Occasionally you hear news that doesn’t just stop you in your tracks

Occasionally you hear news that doesn’t just stop you in your tracks, it occupies every spare inch of your brain.

A late night text, as is often the way these days, was the start of it; an old schoolfriend had died – losing her battle against cancer.

Although we’d not been in contact for years, memories of her seemingly endless positivity, multi kilowatt smile and effervescent spirit instantly flooded back.

This was a tragedy indeed – a life cruelly claimed by the most heartless of diseases.

Then came another text – she had left behind a husband and two small children.

With that, instantly, inevitably and shamefully someone else’s suffering was internalised and as a father of two children under five myself I began to explore the jet black questions that arise in my head.

How would I cope?

How could I cope?

How would a questioning four year old boy digest the fact that Daddy doesn’t have the answer to this query, where has Mummy has gone and when will she be back?

How can you tell a two year old that Mummy won’t come to him – ever again – no matter how hard he calls for her?

And when they finally do stop calling how would you deal with the devastating realisation that they may never remember her, not properly, not fully, not like you will?

Question after question comes into mind, all triggered by this hideous loss and the emotional canyon it leaves in its wake, but scant few answers follow – the awful enormity of imagining how it would feel simply paralyses me.

The truth is though that when these most dire of circumstances are actually served up to us, when we are forced to summon up the sheer guts to carry on, we somehow find a way to do just that.

We have to, so we do.

I hope with all my heart that’s the case for this family.

Love and Fear

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to a lot of new Dad’s in the course of writing a book or two about fatherhood.

Amongst the fatigue and the joy there have been some great quotes offered up about how life changes when two becomes three, four, five or beyond.

“Sleep is the new sex” was perhaps one of the pithiest lines to come my way but the one that really hit home was from a father of two who is quite a bit further down the track than I.

“Before I had children I had no concept of my capacity to love or my capacity to fear.” this wise man said to me, and he is very right indeed.

Where your own children are concerned love and fear are two sides of the same coin. The more you love the more fear you have of the thing generating that love being hurt or taken away from you.

There are exceptions to this rule like there are exceptions to all rules of course, but in the main even the most emotionally stilted of men find the love they have for their children conquers all.

As first smiles are followed by first steps and first words, the deal is sealed and from then on just a look is enough to have you hook, line and sinker – the depth and power of the feeling in your chest enough to take your breath away.

But loves sneaky bedfellow fear is soon making its prescnce felt too. From the stair gate to the plug sockets it’s easy to let the perceived threats to this small package that you dote on so much reach obsessional levels.

Living in a city as my family does roads and the cars that speed down them are the things that occassionally wake me up in the middle of the night, my body gripped by fear as my dreams play out some hideous road safety announcement with my youngsters as the principle stars.

There’s nothing to be done about this ying and yang relasionship of course and if my mother is to be believed – and she generally is – the worry never ever leaves you, even when you are an octogenarian and your offspring are busy fretting about their own kids.

But as ever, when the coin is turned over we find the love is life long too.

fatherhood skills now move firmly under the microscope as your partner watches this blessed man complete every chore, play every game and tidy up every jigsaw piece with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.

Don’t let that put you off though, if you’re going to be just as busy on holiday as you are at home you might as well do it with people who are as exhausted as you are and who get just as excited about that first glass of wine of an evening!

Holidays

Its inevitable that last week’s glorious weather – which we are almost certainly destined to wistfully refer to as “the summer” come October – makes us all long for a proper holiday.

With the dark nights of winter seeming to have stretched back three or four years all that unexpected sunshine has got us all yearning to keep those shorts on for an extended spell.

Of course a break with small children in tow isn’t a break from parental duties in the slightest and the oasis of calm and relaxation we remember from our pre travel cot erecting days is replaced by something altogether more strenuous.

Arriving at your holiday home to find that the stair gate you requested looks like it was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and assembled by Frank Spenser can be just the beggining of a hectic week or two chasing after toddlers as they zero in on yet another dangerous part of their new world.

Over time though you learn – sometimes the hard way – that the nuts and bolts of where you go is crucial when you enter the realm of the family holiday and that simplicity can often be the key to having a great time.

You’ll only get too ambitious and bite off more than you can chew the once. An eco campsite on stilts complete with your own personal bee hive might sound idyllic but you’ll need sedating on arrival back home with all the nerves you’ve shredded keeping your 3 year old out of harms way.

