When I posted my questioning post on a mother’s bond I was not sure what reaction it would get. My good Twitter friend Keith sent me this and we agreed that the honesty and relevance to the subject in discussion meant that it should really be a post in its own right, rather than a reply. Keith articulates the feelings many Mums and Dads have so very clearly…
…The other day, my wife and I were at the playground with our three children. The three-year-old does his best to keep up with his older brother and sister, but this often leads him into scrapes he’s not quite agile enough to get out of.
Suddenly, we heard a crash, then a thud, then a ‘WAAAAAAAH!’ and instinctively knew that our boy had fallen and hurt himself.
His mother was over to him like a shot, but as she tried to comfort him, our son kept saying the same thing over and over: ‘I want Daddeeeeeee!’
And it pierced my wife’s heart like a dagger – because not too long ago, she was the one our children ran to in times of trouble. She was closer to our kids than I. Now that has all changed. But more of that later.
When I was growing up, I hardly saw my dad because he worked long hours in a factory. At the weekends, he was too exhausted to spend what we today call ‘quality time’ with his four sons. Instead, he’d unwind with his friends down the pub.
It was only as I got older, and earned enough to stand my round at the bar, that I really got to know my dad. And over the years, our closeness became the friendship it is now. Even though I live 200 miles away, I talk to him on the phone every day.
The development of my relationship with my father is almost the reverse of what I had with my mother. I was the eldest of her children and the apple of her eye (I’m sure my brothers were too!). As I grew up, she became my confidante and I’d talk to her about everything from issues at school to problems with girls. We were as close as any mother and son could be.
But as I grew up, then moved away, my mother and I became less connected. Either through nature or nurture, I grew to become more like my father. I adored my mum, but I was obsessed with work in the way that my dad was. And from my formative roots on a council estate, I went on to become a fairly successful journalist..
As I’ve got older, I have become, in so many ways, more and more my father’s son. However, I never wanted to become a dad myself. Work was my passion and even after I became a stepfather to Daisy, who is now 9, and a father to my boys, Tom, 6, and three-year-old Sam, I was still driven more by work and a desire to provide for them than any inherent need to spend time with them.
That was their mother’s territory; mine was to keep my family sheltered, clothed and fed. She was a Stay-At-Home-Mum (doing some freelance work on the side) and I was a Going-Out-To-Work-All-Hours-Dad. It worked for both of us. So a year ago, if I had been asked the question at the top of this article, the answer would have been an emphatic ‘No’, with the caveat of ‘Not until they’re old enough to get the beer in.’
But in June last year, something happened that turned my life upside down and forced me into a situation that has made me challenge every notion I’ve ever had about what it means to be a father. I lost my job.
I thought I’d walk straight into another position, but after months of trying, I couldn’t find work.
My wife and I reached a point of desperation at the turn of the year and then took the decision that has changed ours – and our children’s – lives, possibly forever. My wife and I swapped roles. She was able to get a job in the company where she used to work before she quit to become a SAHM, which meant that I would become a SAHD.
My blog, The Chronicles of a Reluctant Housedad, was born as a result of this. I found the transition extremely difficult and so writing a blog gave me a place to vent and share my frustrations with anyone who cared to tune in, many of them reluctant housedads like myself.
Men like me define ourselves by what we contribute to the family in financial terms. We have never given much thought to the value of the full-time parenting role. And so without a salary dropping into my bank account each month, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated by my new role.
I felt like I was letting both my wife and my children down by not going out to work and earning money in the way that my father earned money when I was growing up.
Friends told me how lucky I was; that I was being given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend so much quality time with my children.
But I never saw it like that. I’d focus on my kids’ bickering and messiness and noise. I’d think to myself that if they weren’t such hard work, then I’d be able to find time to earn a crust, instead of blitzing crusts to make breadcrumbs to coat chicken for dinner.
Our children aren’t stupid: they noticed my reluctance to embrace my new role and they’d constantly ask for their mum.
‘Why are you here all the time?’ Child 1 asked.
‘When’s it going to get back to normal?’ Child 2 said.
‘I miss my Mummy,’ Child 3 complained.
And the impact on my wife was just as discombobulating. The day she left the flat for her first day in her new job was one of the worst of her life. And the first week, the most upsetting. She missed her children desperately; they missed her desperately. And I – well, I missed going out to work desperately.
But then our worlds shifted on their axes a little. Almost with a shrug of their shoulders, the kids started to accept me as the parent-at-home. They asked me to help with their homework, asked me to read them a bedtime story, asked me to take them to the park and – most painfully for my wife – they came to me first when they were injured or upset.
Instead of holding outstretched arms towards their mother, even when she was there at weekends, they held them out to me, big fat tears in their eyes, the request ‘Cuddle’ spilling from their lips.
And I started to feel privileged to be in this role. I took, charge of dressing them in the morning, preparing their meals, paying their school lunch money, taking them for treats after school. I accompanied them on school trips, ferried them from playdate to party.
The biggest breakthrough, though, was during the school holidays. It used to be a time I would dread because of the sheer hard work of keeping three kids of different ages entertained, but instead we had enormous fun. They helped me cook, they helped with housework. We went exploring in the park, visited family and friends. And best of all, I taught my six year-old son to swim.
I have never felt this close to anyone in my life. When I was working, I didn’t really know my kids; but now I’m at home, I know every nuance, every expression, every conniving little trick they have in the open books of their young personalities.
Am I closer to them than their mother is? Well, let’s just say it depends. And what depends most is which parent is around the children the most which, right now, is me. I’m sure my wife will regain her connection and closeness when they’re old enough to stand their round in the wine bar!
You can read more of Keith’s wonderful writing here