My first daughter was less than an hour old when it happened.
There was no blinding flash of light. Instead, it was a momentary, but definite reconstitution of reality, a re-adjustment of priorities a realisation that nothing would ever be the same again. And I was completely fine with that.
I’m not sure if every father goes through something similar. Some revelations are possibly more dramatic and take a longer time. Other men are no doubt well on the path to fatherhood before the (admittedly) late stage of the delivery ward.
What I do know is that if you’re not fundamentally changed by fatherhood, you’re not doing it right.
And as the weeks, months and years have ticked by, I’ve come to realise that the test of fatherhood is not how involved you want to be, but by how involved you are when you’d prefer to be doing something else.
As any parent can attest, as much as we love our children, a lot of the time parenting is boring, frustrating, and monotonous. And there will be countless times when you’d prefer to sleep in, go out with your friends, or just sit in peace.
Who wants to watch 10 episodes of Paw Patrol while your child vomits into a bucket? No-one looks forward to sleep deprivation, lack of personal space, the tantrums or the endless cleaning and tidying.
But here’s the thing about being a good father: it’s not about you.
Your kids need you to care for them, play with them and validate them, no matter how you’re feeling.
Despite this, I see dads for whom the fact of fatherhood seems to be a momentary blip in otherwise well-ordered lives. Their social lives return to pretty much the same trajectory as they had in the era BC – Before Children.
Listen closely to mother friends and you’ll hear stories of fathers who take parental leave, only to spend most of it catching up on work or socialising with friends.
Despite their new fathering responsibilities, many men still insist that their weekends are their own and plan and act accordingly. I know of men who have not missed a single social tennis match or night out with the boys, leaving the constant care of their children to their female partners.
Then there are the more extreme stories that sound as though they only happen in novels and movies. For example, fathers who fly business class on a family trip while their partner and children are booked into economy. One mother at my daughter’s playgroup said she only found out about the seating arrangements at the boarding gate.
And then there are the fathers who seem to resist the very fact of fatherhood with a feverish intensity, throwing themselves into new and interesting hobbies. Often these are extreme sports such as marathon running or long distance cycling, and look like a desperate attempt to retain or prove – their physical vitality.
They also happen to absorb vast periods of time – coincidences of coincidences – taking fathers away from children and partners desperate for a parenting partnership. So common are these stories, that they should be clichés.
Typically this comes with a justification that they need the downtime to re-energise. Time away makes them better fathers. Oddly their partners don’t seem to have the same option. If mothers do take downtime, it has to be negotiated and planned out in advanced with the kind of logistics that go into a military operation. Typically, it’s squeezed into the cracks when children aren’t around anyhow.
If you’re doing fatherhood right, your life will never be the same. There will be plenty of times when you’d prefer to be somewhere else, doing something else. But you choose not to – and that choice is pretty easy because it’s your responsibility to raise the children you helped to create.