Fatherhood: falling into the traps I swore I’d avoid.

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A little over 12 years ago I became a father. This was something that left me very excited indeed. It was the pinnacle of any achievements I might have had (although I’ll be honest, it didn’t have a great deal of competition). I enjoyed it so much that I did it again a few years after. Again, it felt incredible. It was no less joyful second time round and as expected, fatherhood has given me memories that I’ll take to the grave.

So why do I feel so disappointed in myself as a dad?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for sympathy here and I’m certainly not claiming that I’m a terrible dad. This is not, in any way, a cry for help. We don’t need to increase the hugs. In truth, I’d bet that there are countless dads (and mams/mums/moms) who feel exactly the same as me. Deep down, I know that I’m doing a decent job. I’m there for my children, I try to always set them the best examples and, along with my wife, I’m determined that we create memories for them that they’ll cherish and take into adulthood. I’d like to think I’m preparing them pretty well for the real world.

But the truth is that I find fatherhood a genuinely frustrating job. It seems like the harder I work at it the more frustrated I get. I was going to be a natural. A fantastic father. The don of the dads. The toppermost of the popermost. You get the picture. (If you don’t, tough. I’ve ran out of alliteration). However, despite the best of intentions, it’s rare that I ever really actually feel like this.

‘Me and my kids would inevitably connect – I’d worship them and vice versa’

I love kids. Always did. Funny little people with boundless energy and a unique take on things. It’s a cliché, but a lot of the time I felt like me and kids were singing from the same hymn sheet, intellectually. And so, when I had my own, although I knew it was going to be hard, I felt pretty much over-qualified for the role. Me and my kids would inevitably connect – I’d worship them and vice versa. We’d have fun, we’d learn together, we’d laugh, we’d snuggle up and feel safe and loved and we’d explore the world together. And we’ve done all of these things. But I still feel – and it’s probably every day – that I’m getting it all terribly wrong.

There are a number of things about fatherhood that I think I’m bad at. For a start, I wanted to be patience personified as a dad. I understood that kids would test my patience like perhaps nothing else, but I felt prepared for that. In 2006, when I first became a dad, I’d been working with kids for 5 years. Older kids and other people’s kids, but kids all the same. So I thought I’d probably had my patience tested to its limits. Believe me, if you can listen to a thirty teenagers reading Shakespeare and not explode, you imagine you’ve got patience in spades! So what is it about my own kids that makes me so impatient? If I ask them to do a job – say helping me pick the leaves up off the garden – it’s only a matter of seconds before I hear myself snapping, ‘Oh, I’ll do it myself!’ It’s ridiculous! Rational me realises that they’ll drop some leaves before they get to the garden bin, but grumpy dad just cannot help himself. And what does any of it matter? They’re 12 & 9, of course they’re going to make mistakes. In fact, face it; they’ll be bloody awful at absolutely loads of things. I’m decidedly middle-aged and God knows I lack talent in a myriad of areas. So why can’t I accept it in the two miniature humans that I helped to produce?

So promise number one to my kids – this member of the Middle Age Fanclub will work on his patience. Drop the leaves, it’s fine. Mind you, pick the things up afterwards though. All of them. And quickly!

‘…it really feels like I’m not enjoying what should be the most precious moments with my two most precious little people.’

Perhaps the best thing about having kids is the sheer enjoyment of many of the things that you’ll do with them. And yet, I fear I don’t enjoy my kids anywhere near enough. I have moments of dancing around the kitchen with one of them or snuggling up and watching bad telly with them where I’m fun, loving dad and I’m simply enjoying spending time with them. I’ve baked cakes with them, taken them to the woods to build dens, taken them walking in streams, dressed up for their fancy dress themed birthday parties amongst other things. But I fear that those moments have been few and far between and that when my children look back on their childhood they’ll come to the heart-breaking realisation that it just wasn’t that good when it involved dad. Middle age has made me an adult who tries to think far too sensibly and it really feels like I’m not enjoying what should be the most precious moments with my two precious little people. Meanwhile, their mother (my lovely wife) finds it effortlessly easy to act like a ten-year-old with them – signing, dancing, tickling, play-fighting, gaming…you name it and Fun Mum will have been doing it with them!

I coach my son at football and so quite regularly take him to the field where we’ll work on his finishing (and there you have it – read that sentence back and it can’t be long before you’re asking where the fun is; we’ll work on his finishing indeed). All too often during these sessions I find myself frustrated. I called out ‘Right’ and he went left, his 108th shot of the morning trickled into my arms or he went to control the ball and it slid easily under his foot. Afterwards and even as I’m writing this I’m beating myself up – what does it matter? He’s 9! He’s regularly there for an hour, he must be wiped out. He’s doing all of the running while I play in goal, a largely static position, especially if you’re a fully grown adult and your opponent is 9 years old. He, however, NEVER complains!

Promise number two? Much, much more of fun dad. If you’re shot was a bit weak, well at least it was on target. High five, little man! Now let’s go and have a water fight!

Now you wouldn’t know it if you don’t know me very well, but I love a chat. So when I became a dad one of the things I found myself really looking forward to was my kids learning to talk and being able to have a chat. Like I say, funny little people with a unique take on things – our chats would be long and funny and positively enriching. And both of my children have given me immeasurable joy with some of the chats we had when they were toddlers. Seemingly endless questions about how things worked or what something meant that I was able to give them answers that made them happy, or even better, tell them Dad lies and watch as they completely believed what they were told. Again though, reality bites.

