Shit I Wish They’d Told Me – Part 1

There’s an old saying that my Dad likes to trot out on occasion.

“Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one.”

Never has this more true than when it comes to parenting advice for new parents. It’s everywhere. Advice for mums. Advice for dads. Advice from family. Advice from colleagues. Advice from books and journals. Advice from complete f*cking strangers that don’t even have any children of their own. Some of it is useful. Most of it is not.

Despite the plethora of opinions and advice thrown my way as I eagerly anticipated becoming a dad for the first time, there was some really bloody important shit out there that all of the “experts” completely forgot to mention.

The “Shit I Wish They’d Told Me” trilogy is a three-part series of posts for new dads, filled with real truths that you will struggle to find in any parenting books. Truths that are based on my own experiences as I embarked on my own dadding journey.

Part 1 – The Paternal Bond

People often talk about that overwhelming feeling of love, and the instant bond between father and child as the midwife hands you your brand new baby. Apparently this is a thing, and I’m sure it happens to a lot of new dads in the delivery suite every single day. It just didn’t happen to me.

With the birth of Focker #1 Mrs D-E-D endured a difficult labour for several hours. I was standing by, about as much use as tits on a bull (to borrow another of my dad’s favourite expressions), trying to remember what they had told us at the ante natal class several weeks earlier. For some reason, all I could remember was that they had told us – the dads – to bring some snacks, which I had dutifully prepared. So I stood by, helpless, munching on my snacks and wondering whether I should risk certain death and offer my wife any.

After many hours of labouring and seemingly getting nowhere, we had a visit from the obstetrician. 3 minutes later we were getting prepped for emergency surgery, and 10 minutes after that I was holding my firstborn. My son. Focker #1. Mrs D-E-D, high as Lindsay Lohan on painkillers and whatever natural endorphins occur after birth, couldn’t stop saying how beautiful he was. I kept looking around the room for the beautiful baby, because the only one I could see looked pretty rough. Covered in a cheesy like substance, with a buckled ear and a head that was shaped like a miniature road cone. I could think of many adjectives to describe how this baby looked. Beautiful was definitely not one of them.

I held him, I helped to cut the umbilical cord, I took my shirt off for the skin on skin contact and held him some more. I waited for the feelings of love and paternal protection to wash over me. Nothing. All I could feel was blessed f*cking relief that the worst part of the day was now over, and that wife and child were both ok. Don’t get me wrong, it was intense and emotional. In fact, more than five years later and I’m getting teary just writing this. But as I sat there in my scrubs pants, holding this tiny little cone head awkwardly in my bare arms, there was no love.

Like all new parents the first few weeks after his arrival were a blur of sleepless nights, unhelpful visitors, endless nappy changes, and Google-ing things like correct baby poo colour. Still no love.

At week four we found ourselves at the emergency ward of the children’s hospital with a near-SIDS experience. Fortunately, we were one of the lucky ones and somehow we escaped unscathed. Physically at least. Even through this traumatic experience, my feelings of love for my child remained muted to the point that I wasn’t sure that I felt anything at all.

I wish I could say that there was a lightning bolt moment when the paternal love kicked in. Like when he smiled at me (or at least in my general direction) for the first time. When he first grasped my finger with his tiny little hand, or when he peed in my mouth while I was changing his nappy. But there wasn’t. The fact is, I actively disliked him for at least the first 8 weeks of his life because of the impact he’d had on mine. I was tired, I felt like Mrs D-E-D hated me (and she probably did a lot of the time), and I could no longer do all of the stuff that I loved to do. To make matters worse, I felt like a failure as a father. Like the dad-love receptors in my brain were irreparably damaged – possibly from too many head knocks as a young rugby player. I despaired, and constantly wondered whether I would ever actually love this child in the way that society dictated I should.

In writing this piece, I spoke to a number of dad-mates about these instant feelings of paternal love. Every single one of them said the same thing. It’s bullshit. They now all love their kids as much as any parent loves their children, but at the beginning, they too felt nothing. Nothing except relief, tiredness, resentment, helplessness, and most significantly, despair for not loving their child the way that society expected of them. One mate, whom I won’t name for the sake of his marriage, even confessed in a quiet whisper, that he loved his dog more than his child for the first six months. And here I was thinking I was the only one!

I didn’t realise it at the time, but even though I was struggling and resentful (and incidentally so was the dog), there was a slow burning coal of love for this child. It just quietly smoldered away inside of me while we battled through this period. I don’t remember how old he was before I felt the warmth of this coal, but once I discovered it, it was like that feeling had always been there. And now, like all burning coals, my love for him is red hot, fierce, and completely unquenchable.

I wish someone had taken me aside back then, before Focker #1’s arrival on this earth, and told me that it’s ok if I don’t instantly love my child upon his or her birth. It’s ok if I’m not willing to lay down my life from the very first second he is handed to me. It’s ok to love my dog more than my child. Well, at least for the first few months.  This single piece of advice would’ve saved me an enormous amount of worry and despair during a period that’s tough enough without the feelings of emotional inadequacy.

Now there’s some shit I wish they’d told me…..

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The New Shoe Diaries

They lasted nearly twelve months of being scuffed, dragged and scraped along the bitumen. But after an overwhelming combination of being filled with sand, mud and of course, ever-expanding five year old feet, we decided that it was time to treat Focker #1 to a new pair of shoes this week. As the custodian of the domestic portfolio in our family, the task was mine.

Of all of the traditional ‘mum’ tasks that I’ve had to tackle since becoming the SAH parent(including but not limited to) baking birthday cakes; washing; drying and folding 300 loads of laundry every day; drinking wine in my #activewear, this was by far one of the least intimidating. Or so I thought.

