This is part 7 in a 7 part series. Click here to go to Part 1.
Parenting: as unique as it is common; as individual as it is shared.
As rewarding as it is revoking. I say that not to dampen the euphoric emotions of raising a new life, but because raising that life demands change and change demands leaving pieces of your own life behind.
We become less selfish, our lives are about the new “bundle of joy” that is so dependent on us.
As purposeful as that change is, it is a seismic shift in our identities. Almost every way in which we defined ourselves changes when we become parents.
I say “we”, and there may be parents who don’t feel that way at all, like nothing in their lives, least of all their sense of self, changed with parenthood. But for me that was not the case.
Letting go of who I once knew myself to be was not easy. Even now, usually at times of high stress or piercing cries, I’m prone to moments of a hollow nostalgia for the comfortable life that no longer exists.
Our sense of self is constantly changing, though. Even while I find myself missing the time when it was just Sarah and me, or being a parent to just one child, Charlotte, I can’t imagine life without Jono.
And, God, am I glad that we have him in our lives, given how close we came to that not being the case.
I remember vividly the day Sarah and I found out we were going to have a second baby.
I feel like a monster writing this, but my first emotions were not joyous.
I was sitting at the breakfast bar, reading the paper while Charlotte played nearby in the little activity corner we had set up for her. I heard rustling coming from the bathroom and, while it sounded out of place, I gave it little thought. That was until a pregnancy test was slid over the top of the once-engaging-then-meaningless sports story I was reading.
My head swirled.
We had always planned to have a second child, but weren’t expecting to even start trying for another six months. I was writing my dad’s biography and wanted to finish that before I felt I had the capacity to handle being a parent to another child.
Sarah and I had been saving for about 12 months for what we intended to be our ‘final’ big holiday to celebrate the expected completion of the book and also because we knew a second child would make it much harder later on.
We were going to return to Canada. To take Charlotte to some of our favourite places in the world and show her what a North American winter wonderland actually looked like, given the closest she had come to one was Disney’s “Frozen”.
Then, with two pink parallel lines on a stick, it was all gone.
Fear crept in.
Sarah was working full-time before Charlotte came along, so taking 12 months at half pay was manageable. When she returned to work after a year, though, it was for three days a week. This unexpected pregnancy meant we were going to have to survive and feed an extra mouth on my income and half her three-days-a-week salary.
I began feeling pressure around dad’s biography: it was already tough to find time to write around a toddler, how was I going to ever finish the project with a toddler, plus a newborn?
Compounding that pressure – and speaking of the book – I knew my beloved study and writing room was destined to become obsolete, requiring a full conversion from hideaway hollow and nook of creativity, into a bright, fresh child’s bedroom. It was the definition of irony: it was being taken away just at the time I needed it most.
Before the criticisms and accusations of selfishness flood in, hear me out. I want to show that my shift in identity took time.
After a while, I realised it wasn’t about me at all.
I didn’t need the writing room the most; my beautiful daughter needed it more, because she was losing her bedroom.
The book? Well, the main reason I was writing it was for Charlotte to learn about a grandfather she would never meet. Charlotte was two-years-old. Why was I putting so much pressure on myself to finish a book she wasn’t going to read for maybe 18 years?
And losing the holiday, well, I’m not going to sugar-coat that. It was something we’d set our heart on and there have been pangs of sorrow at missing out. But that also meant the other concern – our finances – faded in significance.
We had a stockpile of savings that could be built upon to create the buffer we needed to cover the loss of Sarah’s salary until she returned to work.
I miss my morning walks with Charlotte down to the local coffee shop, but I’ve gained a morning walk with Jono to the local BP Wild Bean (given we’re now walking at 5:30am, our local coffee shop isn’t an option). I’ve also gained some new daddy-daughter time in the evenings, as Charlotte runs up to me the second I walk in the door from work asking, “Go walk, daddy?”.
I occasionally lose my sanity in a sea of dirty nappies. I once forgot to tell Sarah that Charlotte had decided she wanted to wear knickers instead of nappies on a particular day and would need to be taken to the toilet.
That earned me an irate text from my exhausted wife (she had the messy job of cleaning Charlotte up) as she questioned my communications skills, which, for a communications professional, is rather damning.
But on day two when I repeated my mistake, our ever-independent toddler made her own way to the toilet, pulled out her stool, threw the toddler-seat on the adult seat and did her business. All by herself.
I’ve now finished the first draft of dad’s biography – a momentous achievement for me – but it had nothing on the pride I felt when Sarah told me about Charlotte doing that.
Parenting. Change. As rewarding as it is revoking.
This is my last diary-style post as new dad to Jonathon Walter and existing dad to Charlotte Anne, and I wanted to reflect on the new sense of identity the past two months have brought.
Fatherhood is transformative. It changes us in far more complex ways than suggested by the ambiguous line every father-to-be receives, “Mate, it’ll change your life”.
There will always be nostalgia, because we leave a little piece of ourselves in the past.
And that nostalgia may even grow – the only thing that grows in our past.
Everything else – especially who we are – grows through change.
Part 1: The days before