ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Filling my shoes

For the last three Tuesday afternoons I have been going to Jake’s school to take part in a fathers and children ‘Story Sack Workshop’. This involves us sitting round on those little school chairs, the ones that you worry how you are going to get up from, and doing activities around a story you have read with your child during the previous week. The sack bit comes in because you get to take home a sack with books and activities in it and look a bit deeper into the story with your child. For instance, during the first week Jake chose Jack and the Beanstalk (currently his favourite story) and we were able to reenact the story using the puppets provided in the sack. It was a great way of telling the story together.

It is also good to meet more dads and grandads since, as I’ve written about before, men do not seem to be as sociable in parenting situations as much as women. So we get a coffee and do some crafting based on the story that we have been reading during the week. On the final week we did a lovely exercise whereby the children drew round our feet, and the dads/ grandads painted the children’s feet and made a footprint. We then cut out each others feet and stuck them, one on top of the other, on a piece of paper below the sentence “when I grow up I want to fill your shoes”. I found this to be incredibly moving, and that piece of paper is something that I will treasure for many years to come.

It did, however, get me thinking about that phrase “when I grow up I want to fill your shoes” because it struck me that it could have several meanings, which left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it could mean Jake filling my shoes if I die or become infirm; it could be simply that one day his feet will be the same size as mine and will then be making his own way in the world; or it could be something along the lines of him fulfilling my expectations.

Each of these give me an emotional response as I think of future possibilities and outcomes, but it is the last one I would like to unpack a bit more here. Yesterday would have been my Father’s 82nd birthday, he died in 2011. For me the most marvellous thing that he bequeathed to me was something he said long before he died, and during a time of my life where I was unsure where my future lay. Hearing the words “whatever you decide to do with your life I will support you” provided me with a great release. It told me that he had the confidence to let me go and do what I wanted in the world, but also that he would also be there for me to fall back on. I felt set free.

This gave me great confidence, and is something that I am very grateful for, especially when I see others who, no matter how successful they are, continue to struggle under the burden of their fathers’ expectations, or their perceptions of those expectations. It is something that I think, as fathers, we need to continually guard against because are children may share many of our personality traits but they are their own people and deserve the freedom to explore their own way.

I hope that I can help and guide Jake and Sam in what they do and where they go, I would not be fulfilling my role as a father if I did not. But I also hope that I will have the confidence and humility to let Jake and Sam make their own way in the world, doing things that they want to do rather because they feel the need to fulfil any expectations that I might place on them. If they have happy and fulfilling lives in their own terms in this way then I will consider my shoes to be well and truly filled.

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Other people’s children

Jake has now reached the age where he is starting to have friends round. This is nothing new, what is new is that these friends are now dropped off by their parents. So while I guess you could call them play dates, they are very different sorts of things than before.

Unlike previously where the parents would come round and have a coffee and a chat, and the offspring would largely play by themselves, interspersed with the odd bit of combat as the focus of both children alighted on one particular toy or book. Now Jake and his friends play very nicely together and, by and large, require very little supervision.

So while this does tend to be an altogether different experience, especially for us parents in that we can get on with something else, there is the small matter of being responsible for someone with whom you are not familiar, unlike your own child of whom you have come to know pretty much every foible, and in many ways rather take this for granted.

As well as ‘play dates’ I have also found myself taking Jake and a friend out to such as soft play centres. It provides them with a good opportunity to bond, and me with a good opportunity to do things like write this blog. But I am also aware that I do not know how these friends will react when they fall over and hurt themselves, or what they do and do not like. What are they usually allowed in terms of food and drink? Do I really want to set some sort of precedent for their own parents to follow? “Well Jake’s Daddy lets us have three ice creams”. That would make me very popular.

So you are responsible for this complete stranger who, from my experience so far, is far more polite and amenable than your own child, and who seems to play nicely without much problem at all, and tends to eat all his tea. I do not say this to denigrate the boys, because I expect that when they go elsewhere to play at their friends’, their parents have a similar experience with them.

This is probably because the friends’ parents are strangers as well, not people which whom you have spent the last few years pushing boundaries and finding out where you stand. So parents of friends are people to be a bit wary of, but on the other hand they are looking after you. So what happens if something goes wrong? Will they look after you?

Because of this we expect our children to exhibit a certain amount of trust in those strangers that are their friends’ parents, as we do ourselves as parents. We expect a certain minimum standard of care for our children and I am sure that there is some sort of vetting procedure going on, however (un)conscious, when we consider who will be looking after our children.

In the end I think that I have to trust that the boys will be fine when they go out with friends and their parents. It is the next stage of letting go, a process which, like it or not, will continue apace for years to come.

I might as well get used to it, but I cannot say it is comfortable.