Parenting, as we know, is a hard gig. You can read all the Miriam Stoppard books you like. You can practice Zen meditation and positive visualisation until the cows come home. You can totally think you have it nailed, with your birth plan and your Peter Rabbit themed nursery
and then your baby arrives.
At this point, your brain turns to porridge, your hormones turn into a scene from The Hunt for Red October, and you realise you know absolutely jack shit about how to look after the tiny person currently blinking myopically and hopefully in your direction. Your utter and total devotion to them is in inverse proportion to any clue you might have as to how to keep them alive for the next forty or fifty years. It is frankly terrifying.
From this point on you will lurch from teething to nappy rash to toddling to potty training to school years and beyond repeating the mantra: ‘It’s just a phase.’ This is, of course, a total placebo, given that one phase morphs effortlessly into another phase, and sometimes several phases collide. This is particularly true if you decide to go and do the the whole parenting thing again.
Mostly you choose to be a parent. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have parenthood thrust upon you.
I am thinking of my husband here.
When Jason and I got together I was the mother of a four year old and a one year old daughter. He had never thought much about having children. He wasn’t particularly keen on small people, and certainly had not entertained the idea of becoming ‘insta-dad’.
After three months together he suggested I move in with him. He had never lived with a girlfriend before. I pointed out I came with children as extras. They were not optional.
He said: ‘I’m not sure if it will work. I don’t know if I can be a dad. We’ll just have to take it one day at a time and see how we go.’
That was twelve years, and a son ago.
He’s doing pretty well.
We are not the perfect family. We are volatile and loud and confrontational. We have our ups and downs. Sometimes we have so many ups and downs it’s like being in the Bay of Biscay in a typhoon. We are all radically different from each other, and this brings its challenges along with its joys. It has been a learning curve for all of us, figuring out how to be a family.
I wouldn’t swap it for all the tea in China. I never really understood what family meant until I created one with Jason. It is, and will remain the best thing I ever did in my life. I couldn’t have done it without him. Not like this.
Being a modern dad, I think, is even harder than it was when I was a child and dads were mostly around to go to work and come back and read the paper and take you to the seaside once a year. The most input my dad was required to have in my teens was to tell me my skirts were too short for example (and pay the phone bill. Thanks Dad). It would never have occurred to us that he might have wanted to talk to me about growing up or feelings or boyfriends other than in the most perfunctory and traumatised of ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my dad to bits. He’s a really great dad, but he is a dad of his time. He has gone above and beyond for me on more than one occasion in my life, and I will be the first to acknowledge that I have not been the perfect daughter and I have certainly tested his parenting resolve times beyond counting. He can be spectacular in a crisis, and I know I can rely on him when the chips are down, but he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a modern dad. This is not his fault. It’s a generational thing.
Jason, on the other hand, has been required not only to learn parenting on the hoof, but also how to do things the modern way. It has not been easy, and I am incredibly blessed that he has more than risen to the occasion.
Modern dads not only have to nag their daughters about the shortness of their skirts, but also talk to them at the dinner table about periods without wriggling around, flushing red and coughing a lot. Modern dads not only have to take their sons to the skate park, but also talk to them about their flirtations with cross dressing, advise them that maxi dresses are not ideal skateboarding wear and be totally ok with the fact that they might end up as the next Eddie Izzard. Modern dads not only have to accept that their daughters cry inexplicably, they also have to offer tea and sympathy instead of running off to hide behind the newspaper.
It’s a tough gig these days being all metrosexual.
My husband is ticking all the boxes. I am so grateful. I am so lucky. I am thankful:
That he took in me and my two girls and behaved from day one as their ‘dad’, even though he had no idea what he was doing and we were hard work from the get go (no surprises there).
That he figured out the rocky path of going from mama’s boyfriend to being unequivocally ‘dad’ and allowed the girls to deal with this in their own way even when sometimes that way must have hurt his feelings.
That he has always accepted that they have another dad, and has always made room in our family life for him.
That he was delighted enough with his non-biological children to want to go on and have another child with me and start again from scratch.
That he has been there, not just for the fun bits of being a dad, but for all the things that make being a dad real; the homework; the tantrums; the nightmares; the illnesses; the tears and the endless amounts of glitter (in his beard).
That he has dropped everything to be at hospitals, concerts, parents evenings, rehearsals and sports day, even though most of the time these things are a gigantic pain in the arse.
That he has supported us financially, domestically, emotionally and practically despite sometimes being utterly baffled by the ways of his wife and children.
That he has as much pride and love for his non-biological children as he does for his biological child and he is the father of three children in every single way that matters.
Happy Father’s Day.