A day in the life of a working dad
It’s 4:55 a.m. and I lie awake, looking at the clock. As it ticks over to 5 o’clock, I spring out of bed and rush over to my phone. I do this because I know that there is a ten-second window before the alarm on my phone goes off. If the alarm on my phone goes off, the baby awakens.
If I do happen to be asleep, the first sounds of the alarm put me into a dazed state. Reduced sleep, combined with work anxieties often leads to complete confusion about where I am first thing in the morning. But my wife Emma is quick to react. She gently, but with enough firmness to get me moving quickly, tells me to turn off the alarm.
Once out of bed I gather my clothes and head to the shower. On my way, I tiptoe over to my baby daughter Hannah’s door and, as gently and quietly as I can, pull it closed. If I have managed to get up before my alarm, this is usually OK. I catch the soft, steady sound of her deep-sleep breathing just on the edge of hearing as I close the door.
If my alarm has gone off, it is often a different story. The sounds will range from shuffling to babbling, to all-out crying. Whatever the case, I don’t go in. Instead I pull the door closed and listen for a few minutes, hoping all the time that Hannah returns to sleep. Mercifully, usually she does.
I continue on my way upstairs to the shower. In the dark I expertly navigate my way through the child gate and dump my work clothes in a crumpled mess on the floor. I’m going to have to iron them, anyway. (I have never mastered the art of ironing ahead of time. My rationale is that, if I were to die from a heart-attack during my sleep, at least I wouldn’t have wasted precious minutes of my life ironing the night before.)
The shower serves the dual roles of waking and cleansing. I spend longer in there than I probably should, as I seek clarity of mind for the coming day. I finish up and contemplate whether I can get away with one more day without shaving.
As I tiptoe down the stairs, all the little noises that used to seem so insignificant (the creaking floorboard, the snaps from my ankles and toes) ring out like shots fired from a handgun. I hold my breath and listen for the response, wailed from Hannah’s bedroom. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it does not.
I iron my clothes to whatever standard I feel is acceptable for the day ahead. I know that if the weather is cool, I can get away with just ironing the collar and a few small parts around the neck – this is a wonderful time-saver! I pour a bowl of muesli (it took me until my mid-30s to realise the value of a proper breakfast each morning) and head back upstairs to read a few headlines and check my blog. I consider writing, but often the work-day ahead is already weighing on my mind and I can’t concentrate on a topic. My phone buzzes and a message flashes up with a traffic map attached: With traffic (as of 5:55 a.m.) it is likely to take you 37 minutes to get to work.
Time to leave.
I kiss Emma goodbye and she reminds me to take a piece of fruit to work. This happens almost every day, because she knows that if she doesn’t say it I’ll forget yet again.
I jump in the car and the familiar voice of Robbie Buck on 702 Breakfast greets me like an old friend (I gave up on FM radio the day I realised all I was ever listening to was breathless rants and breast augmentation advertisements). I pull out of the driveway and begin the 40-minute commute to work. I actually enjoy the drive. The traffic is usually pretty good as my route takes me in the opposite direction to the peak. As I drive the sun comes up. Sometimes a particularly beautiful sunrise has me looking longingly to the east and I dream of being at my favourite photography spot.
I have a brief stop at a service station, where an 80-cent coffee provides a small shot of energy for the day ahead. Don’t judge me; the quality is surprisingly good and the money saved over a proper coffee really adds up over a year. Money is tighter now that I have a little one to think about.
I complete my journey to work at about 7 a.m., kill the engine and sit in the car for a minute, steeling myself for the day ahead. I know that if I am going to leave on time, I will have to make every minute count. No lunch breaks chatting to colleagues, no cheeky glances at social media. Prioritise my workload, get it done and head home ASAP.
I leave work exhausted, sometime between four and five. I collapse into the car and rely on muscle memory alone to guide me home. This time the familiar voice of Richard Glover stops me from drifting off as I drive the familiar route. When I am what-should-be-one-minute from home, I hit the traffic and it takes a further ten minutes to negotiate two sets of traffic lights.
I know that, no matter what, no matter how hard or tiring or long my day has been, as soon as I walk through that door my shift as Parent begins.
The garage door closes and I sit for a moment to gather the energy for the evening ahead. I know that, no matter what, no matter how hard or tiring or long my day has been, as soon as I walk through that door my shift as Parent begins. And so it should. Because I know that Emma too has had a hard, long day. I know that while my shift of parenting is just beginning for the day, hers never ends. While I play with Hannah and catch up on cuddles, Emma begins to prepare the food. I help where I can, but Hannah craves dad attention at that time of day and she gets fussy when I leave her playing on her mat.
We eat together as a family at the dining table. Before Hannah, Emma and I would usually eat on the couch in front of the TV. Now we feel like we should at least pretend to be grown-ups. I usually do the spooning – Emma has been through this battle twice already today.
I wipe Hannah down and place her on her play mat while I quickly try to complete some of the cleaning. I wipe up the mess around her high chair and stack some of the washing up into the dishwasher. Eventually Hannah begins to fuss and I take her upstairs for a nappy change and to read a book.
Sometimes Hannah lies on her mat with wide eyes and she reads along with me. Other times she decides to keep the playtime going for a few more minutes. Either way is fine with me. At about 6:45 p.m. I leave Hannah playing on her mat while I run her bath. She has just graduated from using the seat insert to sitting upright in the bath, and she uses her new-found freedom to splash and play. Most bath times elicit at least a small giggle.
A soft white towel awaits the now-clean baby on her change table and I dry her and put on a clean nappy. We begin the nightly creaming ritual in a never-ending quest to control Hannah’s eczema. Hannah does her best to squirm and roll her way out of it. I try to wrestle her into her sleeping jumpsuit, but now that she’s slippery from a head-to-toe creaming, it’s almost impossible to get a hold of her. Eventually I wrangle one limb at a time into place and pull up the zip. If her hair is wet from the bath, we then have a quick blow-dry (she has had an extraordinary amount of hair from the day she was born).
I hand Hannah over to Emma so that she can have her bed-time feed. I feel like doing nothing more than collapsing in a heap on the floor, but I know there are still things that need to be done. I empty the dreaded nappy bin and take its contents to the outside bins with the rest of our household waste. I come back inside and finish cleaning the kitchen. Emma puts Hannah to bed and then heads off for her long-awaited shower.
We complete any remaining chores, like folding washing or changing bedsheets, then we sit down and relax for about an hour before heading to bed. If I’m feeling particularly energetic, I sit down at the computer for a few minutes and attempt to bash out a blog post. Usually I just end up checking Twitter.
At about 9:30 p.m., I crawl into bed exhausted. I tell myself that tomorrow I should try and get to bed earlier. I never do.
Being a working dad or mum is exhausting, as is being a stay-at-home parent. But it is also rewarding in the most unimaginable ways.
James Smith is a Sydney-based parenting and lifestyle blogger. This article was originally published on Blog of Dad, and has been republished with permission.