The biggest threat to modern dads: their own fathers and grandfathers

If you ask most dads who they think of when they are deciding what sort of dad they want to be, their own father or grandfather tends to spring to mind – either in a good or bad way. We all vow not to be the same as a parent if they weren’t the person that we felt they should’ve been, or vow to provide our own children with a similar picture-perfect childhood and unbreakable father-son bond that we had.

I’ve got a problem with this.

Society was very different back then and the male/female divide wasn’t as equal as what it is today. I don’t need to explain what parenting 20+ years ago looked like, but needless to say, it was the ‘norm’ for dads to be out at work and take a hands-off approach to raising their children. Some bucked the trend but faced a few raised eyebrows if they did. This way of parenting was shared with our father’s father and his father and so on. Our generation is the first to say, “As a dad, I want to be as hands-on as I can possibly be – both emotionally and physically”. This is major. Dads right now have started a new ‘norm’ and with that comes not just raised eyebrows, but raised everything!

So fast forward to when a modern dad first tells his own father about his pregnancy news. The conversation should obviously go well and the father then, without request, starts imparting his own tales of fatherhood. The son nods and laughs in unison at his father’s hands-off approach when it came to changing nappies and getting up in the night, but smiles warmly at the memories of playing together in the garden and going away on holiday together. Nothing more is thought of this encounter, until sh*t gets real and your partner or indeed surrogate, goes into labour.

The prospect of fatherhood is suddenly ‘real’ and the vision of how they wish to parent comes to the forefront of their mind. Then that conversation they had way back with their own dad pops into their head. At this point, the dad who doesn’t yet realise he will end up being a modern dad, thinks ok, I will let my partner take the lead. I’m here if she needs me and I can look after the baby when she sleeps. Let’s face it, most first-time dads have no real idea of what they can and should do when a baby arrives and rely, initially, on their partner to guide them. It’s only when they get home from the hospital and realise what an up and down rollercoaster and mind-f*ck parenting is, they realise the only way to make head or tail of the experience is to both muck-in and take each hour, not day, as it comes. Most modern dads take a chunk of time off initially and are willing to do whatever is needed to ensure mum and baby are happy.

After the first couple of weeks pass, things start to calm down (a teeny tiny amount). Life is a bit easier and you’ve kinda got the parenting malarkey sussed. Eat, poo, sleep and so on. This is also the time that the unhelpful well-wishers start to impart their opinion once again. You brush off a lot of them, but there is one that can be most dangerous to a new dad – his own father. To add, this new dad who, contrary to his own initial beliefs, is now happily changing nappies, getting up to do the night feeds, taking the baby out for walks and to baby groups, and thinking about taking more time off. He may also be thinking about how to approach the conversation with his boss about flexi-working. The total opposite to his own father. There’s then a conversation so powerful and mind-bending that takes place between a son and his father and it usually happens in weeks 2-4 post having a baby.

Father to son:

“So son, when are you going back to work? Because you know, you need to provide for this family of yours.”

Son to father:

“Well actually, I’m really enjoying being a dad and now I’m in it, I don’t really want to have to leave the house before the baby is up and get home once the baby is asleep. I’m going to have a chat with my boss about taking more time off, or, see if they will offer -working, so I get to work from home a couple of days per week.”

Not unreasonable I hear you say.

Father to son:

“Well that’s good you feel that way son. Great if you can get a bit more time off, but if I were you, I wouldn’t rock the boat at work, as you’re the main provider now and you need to make sure you can look after this child.”

End of conversation.

Now, no harm is meant, because here is your father’s way of parenting coming into force. However, for his son, who frankly is winging it along with his partner, this is a debilitating conversation, especially when it comes from someone who you have a huge amount of admiration for, who also influences how you think and behave. The pressure a dad now feels to ‘provide’ financially is major. In some respects, the pressure to provide emotionally and physically, by being present, isn’t discussed. This is wrong.

This is the turning point for the modern dad. This is the point when a dad with good intention succumbs to the way his father would’ve parented and he simply goes back to work after two weeks, with the distant hope of weekends and the dream feed, because as tiring as this is, it means time with his new baby.

So here are my thoughts on this: WHAT A LOAD OF BOLLOCKS

 

There is a time in your life when I believe, as a woman, that a man strengthens his manhood (take your mind out of the gutter here). And that’s when he rebels against something or someone who means a lot to him, but in a particular instance is wrong, or their opinion or advice is steering him in a way he doesn’t want to go. Just to caveat here, a man can be a manly man 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. This is just my opinion as a female.

So here’s both Andrew (my husband) and my own take on how to deal with the aforementioned scenario.

 

  • While your partner is pregnant, your nights out may reduce and so will your expenditure. This is the time to save and sell. Save any money you can and sell those items you don’t or won’t need. You will need the space anyway for all the baby and toddler crap that will suddenly appear en masse.

 

  • With this newly acquired money, bank it so you can’t touch it. Put it in a bond if you can. Forget the interest it will acquire.

 

  • This is a big one. Assume you will want to be a hands-on dad, or at least take more than two weeks off. Have that chat with your boss at the same time as your partner tells her work that she is pregnant. See what your company can and will offer. Get things in writing and in place. If your boss refuses or starts taking a passive-aggressive approach, i.e. that the company may not cope without you and taking extended time off puts them in a difficult position, swiftly move onto point number 4.

 

  • Undertake a job MOT at the 12-week pregnancy mark. This could be as simple as a SWOT analysis of your role, but I also want you to include MH at the it – mental health. How does or has your job impacted health? Stress, anxiety, pressure, times you’ve had to do an unfair trade-off between going home earlier and work longer hours, just because the boss makes you feel you and so on. Really look at what it reveals. If it is alarming, look for another job now. Big I know, especially if you’ve had this job for a number of years. But let me tell you, it is far easier to realise all of this and look for a job proactively, than to be in a situation when the baby is here, where you’re urgently needing to be at home more to support your partner and baby during a tough period, and there you are walking off to walk feeling guilty.

 

  • Then have that conversation with your dad, which will come, and inform him you’ve got money in the bank, or you’ve already had the chat with your boss, or you’ve got a plan work-wise to ensure you don’t miss out as a dad and this may be very different to your dad, but it’s what makes you happy.

 

So in a nutshell, I’m banging on the preparation drum again. Get prepared dads. Follow the same approach as your partner when it comes to announcing a pregnancy to your boss. And ask for an open discussion about your options to take more time off, take paternity leave, or go for flexi-working. Do that SWOT-MH analysis. Look at it when your partner is 12 weeks pregnant and then again at 20 weeks. You’ll know why I suggest this when you do it.

Finally, remember life is for living and sometimes you don’t need to question. Just do what comes naturally and what makes you smile first thing in the morning. Even if you’ve only had four hours of broken sleep!