ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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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Cuddles

One of the themes that seems to have developed in this blog is my experience of things that parents of older children did not warn me about such as continuing disturbed sleep. I have, on balance, seemed to regard these as negative. However, one aspect of fatherhood that I have been surprised about is the cuddle. I had expected to be able to hold my new born and give them a cuddle, but I did not expect it to be the gift that just went on giving quite so much.

It is not just the act of cuddling that I really enjoy, it is also what it represents. It tells me that the boys trust me and enjoy, and find comfort in, a cuddle. This came to me last night when I was sitting in with Sam as he settled in bed. As you may know we now sit in with the boys until they go to sleep. Last night Jake was so tired that he voluntarily went to bed early, and Sam went on his own later. Every five minutes as I sat there Sam would get out of bed, come and sit on my lap and give me a quick cuddle and them go back into bed. It seemed to calm him down, and give him some reassurance that he could safely go to sleep.

The day nearly always starts with a cuddle too. No matter how undisturbed the night is, Jake always likes to come in and have a cuddle before he fully wakes up (Sam likes to do the same with Karen), and when either of them are not feeling well they like to come and sit with us and curl up. It is never nice to see the boys getting poorly, but at least we can do something for them by giving them comfort as they often seem so helpless when they are ill, and as a result we as parents can feel helpless too.

Then there is the three or four times a day that one or other of the boys falls over, walks into something, bites their tongue, pokes themselves in the eye, is tired, or one of them is suffering as a result of some fracas with the other. These are all situations where a cuddle is required, and again it is great to feel that I can do something for them at these times.

I feel privileged to be able to play this role for the boys, and sometimes I feel a little guilty that I am enjoying this perk when they are probably feeling vulnerable and wanting to get better as quickly as possible but, really, a good cuddle does help the healing process along, and helps them to forget their pain quite quickly.

I am under no illusion that eventually the cuddles will get fewer and farther between as the boys get older, and probably rightly so, but at the moment they are prevalent and I consider it one of the top perks of being a parent. Long live the cuddle.


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Cycle of Life

As regular readers will know, there are many things about being a parent that have surprised me. The unexpected has become a part of daily life for me, and I never really know what is coming next. This is both challenging and exciting and can sometimes lead to me having mixed feelings about daily life with our boys.

On the other hand there are some events which I know will happen as the boys get older. These are events that I have pictured in my mind since I first knew Karen was pregnant, and perhaps even earlier. One of these was seeing a child of mine riding a bike unaided on their own. This is partly because I remember so vividly the moment when my Father pushed me off and I felt the rush of absolute freedom of riding along independently under my own power without the aid of stabilisers. It was an amazing moment for me and it opened up all sorts of new horizons of playing with the older children in the street and, in time, exploring the area where I lived and beyond.

Now it was Jake’s turn to try this out. We had been lucky enough to have been given a bike some time ago and Jake had been asking when he could have a try, the only thing holding us back being the fact that it needed a bit of maintenance – including taking off the stabilisers – something we finally got round to doing the other morning. So there were no more excuses, it was a lovely crisp sunny winter’s day, and we went off to a place where there is a flat and wide path.

Jake had been using his balance bike (one of those without pedals) for about two years, and he had grown ever more confident in riding it, so we were hopeful that he might pick bike riding up quickly. We were not really prepared for what came next as Karen gave him a push off and he absolutely flew away. He was a little wobbly at first but very quickly found his balance and it quickly seemed as if he had been cycling for years.

Jake was so happy and so proud of his achievement and I was pleased that I managed to capture that pride with some photos, a moment that I will never forget and I hope Jake remembers it for years to come.

Jake’s achievement, and his pride at doing something so radically new made me think that as we get older there are fewer ‘basic’ (I cannot think of a better word than that at the moment) things that are left to achieve. We learn to walk, read, write, count, and then drive; and while we keep learning all our lives there are fewer single things that give us such a life changing jolt. Having children is one of these moments, it leads to so many changes and new experiences; many are unexpected but some we dream about, hope for and look forward to. Jake riding his bike definitely fell into that latter category, and as the cycle of life continues, I can only wonder what comes next.


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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 11. Pause

As I have been writing these daily blog posts about Christmas I cannot help but think that the issues that I have been writing about may see somewhat trivial to many people. My aim has been, like the blog more generally, to reflect our lives and concerns as a family, and chronicle the changes that I experience as a father of two young boys. The blog helps me to say that I do not find being a father easy, but also says that when I do put the effort in then the rewards are often great.

It is very natural for us to be concerned about our own situations and see the challenges that lie therein. Parenthood is difficult and Christmas is no different in that respect. In many ways those difficulties are magnified at this time of year as relationships and lives come under the microscope.

So I did want to take a moment, amidst my own issues, to remember those for whom Christmas is a far from happy time for whatever reason; be it bereavement, poverty, family crisis, conflict or environmental disaster. People for whom having a ‘normal Sunday‘ on Christmas Day would be something to dream about.

Concern for those who are less fortunate at Christmas for me is personified by my Auntie Enid, who lost her husband at an early age and who for the first few years after he died used to sit by his grave in the rain and freezing cold on Christmas Day. She refused all offers from family and friends to be with them at Christmas, saying she preferred being with her husband whose death had obviously devastated her.

Then she heard about Crisis at Christmas, a charity who provide homeless people in London with shelter, fresh clothes and food over the Christmas period. Her Christmases were transformed as she spent a week every year sleeping on concrete floors, and serving and washing the feet of some of London’s most disadvantaged people. She also used to collect clothes for the charity during the year and sent at least a large lorry load down to London every year.

Out of her own grief Auntie Enid, who sadly died last year, made such a huge difference to so many people at Christmas time; and she got a huge amount of pleasure from what she did but did not want to accept any praise for it since is was also her way of coping with this time of year.

I am always very humbled when I think of Auntie Enid and the people she cared for. It reminds me that Christmas is not such a joyous time for every one, and I am very lucky to have what I have. This helps me to realise this and, while it does not take away the real concerns and challenges that my own situation brings, it helps me put them in perspective.