No, not those sorts of confessions
I am writing this feeling one part guilty and one part shamed. I have this urge to clear my conscience as to how I feel as a dad. Full disclosure. I shall begin by saying that I love my family dearly, all that follows is in that context. Now I shall confess my greed and selfishness and let yourselves be the judge.
I have two boys. One was born in February 2007, the other the following April. That is close isn’t it. I know what you are pondering right now. Who would have two kids so closely together? The answer is simple. The criminally insane or folk like us that did not plan things well.
Prior to having boy number one, Daniel, myself and my wife, Clare, tried for three years to conceive. We had started to take medical action although had not got as serious as IVF when Clare fell pregnant. We lost our first pregnancy but were not quite as effected by it as you might think. After all, at least the plumbing worked. Clare was pregnant again shortly afterwards with Daniel. We were delighted and relieved.
Thinking back, maybe we did not consider the risk of becoming pregnant for a third time in such a short space of time to be all that high. I think the truth though is that we just did not think about it at all.
My child making skills, seemingly inadequate for many years prior, continued their amazing turn of form and we were soon the proud parents of two boys. If I find out what the cause was behind it all, I shall report back.
They say (and I find a lot of truth in it) that nothing prepares you for parenthood. All I can say is that comparing our lives with that of childless couples is like comparing dogs and cats. You can both tell each other what your world is like but neither of you understand the other.
Doubling down on the number of offspring you have is another leap into chaos. Twice the headcount is more than double the work, particularly when they are young. In that first year, pre-Matthew, Clare or I could look after Daniel and the other could do proper things, what luxury. From April 2008, Matthew was a game changer.
Those early baby and toddler years were quite tough. On a day out, other people would coo over these two little fellas, all cutely dressed and behaving themselves momentarily on a steam train. None of them could envisage the hours of preparation required to get there or the ongoing duties throughout the experience that meant you were not able to draw any enjoyment from it yourself.
I enjoyed parenting more and more as they grew up. Partly this was due to the increased intelligible interaction, mainly it was that the burden eased as they taught themselves valuable skills, washing themselves, not needing a nappy, dressing themselves et al. However, the scars of those more difficult times remain. They are not dominant but they are there.
Fast forward to the modern day and the battle lines are the same but the circumstances are quite different. After 5 years living in a lovely home in Worcestershire, we have bought a business in Yorkshire and have our house on the market ready to sell and move. Where to? We are not quite sure. When? Even less sure.
Until then, each Monday morning, I set out for Yorkshire at 6am, knowing that I am closing the door on all the mealtime struggles, brotherly squabbles, broken glasses and tantrums over technology. I will not see it again properly until Thursday night. Nominally, I am staying away from home for three nights in a Travelodge. The advert might tell you it is travelodically brilliant but I know that their smoke smelling dorm rooms do not fulfil me with the sense that I have made it in life.
All the same, I am there, alone, I have complete agency over my life, my evenings are mine to play with. I can read, walk, watch TV, sleep or eat; all unencumbered by the needs and wants of others. I must confess that I value this freedom greatly. I don’t even feel bad about taking these pleasures. Maybe because they don’t sound like much or perhaps it is the necessity of our situation.
Back at home, Clare labours away with the daily patterns. The school run, the meal times, the grind. I do not wish I was there, I feel a pity, I know it can be hard, our boys can be a handful, round the clock ‘justice of the peace’ work is draining.
We ‘facetime’ each and every night. It is not like the adverts. Prior to hitting the button I think of some funny things to talk about. I think about the right questions to ask, about school, friends, dinner, about good behaviour. At this point, I picture myself finishing the call, satisfied that I have helped in some way, staying in touch and providing some degree of moral support. I imagine the family finishing the call really pleased to have heard from Daddy.
In reality, half the conversations start with me wondering why my wife is being so curt as she utters the words ‘can you have a word with your son about…..’
I get all the independence I need on the road. After my teatime call home, I might eat out and watch the football in a pub, alone with a beer. This might sound pitiful but it is glorious in the circumstances. I might feel guilty and send texts or call again when the boys are down. The truth is though, the fact that there is little else I can do to help is masking my own guilty desire to be well clear of the warzone.
I wonder if I am a terrible father. I do not regret any of it. Such is love. Yet it is hard. I have always valued my independence, I enjoy my own company and peace and quiet is hugely underrated. Children disrupt all of that and the only solution is to find a balance, somewhere in your life, to fight for it.
Thursday night, the return. I imagine flinging the door open and two boys rushing to see the dad they have missed all week. I normally get it too! I learned some time ago to make my mental adjustment to home life about an hour from home itself. This ritual involves turning off the music in the car and replaying conversations from calls home in the week.
You might think that this sounds like an uncaring soul trying to get away with his own lack of compassion. There might be some truth in that. More accurately, it is difficult to make the adjustment from ‘life alone’ to ‘being dad’ at the flick of a switch. I need that adjustment time to coach myself to stop thinking about work and to start thinking about home.
I also arrive home exhausted. I often need some catch up sleep. I should be making the tea in bed on a Saturday morning but the devil himself might struggle to wrestle me from the duvet.
Clare finds some personal space when I am back home. A network of friends step in and away she goes. Frankly I encourage it, time away from children is healthy and it makes me feel less guilty about enjoying mine in the week. We even get to spend some weekend time together and it reminds us both that the other is actually quite good company after all and there was a good reason we decided to live together, we enjoy each others company. When we move, family life will become more normal again. Routines more regular, burdens more equally apportioned.
As I started writing this I wondered how I would feel if my boys read it later in life, a distinct possibility. I resolved that since I do love them and try to show this in different ways, that I am quite comfortable with my behaviour showing them that I value my independence. That is what I want for them. Two young men, confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin.
I sometimes stay with a friend in Sheffield. He lives next to the Nether Edge primary school. It is in a mixed area but I note from the banner outside it is rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. On the wall of the playground, they have a huge sign declaring the school rules. Rule number one has remained with me since I read it. I have worked in the corporate world where expensive PR practitioners are employed to develop internal values and communications and ‘culture’ is the buzzword. Nether Edge has them all beat, hands down. It simply reads….
Contrary to what he might think, Tim Larden is a good dad. He lives in Worcestershire (when he’s not Travelodg’ing) and he works for Ladbrook Insurance – A Charity insurance specialist.
I met Tim through my job over a decade ago, so I know how much he’ll value that little link I gave him up there…!