The death of me, the birth of us; reflections on fatherhood

Close Encounters

Close encounters of the toddler kind; my children have been the catalyst for many changes in my life

I was generally happy after the birth of both my children. But deep underneath, once the initial euphoria, adrenalin and novelty had worn off there was something niggling away deep inside my subconscious.

As a father there are so many contradictory emotions. Part of the daily battle is to get the space to acknowledge those emotions.

For me, euphoria and sadness were emotional bedfellows for a long time after both births, but I am fairly confident that I was not suffering depression. I am fairly sure this was more about a reaction to change

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Whether you are driving a new car, starting a new job, taking an unfamiliar bus route or doing something as simple as cooking a new recipe, change can often feel uncomfortable at first.

The unfamiliar requires us to adapt to a new reality, and adaptation requires a learning phase. And learning often pushes us out of our comfort zone and causes us to feel uncomfortable.

Becoming a father was the ultimate change for me – a head first plunge into the unfamiliar, requiring a massive learning curve and huge adaptation. I was (and arguably still am) way out of my comfort zone.

This process of personal, mental and emotional growth is bound to feel painful because change hurts.

But I wanted to know WHY it was hurting; and more importantly, why these contradictory emotions of euphoria and sadness persisted. The birth of a child is a cause for celebration. Surely it should be all about the euphoria?

I was cycling to work one day. It was one of my rare mornings without children. I was enjoying the cycle ride. I was enjoying the feeling of the wind on my face, the space, the liberty. I was enjoying the exercise.

I was enjoying taking time to look at the blossom, the lush green tide of spring and the milky warmth of the May sun on my face. I was being mindful, connected and centred; for once focussing on myself and MY needs.

Then it hit me. I had a moment of utter clarity so powerful that I actually pulled on my brakes and stopped my bike.

My subconscious had been screaming out, but I had not heard it. It had been jumping up and down, clamouring for attention but I had not heard it over the noise, confusion and chaos of fatherhood. I had not checked in, I had not interrogated my emotions.

Since becoming a father I had not realised something. And there it was.

I had lost myself.

So THIS was why when I became a father and had gained something so valuable, so precious and so priceless, that I STILL had this feeling that I had also lost something.

I had lost myself.

I had lost my old lifestyle.

I had lost the old me.

I began to come to terms with this realisation. I began to come to terms with what was effectively a death; the death of my old lifestyle and the death of the old me.

As a father I was no longer able to act on a whim and moments of spontaneity. I was no longer flexible. I could no longer fulfil many of my responsibilities at work. I was no longer able to get onto a plane at a moment’s notice.

I was no longer a responsive or proactive friend. I was no longer a supportive or present son. I was a useless brother and nephew.

I was no longer playing football. I was not keeping fit. I was no longer part of a thriving social scene. I no longer had the bandwidth to stay abreast of current affairs, music, theatre or cinema……..the list goes on.

I could no longer prioritise any of this. I could no longer pursue all of these elements that had made up my pre-fatherhood life.

I was now utterly defined by the needs of my children.

As with any moment like this, the important thing was the realisation. Because once an issue or emotion is understood, it becomes easier to deal with.

By reflecting on the death of my old self, I could begin a process of mourning.

I still dislike having lost parts of my old self;

The old me who used to stay fit and healthy playing soccer three times a week;

The old me who used to cycle everywhere;

The old me who used to go running;

The old me who always had time for people;

The old me who was in touch with current affairs.

The old me who used to be so spontaneous and carefree;

The old me who used to be an excellent friend, son, husband and brother.

But I was able to mourn the passing of my old self, and eventually set time aside to focus on more positive thoughts; to begin to celebrate everything great about my new role as a father.

In truth it has taken a lot of time for my own expectations, and those of others close to me, to adjust to this new reality – the reality of fatherhood.

I feel much happier now. The niggling sadness is still there but it is no longer such a strong voice inside of me. It has been identified for what it is.

Loss.

And as a result it has become easier to rationalise, to instead look at all that is good about being a father and all the infinite variables of joy that come with the role and to be able to embrace the positive changes;

The wonder that is every new day;

The world that is viewed through the beautifully naïve eyes of a toddler;

The pure comedy that comes with listening to a child grasp a new language;

The change in my mindset to one that is more open, patient, loving and caring.

The growth of the desire to nurture that has risen like a spring sap in my soul.

To look into the beautiful eyes of my children and feel a connection so profound and so strong; to know that they are of me.

And while the old me has gone, I think there is now a new, better me. I can now embrace and positively rejoice in the fact that I AM defined by my children. This is a good place to be.

This is a place where I can both mourn the death of me, whilst celebrating the birth of us.

 

 

 

 

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25 thoughts on “The death of me, the birth of us; reflections on fatherhood

  1. Great post! I can really relate to this. Especially that sense of my whole life being about responding to my children’s needs. It feels relentless at times. I try to enjoy the wee moments with them and worry less about other stuff like housework!

