It’s Not a Competition.
I’ve written a few blogs of my own, my main one began being about quite an emotive issue, but I did try to brighten the mood in it with some humour. So when I was given the chance to write for MGF, my brief was to try and keep it light hearted. It was originally my wife that volunteered me, and as she put it “you’re funnier on your blog posts than real life anyway” (She sometimes gets annoyed by folk reading my blog posts and getting the idea that I’m always quite jokey and not at all a moody difficult nightmare to life with. It somehow cheapens the incredible job she does in putting up with me)
I wasn’t quite sure what the main theme should be, then I figured that this could be my chance to put the dads back on the map. Gender equality is always a hot topic, and for the most part, the narrative (correctly, I hasten to add) is why woman still aren’t treated as well as men (wages, positions in government, etc.). However, parenthood bucks the trend. We, the men of the world are the downtrodden. So, hopefully I can get some truths out there and highlight our plight a bit more.
I’ve got to admit, I’m fairly nervous about how this will be received. I suspect there’s a few mums reading this, having just managed to get a toddler to bed at the 18th time of asking, a toddler who has been awake for 14 hours except for a 20 min ‘nap’. I imagine one or two of these mum’s saw the line “we, men of the world are the downtrodden” and almost knocked over the jug of wine they were ‘unwinding’ with. All I ask of you, as you read this, is keep in mind four little words…Its. Not. A. Competition. (We’re a team, remember).
Ok, so parenthood really begins post conception so first of all, what’s it like being a dad-in-waiting while mummy is still expectant? Now remember, I’m not comparing the suffering here, all I’m saying is that dads also have their own stuff to deal with. One of which is a form of loneliness. (Awwwwwww).
Carrying around a mini-human in yourself is a hell of physical burden. Women find this tiring, and no wonder. This often results in very early bed during the week, and midday naps at weekends. This leaves us blokes at a bit of a loose end, which lets be honest chaps, sounds quite good at first. I’m a big fan of my own company to a certain extent. I managed to binge watch 4 seasons of Breaking Bad during our son’s 9 month term, which was a particular highlight.
But there’s only so many box sets you can manage, or Playstation games you can complete before the novelty wears off. Coming home from a nightmare day at work was eased by enjoying the company of your ideal woman for at least a couple of hours (this could have taken any form your imagination will allow, but let’s stick to just “talking” for now).
Having had 10 years of cohabitation with my wife before our 1st child, it’s a strange adjustment to go back to living like a single student again.
Social gatherings with friends are also affected by this. Only one of you can drink, which, for most British citizens equates to “only one of you can have fun”, which is an interesting dynamic for a couple…
If you have a very reasonable wife (mines is more reasonable than quite a lot of folk that I know. She is also proof reading this blog….) then she’ll encourage you to just go along to some of these events on your own. But as well meaning & convincing as she is, it still doesn’t alleviate all of the guilt unless you’re one of these alpha male types who is out the door before she can say “I’m too tired to go anyway”. I’m very much somewhere between new man & raging metrosexual, so I definitely get the guilt. Plus, I lost my go-to drinking partner. No more spontaneous “work was crap this week, let’s finish a bottle of rum between us before Graham Norton starts”. You know, quiet Fridays in on the couch?
Sex becomes a precarious balancing act for us men too. And no, I’m not talking about installing a swing. Mum-to-be’s heady cocktail of hormones can play havoc with her sex drive. It’s not uncommon to receive a call/text on the way home from work telling you to get home quick, and make your way straight to the bedroom. 15 mins later you’re fumbling with your keys, hurriedly opening the front door only to be greeted by the sound of blissful snoring coming from the couch, loudly competing with the noise of “Say Yes To The Dress” on the TV in the background. Now whose hormones are all over the place…?
In this particular situation the best you can do is turnover the TV to your PlayStation channel again and get comfy. What you absolutely cannot do is wake the sleeping expectant mother and make any reference to the aforementioned text invitation that had you pushing pensioners out of the way to get onto the 17:29 at Lewisham. “How can you even be thinking about sex? Typical selfish man, that’s all thats on your mind!” “Do you know what I’m going through, DO YOU?” (or words to that effect).
So, safer to just not bring up the subject at all then, right? WRONG. Doing this gives the (incorrect) impression that you are avoiding your partner. “It’s because I’m fat isn’t it?” is a potential question you will hear at this point. Despite the fact that:
a) you are not fat, you are ‘with child’
b) you look even more amazing to us than you ever have at any point in our relationship (you are carrying OUR child for god’s sake)
No amount of sweet talking is going to reassure the expectant mother; the best you can hope for is an uneasy ceasefire.
To parahprase Renton in the film Trainspotting “It’s a tightrope, Spud. a bloody tightrope“
Ok, so far I’ve come up with: it’s rubbish having too much time to play PlayStation, a pain having to stay out at parties while your designated driver wife goes home and a “promise” is not always an actual promise.
It’s not a strong start, admittedly, but stick with me.
Besides, the underlying theme so far is, for a large part of the 9 months, we lose our best friend and we’re not allowed to complain about it. Plus, like I said “it’s.not.a.competition.”
