Good dad, bad husband
“Mate, why didn’t you tell me?!”
The first words a close mate asked me when he came back into work after paternity leave.
“You cruised through it!” I wanted to scream out, “You have no f***ing idea!”, but I just smiled. I am a good actor. Honed by years of hiding mental illness.
You cannot prepare anyone for a first child. Life does not stop; it just shifts seismically to a scenario where you cannot remember what came before.
Even the simplest of daily decisions completely revolve around your child’s routine and moods.
Sleep deprivation, the noise torture of crying, the constant rocking and standing on your feet to settle, the several changing of nappies a day, the anxiety if they are feeding too much or not enough.
All of the above can leave you teetering on the edge. It is your own version of Groundhog Day.
But despite some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced, almost a year later I can safely say we think we do an OK job.
I look on in awe at how extraordinary a mum Finn has. To show the strength and discipline she does as well as love this chubby human like nothing before, it is overwhelming to watch. Yet she still doubts herself daily.
So with our perfect little boy we must have the “perfect” marriage. But this is not Instagram. And our marital relationship does not always run in tandem to our parental journey.
With every ounce of energy invested in our mini-me, you can feel you have nothing left to give to your partner. Except perhaps far too regular exchanges about bowel movements.
That is the tragedy. You love someone so much but you cannot give yourself enough emotionally, mentally or physically to them. Your energy and time are of course finite.
In addition, convenient “escapes” such as Netflix, smart phones and ridiculous memes become the substitute alternative as it is less draining, less committal and probably less emotionally impactful than rejection or arguments.
The fact I am an obsessive cleaner, I make sure all our “life admin” is done, I put food on the table (not literally) and I keep the garden hedges trimmed, this you convince yourself is enough. Yet I can still feel utterly useless and helpless. This feeling manifests itself in all the wrong ways. Defensive, petty and sarcastic behaviour. I call it banter to justify it. My wife has a different view.
We are still a slick team when it comes to keeping the cogs of daily life turning. But this is not a business. It is about connection. And when that mental connection fades just a little longer than usual, along with the physical connection, it is time to go hard or go home.
My wife is optimistic. She follows a great blog/vlog called “The Sleep Mama”. The blogger is increasingly asked questions about relationships. She holds her hands up to concede your relationship will be pushed to breaking point. But with the same discipline and routine we use successfully for our child, we must use for the sake of our marriage.
No phones after a certain time, going to bed together at a reasonable hour, date nights, not just being present in the same room for a couple of hours each night but being truly present by maximising the quality of that time. Bear in mind that we are still attempting the first one.
It gives me some token comfort that I am not alone. Recently at a business mentorship meeting, my all-male group expressed concern and insecurities about their roles as dad or husband despite the time and energy they invested. Deep inside I guarantee most were petrified they could lose it all at the flick of a switch. The fact most had made enough money to retire was irrelevant.
I know I am too hard on myself. This would not be the first time. We know we will be stronger for this experience. We still have our moments where we laugh together so hard we cry, and our little family unit is my greatest achievement.
Is that enough to have a formidable marriage? The only certainty is by surviving and thriving that first year of parenthood, you may well be armed with enough resilience and love to see you through.
This article was previously published on Terry’s website, Mr Perfect, and has been republished with permission.