20 years ago before the birth of our first child, I bought a book – The Complete Guide to Childcare. It made it look as easy as Ikea make banging their weirdly named furniture together because the Scandinavians are better at Lego than we are. I blame this book where there were only women holding the babies, the men relaxing with a glass of ‘Chateaux Smug’ and wearing slacks. Yes ‘slacks’. I should have smelt a rat at ‘slacks’.
I was going to become a literary giant and live off the land. Babies are small and they sleep a lot; a theme in this glossy book, which now resides in some landfill propping up affordable housing on the fringes of Wolverhampton. In truth, my free-range eggs stood me at about a fiver each and rather than the literary giant thing, I became little more than a tall man holding a book. My writing and ‘living off the grid’ time was becoming consumed by a person the size of a bag of Tesco carrots who thought the hands on the ends of her arms belonged to somebody else.
I was a man in a sea of breast-feeding women where the only safe place to look was a poster on a wall of the village hall about ‘Dementia Friendly Parishes’. While I was living on a diet of tubby custard and declining into a similar mental state to Eeyore, my partner, was out running a large teaching hospital brimming with purpose and feeling guilty for leaving her tiny daughter with a man who had never held a child or successfully reared a hamster without tragedy and death. My partner’s days were obviously so much easier than mine. Her clothes weren’t stained with yoghurt or her knees developing calluses as I changed a pile of nappies which would eventually rival the height of Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t sure if I was becoming insane by taking on the task of being a full-time father or whether it was a prerequisite. The tiredness was akin to an acute bout of glandular fever and I knew within the first forty-eight hours this whole thing was going to break me. I am after all only a man, and yes, for any women reading this, I salute you. I salute you because you don’t see child care as a ‘proper job’. It is something that simply ‘has to be done’ and someone has to do it.
I couldn’t leave our daughter you see. No one warns you about the spear-like pain lancing your heart when those first little spiky teeth try to push their way through the gums and you think you know what unconditional love really is until you have a child. Before I had time to come up for breath we had twin girls, and then a son. The die was cast. Despite trying to emulate Ernest Hemingway and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I was in reality a stay at home dad. No one writes books about that!
One by one, my charges are now leaving to live their lives. I thought I might write that great novel, but the inspiration leading me into the world of literary gigantism wouldn’t come. Whether I like it or not, my expertise lies in looking after people who start off as miniature versions of themselves and morph into adults who largely in my view are carved out by their upbringing. Instead, I have written the only blisteringly honest story I can; about what it really means to be a stay at home dad. I have called it ETERNITY LEAVE. It will be published in February 2021. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little blogs and the outpourings of my ragged heart.