Birth, more often than not, is a Traumatic experience for woman. I’m not questioning that at all I cannot stress that enough here!
But imagine having a front row seat whilst the person you love is having this traumatic experience. Not wanting to leave their side, but scared you are getting in the way of the trained professionals who are currently working to keep your wife and your potential son/daughter alive, watching them in pain whilst feeling as useful as George Osborne’s empathy gland.
Unable to offer anything other than words of encouragement/solace that are either lost in hubbub of medical terms being barked out by the midwife, or worse, batted back at you by your wife as if they were originally intended as an insult to her entire bloodline. (Don’t worry girls, we know you don’t mean this. Right? Right?). Fathers never used to attend the birth, and this was because they were all bloody blokes, too hard and macho to be bothering with all that silly stuff. WRONG. They probably knew all along that it can be terrifying and weaselled out of it. Our generation are the ones who face up to the event and stick it out with our partners. WE’RE the macho ones, Grandad!
But you try telling someone how hard the birth was for you, in a room of mothers…
I’m not saying it was tougher for me. I’m just saying bits of it were, at times, very hard to process in my tiny, useless man-brain.
In the immediate aftermath of the birth, mum & baby are overwhelmingly the stars, and we happily sit in the background quietly fretting about how the hell we’re now gonna cope with this new terrifying responsibility.
I can only draw on my own experience, so some of this won’t apply to some of you couples out there.
Being 5 weeks premature, feeding Milo was even more important than usual which meant there was only so long we could persevere with breast feeding as it was vital we knew how much he was getting. Long story short, he was bottle fed very early on. This meant there was nothing to stop dad getting up for the night time feed. I’m not gonna lie, physically it was a killer, and at times immensely frustrating but overall incredibly rewarding. Looking back now it was a real bonding experience.
Bear in mind we’re a few weeks into post birth parenthood here. Maternity leave still has months to go so mum has a good few months yet before employment rears its ugly ahead again. I, however, have used up my paltry few days off, so I’m back full time working.
Getting up between midnight and 2am for an hour (this is on a good night) then back to bed again till 5am before going to do a full days work is knackering. Especially over the course of a few consecutive weeks. But again, you try chipping in with “I’m finding the whole thing so exhausting” when the NCT group meets up, and look at the faces of all the mothers there.
Remember, I’m not, I repeat NOT comparing my office day job to the task of keeping a tiny being alive. All I’m saying is, there’s a reason I slept from 11pm to 6am uninterrupted on week nights before the baby came along! And y’know, being a new Dad is very tiring at times can’t I get a little sympathy here? please?
Fast forward a few months, and I’m taking over full care duty on a Saturday, to allow my wife a well earned night out with the girls, free of any responsibility. Folk at work ask your plans, and when you say you’re watching junior as your OH is going out, you’re guaranteed at the very least, a raised eyebrow from one or more colleagues. Typically, those who are older than you.
I looked forward to my day alone with Milo. Kinda like looking forward to a new job. It would be more fulfilling, full of new opportunity, it would do me a lot of good in the long run, but I was still allowed to be scared on the first day in case I made a big mistake.
The first few times out with the pram, I would notice the smiles, older woman especially, and I’d think “awww it’s not just me then, everyone else thinks this little guy is the cutest earthling ever produced“. I slowly realised that these looks weren’t entirely what they seemed. Some of them came with comments, which while not delivered with any nasty intent, were still pretty annoying:
“So you’re looking after the child today are you? Aww, bless!“
“I hope you’re going to behave for your Daddy today?” (followed by a strange cackle)
“Where is your mummy? Eh? Where is she?” (Followed by raised eyebrow when I took the opportunity to confirm I was indeed somehow solely in charge of my own child)
As it happens, I managed to do a good job. I remembered to bring him home every single time I took him out alone. And neither social services nor the police have had any call outs as a direct result of our outings. Go me!!
I’ll bet that this is one particular annoyance that mothers don’t have to put up with.
As I said, I’m sure these folk weren’t being vindictive in anyway, but it does sum up a dated attitude that is still prevalent today. That dads have a bit part to play, but worse than that, this is through personal choice. I love fatherhood, and even the terrifying bits make sense when you get a little giggle from junior.
But, if we do chip in with what we think is more than our fair share, sometimes, at best, we get a patronising pat and a “oh, look at you, aren’t you sweet” kind of response. If we don’t put in our fair share, then it “Pfft, typical man“.
It’s the very definition of “damned if you do….”
If we make any kind of complaint, then we get shot down with examples of all the things we really would be justified in complaining about if they happened to us: pre-eclampsia, leaky nipples, stitches in places we don’t even have.
Believe me girls, I would never swap being patronised by an OAP for a week of leaky nipples BUT remember please, women of the world, sometimes us dads have genuinely just had a rough day.
It might not have involved vomitting all morning, it might not have been as excruciatingly painful as childbirth. But it’s been rough all the same, and we need to get it off our chest. Just listen, nod, acknowledge and remember.
P.S. If it were a competition, whisper it, but you would win.