There was not the usual distractions of him and Jake egging each other on, or of him trying every trick he knows to put off the ‘awful’ moment of lying down quietly, so we were able to focus on each other much more. Added to this was the issue of me trying to discern what he wanted to say to me. His vocabulary is increasing at an amazing rate but he is still trying to work out how to say many words and, like my Father, got a bit frustrated when I could not understand what he wanted to say.

This was a really lovely and very positive moment for me and, for a change, I did not want to get out of the bedroom as soon as possible to begin my ‘child-free‘ evening. From this I learned that that sometimes it is important to slow down and take more notice of what it going on around me. I have no idea whether I will be able to heed this advice in future, but I really hope so.

Somehow the generational baton was passed on.


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Camping

 

We took the boys camping for the first time last weekend. All in all it was a very easy first dipping of our toes in the camping waters since we went with five other families, most of whom are seasoned campers and so have all the equipment and know how to set up a camp. We also boosted our own confidence early on by pitching our tent in a howling wind with relatively little drama.

Our tent, as taken by Jake

Our tent, as taken by Jake

One thing that really struck me about going camping was how differently Karen and I viewed the weekend when compared with the boys. We had some anxieties about it: What happens if it rains all weekend? Will the boys be warm enough and be able to sleep? How will we manage an unfamiliar environment? I could go on. The boys, on the other hand, just went “Great! Camping!” and that was pretty much it. That certainly told me that we can worry too much about what might happen rather than just getting on with things. Of course we have the extra responsibility as parents, but maybe we should also trust that we can all adapt to situations more easily; but also wonder what it is that makes us less flexible as we get older?

The evening light gave us a lovely backdrop

The evening light gave us a lovely backdrop

It seems that one of the things that is somewhat traditional in camping is that the first evening is particularly chaotic. Adults are busy getting set up, and children are whipping themselves up in a frenzy of excitement as they get used to their new surroundings. I think that there is an absence of boundaries which encourages this and gives them a great feeling of space and freedom. Maybe it all gets a bit too much after a while as I saw children all over the campsite being very very excited until late into the evening, Jake and Sam were certainly difficult to settle even two hours after their usual bedtime and, at that moment, I really wondered whether we had done the right thing.

This feeling was enhanced further when we woke the next morning to a campsite full of very bitey midges. I need not have worried, and soon the sun came out and a breeze got up and I had what I think was one of my best ever days with the boys. We played games, went down to the river to fish and paddle, Jake and I climbed the huge hill above the camp site, and we enjoyed the company of other families. It was good because it all felt very spontaneous probably because we had nowhere else to be and nothing else to do; which is rarely the case when we are at home.

We had great fun fishing and wading in the river

We had great fun fishing and wading in the river

I think that it is good to get away for that reason alone, and it reminded me how fixed to our routines and behaviours we can be when we are at home and I think we all enjoyed the relative freedom that this brought.

Jake and I had great views of our camp as we climbed

Jake and I had great views of our camp as we climbed

We had a great weekend and we all want to do it again. It was interesting too how our experiences rippled into the next week, not least from catching up on sleep and getting back into the very routines that we had so enjoyed being away from. Routines that somehow seem necessary for everyday living. After all if we did not have them we would not be able to enjoy escaping from them.


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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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Fading Memories II

In the previous post I wrote about my sadness that I now have no one to help me remember things that happened in my childhood and I commented on how those memories that I do remember might not be that accurate either. I think childhood memories can be particularly unreliable because everything happens and changes so quickly, things can change quite dramatically from one day to the next.

I recently realised that this does not only happen when we remember our own childhoods, but also those of our children. This came about because Sam has suddenly started to say, with considerable frequency, “Wha’ dat noise?”, whenever he hears something that he cannot explain. This reminded me that Jake used to say exactly the same thing in much the same way over a period of many months when he was a similar age.

It surprised me that I had so easily forgotten that Jake did this along with many of the other things that the boys used to do and/ or say when they were younger. It makes me wish that I had been more pro-active writing them down, but pleased that I now record such things in this blog.

