The moment you have a child, that becomes what defines you. If I’m ever stopped in the street by a TV reporter wanting my muddled opinion on foreign policy, the caption under my name won’t read “Pretty decent drummer” or “Spinal Tap quoter”, it will be “Father-of-two”. And I’m totally fine with that; my daughters are by far the best thing I have or am ever likely to accomplish.
Spending as much time with them as I can is pretty important. That’s one of the reasons why, when my second daughter was born last year, I decided to take Shared Parental Leave. It wasn’t available when my first was born in 2013, so I was keen to take advantage this time round, and after discussing it at length with my better half, we decided that it made a lot of sense. When our daughter reached nine months we would swap roles; my girlfriend would return to full-time work, while I became the full-time parent.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic. I get to hang out with two of the funniest, cleverest, kindest people I know. They make me laugh, and the feeling, it seems, is mutual: all I need is to do the ‘walking down fake stairs’ gag behind the kitchen counter and they are in bits. I was there when my baby said her first word, “Heddo” (hello). I’ll be there when she takes her first step and I got to see her eat her first snowflake, which sounds lovely, but imagine the brain freeze when you are that small – she wailed like a banshee.
What no one told me, though, was that it’s not all singing classes, pub lunches with your fellow parenting squad and long walks plotting out the next Great American Novel. In fact, the classes are all massively oversubscribed – leave it too late and it’s like Metallica at Glasto 2014, if Metallica covered The Wheels On The Bus. Pub lunches are no fun when you have to break off every conversation to run after a small child. And all I’ve managed to accomplish while pushing the pram is look up property prices every time I see an estate agent’s board.
Plus, it’s proper graft. When you’re not on your feet, you’re crawling round on the floor, caught in an endless loop of cooking, serving and wiping up food. I’d thought of myself as pretty hands-on, but was blindsided by how much I didn’t know and it took me at least a week to get a handle on what went in which child and at what time. Finally, it can be lonely – you’re in a weird limbo, no longer part of the real grown-up world – and it’s impossible not to have the odd 2.34pm existential crisis, wondering how you’re ever going to be a fully functioning member of society again.
But experiencing this feeling is valuable in itself. It’s just what mums everywhere go through all the time and most men, including myself, never truly appreciate. I now have so much more admiration and gratitude for what my girlfriend did without the fanfare that I got for being the ‘pioneering dad’. It’s made us a tighter, more evenly balanced parenting unit as a result.
When you reach your dotage and you’re asked “Any regrets?”, you’re never going to say, “You know what, I wish I’d spent less time with the kids.” So I would urge every dad or dad-to-be to step out of the 9-to-5 for a while and take a deep dive into fatherhood. Go full-on dadcore – it’s a rollercoaster ride, but you’ll be a better man for it.
Find out if you’re eligible for Shared Parental Leave here.