I often wonder if I could meet myself before I was a dad, what would I say?
Would I scream “don’t do it” with a slightly unhinged look in my eye? Would I just say “everything will be fine” hoping to just get through a potential awkward conversation? Or would I actually give myself some solid advice and realistic expectations of what life will be like.
I’d like to think the third option, but it would depend what kind of day I was having.
So, if I was having a good day, here are three things that would make my life easier being a dad.
No. 1 – you might feel like you lose your identity…but it just changes
Do you remember life before your first child was born?
You could have been the life and soul of the party. You could have been the biggest Manchester United fan in the world, staunchly watching every away day game. Or fitness could have been your thing, hitting the gym or going for runs. Every day.
It was your life. It was part of you.
But then along comes your baby and everything changes. Everything.
Your main responsibility is now your baby. It’s not your football team, your fitness or your social life.
Before my son, George, was born, I could have told you what day of the week it was by what my workout was. Leg day was Monday. Chest and biceps were on Wednesday. Thursday was shoulders.
I could go on, but before you judge my workout routine, my point is my fitness routine was a big part of my life. I talked about it (and probably bored a lot of people along the way) a lot.
Then George was born. And for the first two weeks during my paternity leave, he was the focus. Life revolved around three hour cycles of feeding, pooing, and sleeping (him not me). It was an amazing experience and for the most part I ran on adrenaline.
Then two weeks turned into two months. There wasn’t a dumbbell in sight. Every time I saw family or friends the conversation revolved around George. How much does he sleep? How much milk does he drink? Why does he always wee when you take his nappy off?
The thing is I’m not complaining. It’s completely natural that your family and friends want to talk about your child. It’s a big deal.
But I remember I found it difficult to get my head around the fact that instead of reminiscing about nights out or re-enacting Alan Partridge jokes, I was talking about being a dad.
Which to begin with I wasn’t comfortable with at all, mainly because I just didn’t know that much about it. More to the point, I didn’t know how I felt about it. Of course, I was beyond happy, I was besotted with George. But I missed my fitness regime. I missed having the downtime and space to just browse endless social media channels or WhatsApp conversations.
It’s as if someone just hands you a new life and your personality doesn’t quite fit to begin with.
Life changes in an instant. And no parenting book will prepare you for the changes that you are faced with. You don’t feel like yourself because your whole existence has been upgraded to look after, care and love another human being.
But it doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your identity, it means it just changes with your circumstances. Unless you plan on taking your newborn baby to the pub on a Friday night or down your local gym as your accountability partner (which I don’t recommend by the way), your life, social circles, daily routines, habits, everything, changes.
I like to think it enriches your identity. You become much more empathetic; you spend time searching for things like ‘Birthday wishes for daughter‘ and ‘meaningful birthday messages for sons‘ because you want to be sure it’s perfect. You worry more but you love more. Your perspective on life changes. The things that were important before being a dad seem less so afterwards. Importantly, you will grow into your new identity.
No. 2 – it’s a great opportunity to experience new things
It’s funny, I didn’t appreciate my lifestyle and the things I did before my children were born, half as much as I should have done.
Sleep. Lie-ins. Randomly going out on a Tuesday evening because my wife or I couldn’t be bothered cooking tea.
Yes, all of the above are rare moments once your kids are born, and yes you do miss them. But that’s not to say you’re given a life sentence once you have children. Far from it. Things just change, you just start hanging out at soft play centres rather than cafes. Or you spend your weekends at your kids’ friends’ birthday parties at a jungle gym, rather than your own friends’ birthdays at the pub.
You soon realise some of your new best friends are those in the same situation – other parents.
I remember some of the very first birthday parties my son started to go to with his nursery friends. I was nervous. I felt like I was 11 again and just starting high school with a class full of strangers.
Your conversations start by talking about the one thing you all have in common – your kids. Then gradually, you ease into the birthday parties and your stories about your own child start to get a bit more embarrassing. And you start to bond over how many times your own child has weed all over you, or the carpet.
Before long, you’ll realise your old life of hanging out with your friends at the pub or date night at the cinema are a rare occasion.
But that’s ok.
They will be replaced by trips to trampoline parks, outdoor adventure activity parks, or museums. Places that, dare I say it, you wouldn’t necessarily think to go to if you didn’t have kids.
New places. New faces. It’s good to mix things up. And again, that’s ok. Your priorities change when you become a dad, and so do your social circles.
I remember when I was in my early to mid-twenties. I always thought I would want to go out every weekend for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine not going out at the weekend.
But now I’m 37, the thought of going out every weekend strikes fear in me. Don’t get me wrong I like a night out, but a night out now means at least a week’s recovery (I know I’m lame, but I’m ok with that).
And let’s face it, kids know when you’re hungover. They crank up the levels of annoyingness and you suffer even more for it. But let’s face it, the 7 Jaegarbombs the night before were totally worth it.
No. 3 – be comfortable with being uncomfortable
This sounds like one of those cliché business quotes forcing you out of your comfort zone. It’s really not that.
It’s more like prepare yourself for the fact that not everything goes to plan.
Picture this…you’ve arranged a playdate with another dad and their child. You’ve been to at least ten children’s parties together so you’re practically best friends.
You wake up on the morning when you’re due to meet up, and your child feels hotter than the sun. You give them a shot of Calpol hoping that it’s going to make them feel better. But it doesn’t, and you have to cancel your plans.
I remember when my son George was about one and a half to two and we cancelled quite a lot of playdates or days out. I would feel really frustrated and angry, not at George for being ill, but at the situation.
Sometimes it would be quite overbearing, as it meant a potential day out had quickly turned into three more Disney movies sat on the couch.
It made it worse because I freelanced at the time and worked from home. So weekends were my chance to escape my house. Or so I thought.
But, and I’m going to use one of my favourite phrases now, it is what it is. It’s not my son’s fault I work from home. It’s not his fault he’s not feeling well. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the situation.
Is feeling angry going to change it? No.
I’ve learned to not let these situations rule my emotions. And to just embrace whatever situation you’re in. If your plans change, then they change. Just be present with the moment you find yourself in, smile, and be happy.
So, there are the three things that I wish I knew before I became a dad.
Would it have made being a dad any easier? Possibly.
Would it have put me off having kids? Definitely not.
Would I still be sat here now still moaning about the three points even if I knew of them?