ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Post-holiday blues or the start of something big?

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We have just come back from two weeks’ holiday and it is safe to say that we all had a great time. This was confirmed to me when the boys, and especially Jake, were acting very strangely on the way home. It took some time to find out why this was, but Jake eventually told us that he was sad that our holiday was over.

This made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it showed that he had really enjoyed himself, but sad because it took me back to the great holidays I recall from my own childhood. This is because Jake’s reaction reminded me of my own, perhaps when I was a little older, response of being really upset in the car on the way back and having a little cry to myself when we got home. I had my own pang of sadness this week when I saw the familiar streets, buildings and buses around our home. It suddenly hit me that we were not away any more.

For me, and clearly Jake too, there is something very special about being away from home in an environment that is different from that we experience everyday; it somehow removes us from the stresses and strains of everyday life especially if, as I did (well most of the time), we switch of the data roaming and resist the temptation to go online. It marks a freedom from our normal daily lives.

That is perhaps why coming back home is so hard no matter how good our daily lives might be. Jake and me seem not to be alone in this as the BBC recently reported on the things we like least about coming back off holiday. We find that we somehow want to maintain the holiday spell and not see it disappear into the past.

This is perhaps particularly the case this year when the weather has been so good, and the summer has been more like those that we tend to remember from our own childhood. True I do remember sitting in a static caravan, rain pouring down the windows and playing board games to pass the time. More often, though, I remember days on the beach, swimming in the sea, walks through sunlit woods and bright promenades, melting ice cream and ‘helping’ with the harvest on my Uncle’s farm. I remember the sort of summer we had this year.

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Having time away also allows us to reflect about those things that we do and do not like about our lives. Can we make our daily lives more like those we spent on holiday, or at least carry something over from our break? Do we want to find a new job? Could we be spending more time with our families like we did over the summer? Or does that thought just fill us with dread? Did we not get a break yet really need one?

Whatever the answers to these questions, for me this is a more significant time for change and potential that in the New Year. Our children move on, whether it is to a new class, new school, on to University or into the employment market; and there is a sense of possibility and of making a new start. As parents this may mean some adjustments too, but perhaps it is also time to grasp the nettle and make more significant changes while our batteries are recharged and our resilience is higher.

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As for Jake, one week on he is already planning next year’s holiday by pouring over the map from the theme park we went to this summer, seeing what new vistas a growth spurt will open up; and he is now very excited about going back to school in Year 1. Sam too is looking forward a new year in the top class at nursery. For them change cannot come quickly enough.


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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.

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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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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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Blinded by the light

 

The last week has seen me thinking about those relatively small things about parenthood that annoy me, none of which I was aware before having children. So now having thought of them I think I need to get them off my chest. When I made a list I aimed to think of ten, but I fell short at seven (so it cannot be all that bad). However, seven is a good number for a short series over a week. So this week is now ‘rant week’ on ChangingDad.

I think what really got me thinking about these niggly issues was the clocks going forward last weekend. An hour less in bed aside, and that was always a small price to pay for light evenings, the arrival of British Summer Time was always my favourite weekend of the year heralding, as it does, a great deal more daylight at the right time of day. But now I am not so sure. It is a lot easier to get children to bed when it is dark, after all darkness equals bedtime, and light can mean anything but. As a result it has been hard to explain to Sam in particular why he should go to bed when it is still light, he somehow thinks it is morning.

I think that the light evenings also remind me that we cannot go out and do things in the light evenings like we used to, and it is certainly too cold to sit out at home in the evening at the moment (and I am not sure it ever was last year). While the thought of getting one of those patio heaters which pump heat anywhere but on the patio does not appeal.

So the clocks changing reminds me of past times and well as present issues; both of which, once again, come back to that recurring theme of having time to ourselves and the ability to do the things that we like (or liked) doing. For me it is probably the most obvious change about becoming a father; that as parents we have finite time but seemingly much more to fit into it. The light evenings meant that we could do more things away from the house. Having children makes that more difficult since the importance of having a bedtime routine cannot be overstated, and so being able to do things then means having babysitters on a regular basis. This is something which I do not think is totally fair on the boys who are clearly more comfortable with having one or both of us in the house when they go to bed.

I understand that some people find the winter months very difficult when there is not much daylight, and on balance I much prefer the summer months. Nevertheless, it is not as clear cut as it used to be and this time of year is definitely one of more mixed emotions than it used to be. That is, for me, one of the consequences of parenthood, and not one that I had particularly anticipated.

I wonder whether this is the same for other parents? Or is it just me?


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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.

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 * 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.