Dad friends

I am very very lucky. I live with, I married, I have a son with, my best friend. We don’t fight (occasionally disagree) and we talk a lot about our thoughts and emotions, call each other out when it’s needed, we support each other, we hug, we laugh, we kiss, we cry. We are good together. We are good for each other.

I am very very lucky. I have three very close friends that I’ve known for over 30 years, the type of friends that remain constant in your life even though you don’t see them all that often throughout the year. We mostly communicate through a WhatsApp group for our own little Formula One predictions game. I love them dearly, they’ve been with me through every major event in my life, marriages, divorce, deaths, and the birth of my son.

None of them are Dads.

My son is fast approaching 2 and a half years in age and this last couple of weeks it feels like the “terrible twos” have finally descended on us. He is a curious, active, emotional little guy. We encourage all of this, gentle parents that hold firm lines where we must.

As Jack starts to try to understand his place in the world, and starts to control more of his own actions, he is (rightfully!) pushing boundaries to help himself figure out what is acceptable and what is not. Which is a nice way of saying that he has developed a very strong will for some very specific things that he does not want to do.

One is changing his nappy, but that one seems like a soft pushback that he eventually caves to. More recently though bedtime has become a battle, with the act of putting on his sleeping bag being the line he will not cross.

Since he was about 8 months old or so, when he stopped co-sleeping with his Mum and I was able to do bottle feeds at night, he’s had a great bedtime routine. Dinner, some fruit, some milk, brushing his teeth, then a bath, then into his room to wind down before bed. Mum does his bath, I do bedtime.

For months now it’s been the same, after his bath he comes into his room where I am waiting for him, we play a little (as quietly as possible with a toddler who likes ‘getting dizzy’ and doing ‘big jumps!’), we read through books, we cuddle. I talk about what he wants to do, does he want to put the big light off himself or will Daddy do it? When he goes into his bed, does he want Daddy to stay in the room with him (“lie down”) or leave (“Daddy go ‘way”). Then around about the same time every night – I tend to watch for the signs he’s ready – we put on his sleeping bag, he pulls the zip up, then it’s lights off and into his bed.

But not recently.

I’ll admit I’ve not handled it all that well at times. Losing my temper more than once (not AT him, but he can tell I’m getting annoyed/angry) and it kills me that I’m struggling with this, struggling to process my own adult (exhausted) emotions whilst he quietly lies on the floor and fights and kicks if I try and pick him up, until he finally gives an inch and concedes he will go to bed but not in a sleeping bag. Which means he’s likely to wake through the night as he’ll get a little cold and so one of us has to go through and comfort him and get him back to sleep.

I work in the office 3 days, which means my days start at 5:45am. Becca works a Tuesday evening and Saturday and Sunday mornings, so we try and split the night time responsibilities depending on that. If Jack allows of course, sometimes he doesn’t want one of us at all so we ‘tag in’. It’s what he needs, that’s always our mantra no matter how hard it gets.

And boy has it been hard. I’ve been feeling so useless at times. On the days I work in the office I don’t see him in the morning, and have only a couple of hours before it’s bedtime and it’s pretty much the ONLY thing I have to do and I can’t even do that? What a failure! Useless!!

Which I know isn’t true. I know we are doing a good job bringing him up, I know this. I am not useless, I am a Dad who turns up for his son every day and night, I am there, I am present and helping him grow.

But… I’m the Dad, I’m the provider, the one who puts a roof over our heads, the one who protects his family… and so on. These views are draconian, patriarchal and outdated and, when I step back and look at my life as it is today, not even remotely close to how we live our lives, yet these are the entrenched ideals I have in my mind, the values I was brought up with.

I am not trying to be my Dad; god bless him but he always pushed emotions away (he was, like I am, an emotional man but I think he was brought up to feel shame if he showed them). I don’t do that, I want Jack to understand that sometimes I get sad, sometimes I cry, sometimes I will be distant but I will always be there for him, and I want Jack to know that all of those emotions are valid in that hope that when he starts to understand them and can recognise them in himself (he’s already feeling them) he won’t feel ashamed and will have the tools to figure out how do deal with them.

I am also the ‘male’ figure in his life, so my actions and comments towards others is something I’m very aware of, even though I am confident in the example I am setting him in terms of respecting people, being nice, being good (and being a bit cheeky too).

All of these thoughts and emotions and hopes and dreams swirl through my head as I hold my son, gently talking to him, trying to coax him into his bed whilst he clings tighter and shakes his head. I pull him tighter and reassure him that everything is ok, that Daddy is here for him, and that we will figure this out together, that I love him, and feel so lucky to be his Daddy.

All of this is in my head and, no matter how much I talk to Becca I realise more and more that I need some Dad friends.

I have no idea how to do that, but I sometimes feel like I need people with similar upbringings (so around my age) and similar world views to mine (no right-wing homophobes please) that have children. Essentially, I need my best mates to have kids except one is 55 and single, one has his two ‘children’ already (dogs), and the I think the other hopes to have kids one day but hasn’t managed to get to that point yet.

That said, I got to know some other Dads through the ante-natal class we did before Jack was born, we had our own little WhatsApp group, sharing 2am ramblings and gripes but that fell away after the first few months. I did reach out recently and posted a message to the group (the first anyone had in over a year) just to reach out but it was more a ‘hi, how are you guys getting on’ kinda thing. I didn’t want to dive straight into a chat about Dad worries and how everyone else was coping with them… don’t be that guy, right?

But that is the point, I should be that guy, I can’t keep all of this to myself. Men are notoriously bad for talking about their feelings and emotions, something that I do well here (because I am constantly aware I am writing to one reader), but still struggle with in real life. I don’t make friends easily, less so with men, so I’m unlikely to start an outpouring of emotions to someone I barely know.

But I will talk to my friends about this, and I talk to Becca about all of everything, but unfortunately the one voice I’d love to hear from is no longer with us. I channel him every day (more than I even realise I’m sure) but oh how I’d love to hear how he dealt with his exhausted Dad demons. My parents went through some horrible, hard, stressful times and it speaks volumes that, for the most part, I was completely unaware and happy, whilst they struggled to pay bills and dealt with miscarriages. Maybe I should’ve known a little more? It’s hard to say, and hindsight blah blah blah..

I’ve heard of some of this from my Mum, but now that I am a father too, I wish mine were here.

I will talk about these things to my friends and family and, as he grows up, I will continue to talk to my son, continue to be open with him, emotional in front of him, and make sure he understands his place in my world and how important he is to me. I hope that he will become my friend too.

It’s not easy being a Dad.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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