I am not really the blogging type. As a hopelessly hooked consumer of books, I far rather reading what others have to say, than subjecting others to my own thoughts – but Victoria has been persuasively asking me for some time to do a guest post and, given all she does for our little clan, I suppose its the least I can do!
I decided for the guest slot I would reflect on a particular experience, and topic that has left me ruminating, since I became a father of three.
It was a beautiful summer’s day in Stornoway, not long before we moved away. I honestly can’t remember what Victoria was up to, but she was away for the day and so I had sole charge of all three kids. I decided to bundle them all up and take a stroll to the play-park. This would be a double-winner; Finlay would have a blast and the walk down in the pram would send the twins to sleep, making the day a wee bit more manageable!
The plan worked, and with the twins sleeping soundly in the pram, I could wheel it around the various amusements and play with Finlay. We were having a blast, when another mum, who was there with her solo toddler and husband, approached me. I braced myself for the routine twin questions which had become as normal as dirty dishes to us since our newest additions arrived. But the topic was different- to my shock!
“Wow, your wife must think you’re a hero- taking all three of your kids out by yourself!”
That line has really stuck with me. I cannot remember exactly my reply, mainly because I was very much braced for the trivia to start spilling out, and also because I found the statement- odd. For several reasons.
I think I garbled a modest-sounding response in good islander fashion, “och no, not really, its nothing special, just doing my job … etc”. I remember my first thought was, her poor husband is standing right there and she is giving me hero credentials. My second thought was, what does that say about mothers, as I doubt many of them get given hero credentials just for taking the kids out for a stroll. And lastly, what does it say about dads/ fatherhood that its seen as exceptional, quaint, and indeed even heroic- that a man can handle a small brood on his own?
Now, I fully believe this kind lady was sincere, and completely well-meaning, so I doubt any of these implications were intended. But they are really interesting to consider. I have to say, purely from my own observation, I think the general trends in fatherhood are shifting. When you first have kids many from the older generation will share stories of how things were different or similar in their day. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a woman has commented, as I’m knee deep in a nappy situation, “oh, such-and-such never went near that side of things when ours were growing up!”.
Having discussed these kinds of things with other fathers around my own age, I think there has definitely been a shift in what is normal, expected, and encouraged in terms of paternal involvement. I would say I’m fairly hands-on, and I absolutely love it. Its harder work, but the bond that comes from knowing I was there from day 1- feeding, changing, dressing, taking them out on my own when mum needs a break, going to the soft play- I wouldn’t change that for anything and neither would the other fathers I know. It’s really hard work, but then part of the reward is the sense of ‘being in the trenches’ together with your partner. Its another shared experience, and a connection with your precious offspring. I have to conclude that the kids feel the benefit from my level of involvement too, even if they can’t express that just now. The twins have now got to the stage where they light up and speed-crawl over to me when I come into the room. Finlay will often do the same- sometimes with a hug, and sometimes with a challenge to wrestle him! I feel really privileged to have made this connection with them so early in life, and I don’t think its a co-incidence I’ve been heavily involved since day one. As a caveat, I realise a myriad of unavoidable circumstances can at times prevent the ability to be so fully present for some dads- so I am simply counting my blessings that I’ve been able to. And its not always 100% instinctive, which is perhaps where the truth lies in the ladies comment. I often feel the pull not bother, to spend more time perfecting whatever paper I’m on, to take on another late night engagement, or to just ‘hide’ in my office behind books, the iMac and busywork. I think there is something within males, whether its our time with sports, other hobbies or work- that creates a tension to pull away from family into these things, sometimes to the point of imbalance.
I don’t get this perfect, and am still working on that balance. But I can honestly say I have never regretted ditching any of these things to get stuck into something with the kids. I remember being shocked when Ryan Reynolds in an interview exhorted fellow new fathers to get on with ‘changing a diaper’ and not complain about it. I thought, ‘wow, there are some households where there is actually a debate about that!’
I’ve come to see fatherhood as a calling, and as one of the highest callings there is- the responsibility and privilege to shape and nurture a tender and precious life, and input the unique and special love and affirmation that only a father can give. I think that role is pretty immense, and a bit overwhelming if I think about it too much!
So to reply to the statement I got that day, no, I don’t think my wife does think I’m a hero. And I’m glad. I’m glad that I live in a family and society where its increasingly normal, and expected for me to be perfectly capable of managing our kids on my own … even if they are still tiny poop dispensers on the really bad days! I’m grateful that Victoria has always encouraged and invited me to take that active a role. And given how normal this is, and should be, I think the term hero should be reserved for the parents who are doing the extra-ordinary like caring for a disabled child or spouse, or mothers on their own with little to no support. I’m glad not to be a hero and to be an ordinary father.
Pictured with baby carrier above. The closest I get to wearing a cape!