The Guilty Father

It’s early Sunday morning, it’s been a ‘night’ and my plans for Sunday were looking a bit rocky. I was up early, drinking a coffee and going over all this in my head. I felt conflicted, and a bit desolate as I couldn’t seem to find a good solution. It’s something I’ve noticed creeping into my thoughts more and more when it comes to pretty much anything to do with my son and my wife. I am old enough to be wise enough (which isn’t all that much) to know that there is rarely a clear path when life throws up the little hiccups it seems to enjoy.

A quick summary then:

  • Dad guilt: my son woke up on Saturday night at midnight and was wheezing and crying and threw up (a little, just cos he was coughing). He wanted his Mum, so she “slept” on the floor with him next to her last night. She was up at 5am to go to work. She was already exhausted, now this.
  • Friend guilt: I convinced my mate to sign up to cycle 55 miles at Etape Caledonia. I got injured, couldn’t train, so he’s doing it solo. His first cycling event. Ugh.

The plan on Sunday morning was for my mother-in-law (AKA Granny Morna) to stay over and look after Jack while Becca is at work, so I can head up to Pitlochry to surprise my mate at the finish line. But if he’s ill, despite the fact he went back to sleep ok, he still lost a couple of hours of sleep so at best I thought he’d be a tired and grumpy, at worst he was getting ill again. The revised plan was to let him sleep as long as he needed and take it from there, and trust that he’d be ok so I should head off to Pitlochry. He normally gets up between 7 and 7:30, but we thought we’d let it go to 8:30.

My train was at 8:20am, so I would have to leave the house at 8:10 at the latest to get the train.

Now, I know mother-in-law can handle a tired toddler (she raised two kids of her own after all) but if he was ill then I decided to cancel going to Pitlochry. I wanted to be there to help.

My problem was that, if I wanted to get to Pitlochry in time to catch my mate finishing the cycle event, then I’d have needed to leave before he woke up so I had no way of seeing how he was when he woke. Becca was convinced he would be fine, but without seeing it for myself I knew I would just feel awful if I’d taken off and then it turned out he was ill.

After all, my plans were optional. It was going to be a nice thing to do for my friend (he’s one of the 3 I’ve had for 30 years!) and it would mean a lot to me to support him. Plus he didn’t even know about it as it was to be a surprise so I figured that while I’d be personally disappointed, my mate would’ve been none the wiser.

There I sat, going over all the scenarios in my mind (I know, I know) and then a noise from upstairs. Jack was awake! 7:20am. I went upstairs and he was sitting there, smiling at me as I knelt down next to him. I asked him if he wanted to come downstairs with me and he throw his arms up ready for me to pick him up. He seemed fine, he was fine! I made his breakfast, fed the dogs, Granny Morna came down and that got even bigger smiles from Jack and then, content that he was fine I announced that was going out (technically I said I was ‘going to work’ cos he seems to accept that when either one of his parents has to leave the house). He said ‘bye bye Daddy’ and we waved at each other through the window as I walked down the garden path.

On the train to meet another friend who was going to drive us up to Pitlochry, I sat and pondered how I get my head around making decisions when there doesn’t seem to be a ‘good’ one to make. Logically I can tell myself that sometimes making the decision is the only thing you can do, and then adjust to the consequences. Logically I can tell myself that the vast majority of the time, no matter what scenarios I think through, by and large things work out just fine. Logically.

But I still felt guilty. Guilty that Becca ended up sleeping on the floor, when it was me who went through when Jack first cried out. Guilty that Morna might not have a great morning with Jack and it would be a struggle (even though he seemed fine). Guilty that Becca would have Jack until I got home mid-afternoon and she does so much.

Logically, again, I can tell myself that I’m a good Dad. I do what I can, when I can. I spend time with him as much as I can. I work full-time but start super-early just so I can make it home in enough time to play with him after dinner, before bed. I look after him on Saturday and Sunday mornings when Becca is working, I love him more than anything in this entire world.

But that guilt, wow it weighs heavy. And whilst I know all of this will pass, and that whilst he has yet another ear infection and we will have another week or so of struggling to get him to take his antibiotics, that too will pass.

It’s probably been the hardest part of learning how to bring up our son. Always the feeling of doing more for him, doing things differently, learning and growing whilst I fumble from day to day. I’m bad for not setting time aside for myself but right now this is the most important thing I’ll ever do, so why do I need time for me? Why shouldn’t I concentrate every spare minute I have on our amazing child? Thankfully my wife keeps me in check but that also brings a level of guilt, that she is having to ‘mother’ me as well when she was so so much to think about all the time!

The title of this blog wasn’t an accident. I am very happy, and very aware of my imperfections, and whilst I don’t settle with them, I do sit with them, study them and try and find ways to improve upon them to at least iron them a little flatter, file the sharp edges a little more every day. It’s been my mindset for a long time now. And having Jack arrive in our lives brought it into sharp focus, all those little things I didn’t like about myself, not the big scary horrible things, but the ones I notice but let slide because they weren’t hurting anyone (else), suddenly become things that I could pass on to my son.

So I strive to be better, and yesterday that meant sitting with all those guilty feelings and understanding them. shrinking them down to what they actual were, feeling them get smaller and smaller until they disappeared.

There will be more times like these, but I am more and more confident of being able to navigate them, of showing up and dealing with them with an assurance in my own mind that I will do the right thing most of the time. And when I don’t? I’ll apologise, learn, and it’ll be better next time.

Not easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Written By

Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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