Parenthood: A rant
As far as I can tell, parenthood is around 90% picking stuff up off the floor. No wonder people stoop as they get older. You spend most of your time down there, why bother standing up straight again? In ten seconds time you’re only going to repeat the process.
On the floor: toys, clothes, cutlery, their breakfast, lunch and dinner, your hopes and your dreams.
I never thought it was going to be as hard as this. I knew it would be hard. I didn’t even want to do it in the first place, that’s how hard I thought it was going to be. But not this hard. Not this. This torpedo puncturing holes in every aspect of my life hard.
It never ends, that’s the problem. Never ends and never stops. I’m often reminded of the scene in The Terminator when Kyle Reese is trying to convince Sarah Connor that the guy who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger is in reality a relentless killing machine covered in human tissue. Kyle intones: “It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
Have you met my kids, Kyle?
They’re only three and one, for God’s sake. You’ll miss these years when they’re gone, our relatives say. Jesus Christ, if I end up missing these years, how much worse is it going to get?
I look at other parents now and I think you’re all heroes, absolute heroes. How did you get through these first few years? How? I’m barely clinging on. I’m seizing up. My shoulders, my back, my hips, my neck. My marriage, my sex life, my social life. My sanity.
I’ve got a dad bod now; I tell dad jokes; I do dad dancing. I now know why these things happen. It’s not because dads are uncool. It’s because they’re tired, so, so tired. I’m too fucking stiff to dance with any goddamn fluency or fluidity. My brain’s not sharp enough to make any decent gags. And I don’t have the time or the energy to work out. This is what happens to you. I feel like a dad first and a human being a distant second. I take our daughter to nursery or to swimming, or even to the shops, and that’s how people refer to me: ‘Your daddy’, or ‘Dad’ if I’m lucky enough to be addressed directly. I don’t have a name any more. I just have a role.
Our kids take all the attention, all the airtime. Maybe I sound needy. Well, I am. I need a life. I want a life. I care about life – mine as well as theirs. There’s loads of stuff I still want to do. The prospect of looking at the world through the prism of parenthood for the rest of my days is a terrifying one.
I tell myself I chose this. I know I did. Even though I said I didn’t want kids in the first place, I came round to the idea. When I first got together with my wife I knew she was keen to start a family. First I said give me five years, then two, then I said, OK fine, just give me to the end of this year and let’s give it a go. (Give it a go! Ha. How quaint.) I was in my late thirties. For over twenty years partying and hedonism had been the focal point of my existence. I felt ready for a change, something deeper and more profound. I also had a really difficult and disappointing relationship with my own dad, and I was acutely aware of what I’d missed. I felt like I had a blueprint for what being a father could and should be, and I was keen to put that into practice.
But nothing, nothing prepared me for the reality. No amount of classes or books, or friends and family who had been through it themselves.
Our son turned one in August, our daughter three in September, and they have been hands down the most exhausting, challenging, mind, body and soul twisting years of my life. I’ve had to dig deeper and deeper and deeper. I keep expecting to reach the bottom, burn out, have some kind of a breakdown, but it hasn’t happened yet. Unfortunately. If it did maybe I’d get some rest.
That being said, I’ve been impressed by my own fortitude. And I suppose there is something satisfying in that, something rewarding, in knowing that when it comes down to it you can always keep … on … going.
And that’s the thing, I suppose – weirdly – despite all this, I wouldn’t change it. If someone could offer me the decision to have kids over again, I wouldn’t say no instead of yes. Of course a big part of that is the kids themselves (who I know have featured very little in this rant), and the thought that they wouldn’t be here otherwise. But another part of it is the experience. It is profound. It is real.
I don’t like the term character building. I think we all have character hardwired into us (you only have to see a baby trying to learn how to crawl or walk to appreciate that). I think instead it’s reconnecting with that essence of character that we all have within. Being a parent has forced me to do that; it’s tested me and stretched me. It’s shaken me to my core. It’s made me be patient and understanding in ways I never thought possible. It’s made me drag myself out of bed when I’ve had the full-on flu. It’s made me get over my squeamishness (I’ve been pissed on, shat on and sicked on, once all within the space of five minutes). It’s made me put everything I have into looking after someone else.
I think because so many people do it, I’d always assumed that parenthood couldn’t really be all that tough. But no, it is. It requires genuine heroism. I’m not exaggerating. Try standing up cuddling a crying baby at four in the morning, after a day’s work, off the back of a week’s broken sleep, having snot smeared over your face, while your shoulder muscles scream at you.
At times like that I feel like Willem Dafoe in the movie Platoon, being gunned down by the Viet Cong, my legs giving way, my arms raising to the heavens and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings swelling to a crescendo in in the background.
He gave it all, so you might live. What was his name? Do you know?
No. We only knew him as Daddy.