‘Why was she reluctant to talk?’

When my daughter first started primary school I looked forward to picking her up and finding out about her day. She, on the other hand, had other ideas. My daughter has rarely given me chapter and verse about her day, meaning our chats have often been over within a minute. At first this worried me. Why was she reluctant to talk? Was she being bullied? Was she profoundly unhappy with the whole concept of school? So, I read bits and pieces in books. Apparently this was perfectly normal – their day is their property and they’re not always too fond of sharing that with others. She was tired too – including Before and After School Club she’d often been there for over 8 hours; she didn’t want to talk, she wanted to watch CBeebies and have something nice to eat. So gradually, I reigned in my expectations and learnt that any response about her day was better than nothing and that we were chatting after all. We could snuggle up and watch telly together and what did it matter that we hadn’t chatted about phonics or throwing beanbags around in PE? Needless to say though, I looked forward to her getting older and less tired and being able to tell me more.

But here’s the rub. She’s got older and the chats are still often fruitless. Initially, she’d tell me more, but as soon as we got through the door of the house she wanted to leave all things school behind. Home meant food, home meant more television and eventually home meant going up to her room to stare at a screen. We’re repeating the process with my son, who although far more chatty is never engrossed enough in conversation to tear himself a way from a screen for too long. To paraphrase Cliff Richard and at the same time confirm my status as very definitely middle aged, ‘It’s not funny, how we don’t talk anymore.’

My third promise has to be then, to listen to them when they do talk. It’s far too easy to tell my kids, ‘I’m busy’ and to complain that ‘We can’t all just be chained to our phones and X-Boxes all day, you know’, so I need to push things aside and make that time for them, regardless of whether I’m ready or not. It won’t be long before we enter moody teenager faze and then they won’t want to talk at all to uncool dad. So now, whether it’s the latest video posted on ‘Like‘ by my daughter or what my son’s killed on Roblox Jail Break, I’ll do my best to listen intently and pull my interested face. Just like being in meetings at work.

‘I’m immensely proud of my two mini humans’

Another area for improvement in my dad skills (dadding?) is probably with something that we all do. My parents certainly did. However, I need to stop comparing my kids unfavourably to other people’s children. I don’t see enough of other people’s kids to have any kind of comprehensive knowledge, so why do I insist on asking mine things like, ‘Why can’t you be (insert particular quality here) like__________________?’ It’s ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong; I’m immensely proud of my two mini humans. They’re both bright, loving, funny little things so why am I bothered that someone else’s child seems to be – on occasion – brighter, lovelier or funnier. After all, is it not my job to nurture all of these positive qualities in them? My daughter must have spent her entire time while in primary school with me and her mum comparing her to her best friend, with us thinking that some of the qualities said best friend had would magically rub off on our darling daughter. I’m now learning that I can be satisfied with my kids, just the way they are. We can work together on making them fully functioning human beings and if that means ignoring some of the negatives, taking a deep breath or walking away for a bit in order to not blow my stack at them, then that’s what I’ll do.

Next promise – leave them be. My children are amazing and probably no more angelic or irritating than most, so from now on (as much as I possibly can) I’ll cherish what’s there in front of me, not give them the impression that they’d be better off being someone else.

The last fatherhood trap that I’ve definitely and shamefully fallen into is in the response I give when I’m questioned on something. It doesn’t really matter what the question is as long as I’ve already issued the order. The question, Why do I have to turn my tablet off/undo the laces on my trainers/eat my mash before my sausages/put my school bag in that particular place/play on the trampoline/not sit in that chair/not sing/not eat my cereal like that, will always, always be met with the same answer. Altogether now, Because I said so! And it’s the response that usually accompanies the ‘No’ to lots of other questions too!

This response used to infuriate me when I was a kid. Often there seemed no good reason for not letting me do stuff and looking back there really was no good reason. I mean, what harm could I come to by venturing into that cottage made entirely out of sweets that we stumbled across in the forest? Yet my dad especially would always tell me it was No,  and because I said so. I hear myself saying it now and often can’t fathom why I’m saying it. I even consciously try to stop myself saying and before I know it, whoops there it is! I guess it’s part control and part trying to keep the kids safe. But I’m sure, with my rational dad head on, my kids can be too well controlled and too protected. Because, surely if I said so, I can just as easily unsay so. Common sense says that if I can unsay the odd because I said so my kids will have at least a little more fun, as well as perhaps enjoying being around their dad some more. And anyway, we haven’t even found a cottage made of sweets in our woods.

So the final promise has to be that I’ll think before I speak. They can eat their sausage before their mash, they can keep their tablet on for a little while longer. They probably can’t go and explore the cottage made out of sweets in the woods, if we find it, and there’s no way in the world, that they can take their trainers off without untying the laces either. No crimes against trainers can be allowed in our house.

And there we have it. Whether it’s a hyper-critical look at my dad skills or whether I really am Victorian dad, changes will be made. My son is nine. We share interests – the scene is set for lots more years of dad and son fun, provided I can relax a little more and enjoy what he brings to the world. My daughter is 12; she has precious few years of her childhood left and I’m going to do my absolute damnedest to help her relax her way through them and enjoy things. And why should she be able to relax? Because I said so!

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Author: middleagefanclub

Man, husband, dad, teacher, coach, Geordie. Former street dancing champion of Tyne and Wear, guinea pig whisperer, developer of the best-selling fragrance, Pizzazz and alleged liar. Ex male model and a devilish raconteur. No challenge should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style.

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