Then there’s who to go with. There’s an awful lot to be said for sharing the load with other parents of children a similar age to yours. The little ones get playmates, the grown ups get conversations that don’t revolve around Iggle Piggle and no one can complain about the noise or the broken nights.

Although doubling up with another family can be a great idea for all those reasons, it’s worth thinking long and hard about who you choose to go away. There’s nowhere to hide in a holiday cottage and you become exposed to their parenting techniques – and their relationship.

As do they to your little foibles.

It’s a very sobering vacation moment as a Dad when you realise that your opposite number not only does every breakfast stint with his spotless children, but has also never missed a bathtime.

Ever.

Your hitherto celebrated (at least by you) fatherhood skills now move firmly under the microscope as your partner watches this blessed man complete every chore, play every game and tidy up every jigsaw piece with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.

Don’t let that put you off though, if you’re going to be just as busy on holiday as you are at home you might as well do it with people who are as exhausted as you are and who get just as excited about that first glass of wine of an evening!

The Baby Bomb

It’s often said that mothers never tell expectant women what truly awaits them in the delivery room.

The code of female conduct quite clearly forbids any member from frightening the maternity pants off of another with graphic and gratuitous descriptions of contractions, forceps and stitches, just weeks before they are due to experience at least one of them.

And quite right too.

What kind of world would we live in if it was social acceptable to reduce pregnant women to emotional rubble with information that can only serve to haunt them as they approach their due date.

(Seemingly watching One Born Every Minute whilst nine months gone is fine and the floods of tears it brings on therapeutic – at least for my wife)

But there is another parental area where information is withheld, where the utilitarian concept of the greater good is invoked, where the tough stuff is left out.

And it revolves around the Baby Bomb – by which I mean the impact a 9lb nappy wearing bundle of joy has on your relationship from the second it lands.

Everyone expects some level of change or disruption, of course they do – but nothing we can’t handle, how bad can a few broken nights sleep be after all?

The answer, as all parents reading this will know is very, very bad indeed. And that’s just if it’s a few. Which it won’t be.

But we’re not merely talking about lack of sleep here, or a dwindling bank balance – we’re talking about the fundamentals of the very relationship which brought this baby into being in the first place.

Thirty years or so ago the rules of engagement were pretty clear and had been for hundreds of years – Dad at work, Mum with Baby.

This unhappy arrangement has led to many a father missing out on their little ones growing up, but as we know this has been changing for the better in recent years with many a modern relationship now being built on shared responsibility.

That equilibrium extends way beyond childcare too – a world where men come in from work, put the housekeeping on the table, inform the wife that they have booked the family for a week in Skeggy before tucking into the pipping hot meal ready on the table for them is more like science fiction than social history to many couples now.

Holidays are booked, cars are bought and carpets chosen jointly – and as for cold hard cash, figures show that the number of households where the female is the major breadwinner are on the rise every year.

We increasingly live in a society where, at long last the two genders of our troublesome little species are at least starting to live in something resembling equality.

Amen to that sister – and indeed brother.

Then along comes baby. A evolutionary unit unchanged in thousands of years. It’s not read much Germaine Greer, is hungry and likes the smell of the one with the smooth face.

Suddenly for the lady of the house it’s 1953. No matter how helpful her partner is and intends to be, for a good long while the rest of her life can go hang according to the insufferably beautiful but downright demanding dot in the cot.

Unsettling, unnerving and seemingly never- ending as this feels to mum, it often has a knock on effect on Dad too as the otherworldliness of the situation changes attitudes and temperaments.

His efforts to help can be dismissed as pathetic, his pleas that a tough day at work means he is tired too can be scoffed at and his bewilderment at how to cope with not one, but seemingly two new people in his life can be absolute.

I can hear the female violinists from here.

In truth though a new baby changes everything for both partners and requires a fundamental readjustment in how their relationship works. The fact that this period also coincides perfectly with trying to learn how to parent too, makes for a period of massive instability which requires patience, good humour and understanding on both sides.

Rare commodities indeed after three nights of no sleep.

And no one tells you! The other couples already in the family way never mention it, save for the odd coded comment or hidden smirk.

The swines.

Perhaps it’s for the best though, most of us get over the shock and find a way through – and once we do, it’s our turn to give the knowing looks.