  2. Beautifully put. Still something I am working on, I think. I like the very final way you put it: it is a death. You have to accept that the old you is gone forever, before you can move on and accept and celebrate the new us.

  3. I think the old you just gets put away for a while and as the children start to grow up you start to get little bits back. Bertie was 4 when we decided to have another baby but it was a huge dilema because we both felt that we had started to get some of our old-selves back. I am glad we went ahead and had another and we know that she has completed our family and we will eventually start to get some of our oldselves back again. Great post.

    • Thanks for leaving this lovely optimistic comment. There is light at the end of the tunnel then! I like the idea of just putting the old me away for a little while.

  4. Oh god yes. I feel like there is a constant osmosis between myself and my kids… my borders dissolving away into theirs… was just penning some notes on a blog on that topic myself, funnily enough, although probably not as erudite and a bit more sweary. Children tether you: physically and metaphorically. I just wish I didn’t keep tripping over the bloody guy ropes…

    • That’s a lovely way of putting it – our borders and parameters dissolving into theirs – and your tethering metaphor. And please, when you have done your sweary version, send me a direct link on Twitter! Would love to read it!

      Thanks for your lovely comments x

  5. Great post sir!
    We consciously made the decision to have kids at the time in our lives where we had done a lot is things kids would stop. We went out a lot, holidays in far away places where kids wouldn’t even be allowed. Hopefully like Mary Moo says, that part if us will return but until then, I’m comfortable with the me I have.

    • Thanks man! We thought we had cleared the decks too and I was a relatively old first time father at 38. Maybe that was the problem – I had become too comfortable with my pre-children life? Anyhoo, whatever, I appreciate your comments and the optimistic note of your message.

  6. Ah just an amazing post. I felt like this after the birth of each of my children, but that spontaneity does come back! My children are still my main focus, and parenting as we all know can be relentless, but I am now able to have more time for me, for hobbies new and old. Thank you for being so honest! 🙂

    • Glad to hear you have clawed back some of you. It was a tricky post to write because it is such a contradictory emotion. It is brilliant being a parent, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But as you say it is relentless and easy to lose yourself. Glad you have got new and old hobbies back. I’m looking forward to a weekend away with Mrs Secret Father in the next 12 months. No kids.

      Thanks for your lovely comment.

  7. I absolutely felt all of these things while I was pregnant. It was very sudden because we geographically moved away from our old life, into my in-laws house – so losing our own space and the ability to live just for ourselves, I gave up work and then we had a baby! It was a lot to come to terms with, though totally worth the sacrifice. I’m slowly gaining back bits and pieces of myself, but you have to be very intentional about it!

  8. What a beautifully-written post. It is so interesting to read this from a father’s point of view; I think many posts written about feeling a sense of mourning for the old ‘me’ are written by mothers and so often fathers are expected to stay strong and go with the flow. Very inspirational and emotive.

    CJ x

    • Ah wow, well that is just lovely feedback. And yes to the male, stiff upper lip thing. It bugs the heck out of me. I can’t deny my emotions, however much society wants me to.

  9. You really nailed it there – the death of the old me. I can totally relate to this, being a new mom at 40. Been there done that kinda life before motherhood came along. This is the hardest thing i’ve ever done. Ditto. After 19 months, I finally found some space and sanity to start writing/blogging.

    • Congrats on being a new mum, and congrats on (eventually) finding time / space for something you enjoy! I will check your blog out in the next day or so. And thanks for commenting. I’m glad the article speaks to you!

  10. Great, great post. One of those that you read from start to finish and then start again. I think the word that stuck out for me the most was ‘loss’. Everything has changed and I still haven’t come to terms with that. I’m not sure I’ve arrived at where you at yet; getting to grips with the reality of fatherhood. But it’s nearly there… agreed that fatherhood is the toughest job I’ve had or will ever have, but I bet we wouldn’t have it any other way. Best wishes…

    • Ah man, thanks for your empathy, and I’m glad it struck a chord for you. Mine are getting a little older now (3.5 and 1.8) and things are getting a little easier. I am back to playing football once a week now. One hour of sheer joy. It is breakthroughs like this that make the difference. And also moments like the pants-on-head-incident which i mention in my recent post “to the power of two”. But as you say, we wouldn’t want it any other way…..

      Thanks again for your lovely feedback

    • Thanks for your empathy and for stopping by and leaving a comment. Never thought parenting would be so bewildering, and so utterly bonkers. Can’t imagine (and don’t want to imagine) life before the kids anymore!

      Here’s to a nuts journey!

  11. This is definitely me and my mess of emotions. Took me nearly 2 years to have that epiphany and sort my head out. Great post, well explained!

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