The Most Loneliest Days Of My Life

Over a third of new Dads are worried about their mental health? Mate, I’ve been there… 

Man walks sadly on beach

MY KIDS made me happy yesterday.
 
I had lunch with my daughter, just before she went off to University to pick her Year One modules, and we talked excitedly about her future plans
 
In the evening, I watched my son at rugby training and felt myself filling up with pride as I saw how quickly he’s learning the game.
 
But it wasn’t always like that.
 
My wife and I are now almost – almost – at the fabled point in our kids’ lives where they stop being children, as such, and become more like engaging young friends. Like it said they would in the parenting books.
 
But getting to this stage has cost me a hell of a lot.
 
I don’t think it’s being too fanciful to say that – at various points – being a Dad cost me my job, my money, my friends, my self-respect, and my sanity.
 
And, sadly, today’s Baby Daddies don’t seem to be having it any easier than I did, almost two decades ago.  

The BBC this month quoted the NCT parenting group as saying that more than a third of today’s new fathers are worried about their mental health – due to factors like added financial responsibility and lack of sleep.

In the US, the Postpartum Support International group says that one in 10 Dads will experience after birth depression, and that those rates are broadly reflected across the developed world.

Rates of postnatal depression in mothers – at 1 in 7 – are still higher than amongst male parents.

But with more Dads becoming Stay-at-Home parents – and men in general raising their parenting game – they are also starting to talk more about the difficulties they can get into after childbirth.

One of the things that struck me about the BBC report was that today’s Dads still don’t feel they have enough support in their lives after the birth of a child.

“I was expected to just get back on the horse and fulfil my pre-dad life at work,” said one, who was suffering from anxiety and sleep deprivation due to a constantly screaming baby.

Alex Laguna, from Australia – where paid Paternity Leave is the same pathetic two weeks as it is in the UK – says Dads find it “really very nerve-wracking to say no to work”, because of how they will seem to “other men we work with.”

I can still remember the dirty looks that I got in 2002, when I left the office – of a very unreconstructed daily newspaper – at 5pm, so that I could pick up my daughter before nursery closed.

And this doubling of anxiety – I was now struggling both at home and at work – sent me into depression and sick leave, which persuaded me that I couldn’t bear to do two jobs badly any more.

So I chose being at home over a career, and I haven’t had a full-time job since.

Things picked up a bit after I decided to stay at home – even though I was poorer, lonelier, and felt more of a failure than I had before becoming a Dad.

I’ve got lovely memories of carrying my son on my shoulders at the market when he was very little – and him being plied with strawberries by the traders there.

Later, when both kids were at school, it was nice to talk to the mums at pick-up time, although I never made what you might call a friend there.

I heard much later that – because I spent much of my downtime exercising, and because there was literally no competition at our school – I was known amongst the women as ‘The Hot Dad’ or ‘The Daddy With The Short Shorts.’

But while being objectified was, I suppose, a form of approval, it didn’t make me feel any less alone when those same women drifted off in their twos and threes for coffee together.

These days, I am feeling relieved that it’s almost over, especially as we still don’t seem to be looking after Dads any better than we did in my day.

Amy Beacom, who provides training to companies in issues around parental leave, says today’s men are still struggling, like I did, to cope with being more than just providers.

“Now they are expected to be at home too and their stress levels are rising, their postpartum depression levels are rising, and their anxiety is rising,” she says.

Our awkwardness with involved Dads – it’s like we know they exist but we haven’t quite figured out how they work yet – was perhaps reflected in the row this summer over a TV ad that portrayed two hapless fathers leaving a baby on a restaurant conveyer belt.

The commercial was banned under new guidelines on “harmful gender stereotypes” but it seems that fathers still feel the need for much wider understanding and support as they adjust to their new-ish role.

Laguna, who is 44, says that his generation hasn’t had many role models on how to balance family and work in the way that is now normal.

“We’re the first (sic) to go through it, we’re faced with a lot of challenges,” says the father-of-five.

Comedian Katherine Ryan, who is a single mother, also told The Guardian recently that society still hadn’t found a grown-up way of relating to Hands-On Dads.

“Single dads are like sexy heroes,” she says. “But if you’re a single mum there’s still a stigma.”

So Dads these days can be many things: Sexpots or Wimps; Inadequates or Depressives – but they’re still not being given the support they need to do their job properly, almost 20 years after I became a Stay At Home parent.

It makes my heart go out all the Mums over the Millennia, for all the similar shit that they’ve been through

But above all, it makes me feel glad that I’m 50-something and just…. out of it.

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