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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Another Fine Mess

With the summer holidays approaching I have been thinking about what I did during that long break when I was young. Like most of us I seem to remember that most summers were hot and sunny, just like this year (although I can also picture playing Monopoly with my parents in a caravan in Wales, the rain pouring down the windows outside).

While I do remember getting out and about I also have memories of looking forward to the summer television schedules. They were a much more modest affair than today, with maybe a couple of hours extra programming each morning. Two highlights that come to mind from this were Laurel and Hardy, and the Banana Splits; both of which had slapstick at their heart.

I have retained a love for Laurel and Hardy in particular, since it not only reminds me of that time, but also of my Father howling with laughter at them. As I have got older I have come to appreciate that they are not only funny but very skilled and clever too, how else could they be so entertaining nearly a century after they first released their films.

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What I had not realised until very recently was how much of their act must have been based on watching how children interact, something they all but admitted with the 1930 short film Brats. There seems to me to be an older/ younger brother relationship at the heart of what they do which is at the same time frustrating, funny, violent, joyful and endearing; so pretty much like watching Jake and Sam on an average day.

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I have recently introduced Stan and Ollie to the boys, they spotted my 21 disc box set the other day and wanted to know what it was, and while Sam is still a bit too young (he calls it “funny box”), Jake is loving the slapstick comedy and how “silly” they are. They also find it funny when I tell them that they are just like that, although I’m not sure that they believe me.

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Think of the boys being like Laurel and Hardy somehow make me more sanguine about how they are with each other because beneath the cross words, the pushing, and the fighting over the only toy that they could both possibly want; lies an affection and a need on some level to get along, which seems to get stronger as they get older. It also means that I can find something funny that I may have before thought was a petty irritant. It also reminds me that children are more like adults than we care to admit, it’s just that they do not have the social awareness and skills to work things out through negotiation.

This makes me wonder just how much I should intervene when the boys are going at each other? Should I let them work it out for themselves? Or should I jump in straight away?

I try to leave them as long as I can but, sooner or later, I am worried that if I do not come between them I really will be left with another fine mess.


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Powerless in Yorkshire II

So the problems with the electricity were soon fixed and I re-composed myself for the rest of my weekend with the boys. We had a relaxing day on the Sunday doing nothing in particular, and then I had a good day with Sam on Monday while Jake was at school.

By Monday evening, though, I was shattered and the events of the weekend were catching up on me, and I was starting to recognise the old signs of sleep deprivation and the general crankiness that goes with it. As a result bedtime did not go well.

I was desperate for the boys to go to bed because I needed both sleep and a little time to myself before achieving that. I think that it was because of this, I probably pushed bedtime earlier than I should have, I also think that the boys spotted my desperation and saw it as an opportunity to buy some time, and get some attention as well. They were all over the place, running round the house, opening the blinds, jumping in and on each other beds, and generally creating mayhem. It was the first time that I felt that a situation with them had gone completely out of control and I had no idea how to get it back, and no backup. I felt powerless and I really did not like it.

After what seemed like an age, and after an awful lot of shouting, things finally began to settle down; but I felt really bad. Bad because I had got so angry, bad because I had felt powerless, and bad because I was too tired to feel good. I also knew that this bedtime may have set a precedent for future evening, and I really needed some sort of strategy to, what I saw at the time, wrest control back.

Now, as regular readers will know, bedtime is something of a recurring theme here (see ‘Bedtime hour’ and ‘Ok, so I was wrong’); and is an issue for most parents at one time or another, often for the reasons I have described already. So once Karen came back I was able to think more coherently about how I coped with what did become a recurring theme of boisterous bedtimes.

The answer was something that was surprising to me, and taught me something about my need to control every situation. I got the boys to the point where they were ready to get into bed and…I did nothing. I just sat on the floor of their bedroom, head bowed (I eventually did this because Sam thought it would be a great wheeze to lick my nose and it made me laugh), and I just let the storm rage around me; and after a while it blew itself out and the boys declared themselves ready for bed.

I did the same thing the following night and, starved of the oxygen of attention, the boys quickly decided that that particular game was not fun anymore and quickly settled down. I have to say that I was elated. Completely surprised, but elated.

Since then bedtimes have settled down again, and if there are any shenanigans they are met with indifference from me.

Do not ask me why this works at bedtime and not any other time of the day (when it would be far less appropriate to ignore the boys), but I am just happy that, for now, it does.


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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.