When I talk to parents of older children they often say that they can hardly remember what it is like to have children the same age as our boys. This has always been something that I have found hard to understand in the past, since the time that I spend with the children is so vivid; like it is in really glorious ‘Technicolor’. Yet I am beginning to understand this because those past memories of the boys becomes more like sepia the more distant they are. I can now hardly remember what it was like to change a really small baby, and while the more memorable moments like when Jake first walked* or my first full day on my own with Sam are still quite intense, much of the ‘everyday stuff’ seems to have been erased from my mind.

I think that these memories fade so quickly because they are replaced with these brightly coloured ones on a regular and frequent basis. The best way that I can describe this is that there is so much wonder, so much emotion, so much awe, so much love, so much authenticity and so much energy attached to the experiences that we have with our children that they use up so much more of our ‘bandwidth’ than many other memories and experiences. The wonder of the new displaces that which beforehand also seemed so wonderful. So we have to live in the moment with our children, because that takes up so much of what we are.

As you might have guessed I have been writing this as I am realising it, so I hope it makes sense. Basically for me it is great to remember our children’s (his)stories: it reminds us of who they are. But it is inevitable that we cannot hold all those memories of how they were while at the same time being with them in the present. If my recent experience is anything to go by, I think that the boys will want Karen and me to help them remember how they were when they were young (although perhaps not when it gets embarrassing in front of their friends), especially if they have children of their own.

-oOo-

 * It was at this point that I realised that I could remember much more about the first things that Jake did, than when Sam did them for the first time. I think I was so full of wonder the first time round, but by the second time have become really used to that particular amazing feat being performed, even though Sam walked at 11 months and Jake not until 21 months. This in itself says something about how I store my memories.


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Fading Memories I

Something happened this week that momentarily gave me quite a jolt, knocking me off balance for just a split second. This occurred while talking to Jake at the breakfast table. In between my exhortations to “please eat your breakfast otherwise we will be late for school” we somehow got talking about something, I cannot even remember what it was now, that required me to think of what I did at his age. My memory failed me at that moment and I could not recall that particular time in my own life at all.

I think that I have already forgotten about what we talked about because, like a bolt from the blue, I realised that if I cannot remember something about my childhood then, as an only child with both my parents now deceased, there is a good chance that that memory is now lost forever; unless the one cousin with whom I am still in touch can remember. As you can imagine the realisation of this was quite a revelation to me, and for a moment it made me feel quite alone. Not alone in my present, but alone in my past.

I have written before about the importance of such as photographs in helping us with our memories (and re-reading that particular post reminded me that I originally intended to have more photographs on this blog), and that this probably equates to around ten per year of me in our family albums. Not something that I can re-construct a whole childhood from. Not something that is reliable because there has been an editing process in taking and choosing those pictures.

So while I can remember my first unaided bike ride, my memories are passed through all sorts of filters and I have no way of corroborating whether my memories match what happened. In this particular instance maybe it does not matter how accurate those memories are since when I have them I get a warm feeling of my own achievement and sharing a moment with my father; a moment that I only now begin to understand from his perspective (but in the last couple of weeks I would have loved to know what his perspective was).

Perhaps it does not matter in this case, but I think that the source of my anxiety at that moment was that there are going to be plenty of times in the future when the boys experience something that I am going to have no idea whether and/ or how I went through a particular episode or rite of passage. It makes me sad that I will not be able to remember, and it makes me sad that I will not be able to share my own past with them as fully as I would have liked.

So circumstances, the fact that we moved around quite a bit when I was young and issues with more distant family members, mean that I will probably have to ride this out until I get to my teenage years (I still have good friends from those times onwards). I will have to rely largely on my own memories, and hope that things come back to me as I have similar experiences with the boys in the knowledge that I have no one to corroborate them.

This, coupled with the recent sudden death of a friend I had largely lost touch with, again reminds me of the need to maintain a good circle of people not only for the present, but for the past as well.

Postscript:

While I was writing this piece Sam came into my office and started looking at the photographs of the family I have around the place. Two things happened that seemed relevant to what I was writing. First he looked at pictures of Jake when he was younger and took some convincing that they were not him, and second he took umbrage that he was not in one particular picture of Karen, Jake and me. I tried to explain that he was not then born but he did not understand that there was a time when he was not part of the family. I thought that both instances were examples of how easily photographs can be taken out of context and given new meanings. The problem of fading memories.