Little did I know that for a five year old, the humble running shoes are more than just a means of covering one’s feet. They are a fashion statement. They are a status symbol. Choosing new shoes is not a decision to be made quickly, or taken lightly, as I was soon to discover. This is how that epic voyage of discovery unfolded.

Tuesday 0730

We first broached the subject of new shoes over weetbix and peaches. To say he was excited was an understatement. Straight away I could see in his beautiful five year old eyes the amazing opportunities that the prospect of new shoes could bring.

Thinking it was the right thing to do, I embraced his excitement as we talked about the endless possibilities that awaited him and his new shoes. Velcro straps. Grippy soles. Uppers emblazoned with all the colours of the rainbow. Rocket boosters in the heels…. With the benefit of hindsight, I may have oversold it.

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Tuesday 1430

I headed off to collect him from school. I was not particularly looking forward to the impending shoe shopping experience, but somewhat buoyed by his excitement from that morning and the fact that Focker #2 was in daycare and for once, wouldn’t be present to sabotage our shopping trip.

As soon as I arrived at the school collection point I was greeted by his two besties. It appeared that the excitement of new shoes was contagious, as they both quizzed me on what kind of shoes he was going to be getting. Laces or velcro? red or blue? Ones that light up, or ones that have extra grippy tread? (apparently another essential pre-requisite for active young boys). Clearly the boys had been discussing the new shoes throughout the day, and it’s fair to say they were pretty pumped.

As Focker #1 emerged from the classroom, it was immediately apparent that his excitement had gone off the boil somewhat during the day. He looked tired and pale, and had lost the sparkle that the new-shoe excitement had given him that morning. Not to be discouraged, I loaded him into the car and off we went to the local mall.

On our arrival at the kids shoe shop it was immediately obvious that the reality of the shoe selection was not going to live up to his expectations. Undeterred, I persuaded him, with the help of the 19 year old shop assistant, to get his feet measured and try on a few pairs. He half-heartedly wandered around the shop in various pairs of shiny new shoes, dragging his feet and looking miserable. Blind daddy could see that he was disappointed. Half mumbling, half whispering, he asked me if we could just go home.

I decided to take a break and try and reinstate his spark with a chocolate milkshake and a smartie cookie. No luck. We went to a different shoe shop, but the selection was even poorer, the sales assistant even less helpful, and Focker #1 even less enthusiastic. The only shoe he was even remotely interested in was the same price as a small Caribbean island. Fortunately for our fiscal situation, it wasn’t available in his size. Feeling disheartened that I’d failed in my duty as the primary carer I decided to call it a day.

Wednesday 0600

After a restless night spent dreaming of shoes with LED lights and rocket boosters, I woke to Focker #1 with the worst rasping, hacking, wheezing cough I’d ever heard. It turned out his lack of enthusiasm for new shoes the previous afternoon may have been at least partially health related.

The inevitable decision was made to keep him home from school for the day.

Wednesday 0930

After a triple dose of Vicks and paracetamol, Focker #1 had perked up enough to warrant a second attempt at finding new shoes. This time a different mall, different selection of shoe shops, but the same result. Too much red. Not enough red. Too sparkly. Not enough grip. Too much like Lucas’s shoes. Not enough like Levi’s. My initial exuberance and bravado was fading fast and I was starting to wonder whether I even had what it took to get this job done. As if to rub salt in our wounds, two year old Focker #2 picked herself out a new pair of kicks in the first shop we set foot in. It took her less than 60 seconds and cost me 8 bucks. She didn’t even need new shoes but I bought them anyway, just to prove to her brother that it could be done without the excruciating agony that he was putting us through.

Once again we sought consolation from our retail failure over a milkshake and a muffin, while Focker #2 proudly strutted around in her brand new pink high tops.

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Thursday 0800

Focker #1’s health was remarkably improved, and I shipped him off to school in his faded, dirty, worn and slightly too small running shoes. I spent an hour or so browsing online to see if I’d have any more luck finding the right shoe for him in the cyberworld. It didn’t take long however, before I was distracted by the daily news and some videos of cats that are scared of cucumbers.

Thursday 1500

We decided to give the shoe shopping a rest and instead stay and enjoy a play after school. All well and good, until a particularly vigorous game of chasey resulted in a slip and a full lateral blowout in one of Focker #1’s shoes. Pressure to find a new pair of shoes had suddenly escalated. It was time for me to really step up.

Friday 0900

Pupil free day, so no school to meddle with my plans. As soon as the mall opened I marched the little fockers into the shoe shop. Me with fresh optimism and a steely look of determination. Focker #1 flip flopping along in his thongs, and Focker #2 in her pink high tops. I made a pact to myself and the little fockers that come hell or high water, we would not be leaving without new shoes.

The scene for my Alamo was the very first shoe shop that we had visited three days and one lifetime previously. We had come full circle in our pursuit for the perfect shoe.

We spent some time browsing the selection again, before I spotted a snazzy looking pair that appeared to tick all of the boxes. Velcro straps. Grippy soles. Just the right amount of blue and red. LED lights. Hallelujah!! My excitement was infectious, and Focker #2 was nodding in agreement as we tried them on. The fit seemed good. He walked a few laps of the shop. At my encouragement, he sprinted a few more.

“Perfect, we’ll take them thanks,” I proudly proclaimed to the shop assistant.

“But Daaaad…..”

I turned to see my son standing there, disappointment written all over his young face.

“What’s wrong buddy?” I asked, sensing that my victory was about to be cruelly snatched from my grasp.

“I really like them, but…….”

“But what???”

“But where’s the button for the rocket boosters?”