Breaking Bread

"You know where you can stick your noodles!"

“You know where you can stick your noodles!”

Look out for the cup, if you keep tipping it you are going to spill it! Don’t tip it, it’s going to spill. IT’S SPILT!

Sit down please. Sit down please. SIT. DOWN. PLEASE! No, not on your face, on your bottom….”

Don’t throw the fish finger. DO NOT throw the fish finger. If you throw the fish finger…I TOLD YOU NOT TO THROW THE DAMN FISH FINGER…..”

Ah! Meal times with the family.

The stress.

The tension.

The chaos.

THE MESS!

It’s not that I even like Cheerios (which is why it was so hard to explain to my co-worker that time I went into work with a phalanx of them stuck in my beard).

So why do I bother insisting on this anarchic routine twice a day (three times at weekends, goddamit)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to just leave a pile of food on a plate on the floor and let them pick at it like skanky hyenas over the course of the day?

Sure it would.

But there is something in that which goes against every fibre of my being.

And this is probably because both my wife and I come from families where food is a deity, and meal times are the closest to worship we will ever get.

My name is the Secret Father, and I’m a foodie.

There, I said it.

If it is not home grown, organic, fair trade and hand knitted I don’t want to know. And I expect this ethic to extend to my children too.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, having prepared a chickpea (organic), spinach (from the allotment) and garlic (organic, home grown) dhal, I have to sit there and watch as my son picks out all the spinach and all the garlic, and then painstakingly removes each damn chickpea, one by one, until he is left with nothing more than a bowl of dhal stained rice. 

Which of course because it is a starchy carbohydrate, with very little nutritional value, he adores.

And then the whinging starts. “Hungry. Hungry. HUNGRY!”

And this then leads to “The Discussion” between Mrs Secret Father and myself;

Mrs SF: “Well, we can’t let him go to bed hungry”

Me: “Why not? He needs to learn to eat what he is given”

Mrs SF: “But he will wake up in the night hungry!”

Me: “Just leave him. He won’t starve himself”

Mrs SF: “I’m going to get him something else to eat”

Me; (hissing) “Don’t! Don’t do that! Don’t. Do. It”

Mrs SF: *returns with a selection of yoghurts, garlic bread and Cheerios.

Me:*gives wife a Paddington Bear stare.

You get the picture.

Basically my wife comes from a family of feeders. She would be mortified if one of her brood went to bed one calorie short on their daily allowance. Because that would mean she is a BAD MOTHER.

And I come from a family where if I left anything on my plate, my father and brother would swoop like vultures within seconds and pick over the carcass of my leftovers.

And if I left it, I knew there was nothing else.

And I knew that feeling hungry was a rubbish feeling. And I learnt that when I was hungry it was harder to play football, harder to run and jump and harder to cycle so far from home that the Police had to be called.

And as a boy, that just wouldn’t do. So I ate everything I was given.

But now these days, after a long day at work, when everyone is grizzly and just a little bit short with the day, it is tempting some meal times to just give in. Because being out to work full time, there is only so much “quality time” that I can have with my children.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I don’t want to have to spend that “quality time” being strict and grumpy and stern at the dinner table. Meal times should be fun.

So I don’t want to have to spend that time repeatedly insisting, like some demented parrot, that a 2 year old child who is off their head on carbs and yoghurt, should “sit nicely at the table” for a few more minutes.

Because frankly, asking a 2 year old to just sit still is hard enough without complicating things by adding the “nicely” bit.

I don’t want to have to negotiate every damn mouthful of whatever it is that my children are refusing to eat that day. Because let’s face it, my toddlers are the SAS of negotiation and will have me waterboarding a bowl of Calpol in no time.

I don’t want to have to spend 25 minutes on my hands and knees wiping the floor clean, whilst simultaneously having leftovers poured on my head by a cackling child. Because whatever fashion is on trend at the time, squashed knee raisins and rice noodle hair is never going to be a “look”.

And I don’t want to have to keep hounding down an errant toddler who has breached the sacred perimeter of the dining room table for the 50th time in five minutes, just because they can’t possibly eat another mouthful unless Iggle bloody Piggle is sitting with them.

And because yelling “STOP twerking at the table!” is something I should never have to shout in my own home.

And so I frequently ask myself – why do I bother? Why not just feed them pizza, cake and fruit shoots and let them eat it all in front of CBeebies? Why not just let it all drop for an easier life?

Because I can’t.

And the answer is both profound and frivolous.

Frivolous because part of me (the weird-uncle-that-lives-in-the-loft part of me) actually enjoys the noise and vibrancy and chaos of meal times.

That’s not to say I enjoy having sausages squashed in my ears (because sausages are big and my ear holes are small), but there is something rather great about a noisy, colourful table, heaving with food, vitality and conversation.

Even if that conversation is just increasingly shouty, repetitive instructions.

And the answer is also profound because meal times are a celebration. They are a celebration of nurture, life and energy; of the family unit with all of its drama’s, weaknesses and foibles; and of the human condition. We may be weak and fragile and yet we are a social animal that craves company.

And what better company than those sitting around a table devouring a delicious meal together?

Food is what keeps us going, and mealtimes have been uniting people, families, tribes and clans throughout history, providing sustenance, company, rest and a chance to connect over the breaking of the bread.

Despite the tantrums, the persistent nagging and the occasional flare up, I am going to continue to teach my children the importance of eating as a family. However much they play up, my instinct tells me that this connection will be invaluable in years to come.

So that when my tribe eventually breaks up, which it inevitably will do, we will hopefully always have that one thing remaining in common.

The love of a decent family meal together.

 #cheeriobeard

#waterboardingcalpol

#squashedkneeraisins

Happy Days!

You lovely people. You lovely people! Yes you (looks straight at you)

A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about how I had two choices when I became a father; develop a healthy addiction to horse tranquilisers or take up therapeutic writing.

I chose the latter, largely because it is free (yes, I am a cheap skate), but also because it looked like fun.

And having reached my first blogiversary during February I decided to ask you lovely readers for nominations for the MAD Blog awards 2014, because it was my birthday and I was feeling temporarily empowered.

And lo and behold I have received nominations in three of the categories – i) MAD Blog of the Year ii) Best Blog Writer iii) Best New Blog

I was on the London – Oxford X90 bus service when I found out I had been nominated, and let out a little whoop of joy, loud enough for the remainder of the journey to be a little bit awkward.

I dread to think what would happen if I get into the top five

Fire a hundred white doves over the neighbourhood from a glitter cannon? Maybe.

Semi-naked pants dance in the living room? Goes without saying. 

High speed handbrake turn into work parking place with “Roar” by Katy Perry playing at top volume out of wound down windows? Hmmmm.

So a massive thank you to all of you who have voted for me already. You made my day.

And if you haven’t already voted for me, please do here http://www.the-mads.com/awards/ (or click on the nominate badge on my blog pages) and please vote against one of the three categories I mentioned above (preferably Best Blog Writer).

And if what I write about doesn’t totally float your boat, then that’s fine, I know I am not for everyone.

In that case perhaps I can suggest this selection of some of the finest writers on the interwebs as worthy of your vote?

An incredibly thoughtful, very well written blog from the lovely Tric http://mythoughtsonapage.com/about/

The most hilarious and anarchic parental writing from the amazing Justanormalmummy http://justanormalmummy.blogspot.co.uk/  (@wallymummy on Twitter)

For a superb journey into some of the coolest photography around check out http://capturebylucy.com/ (@capturebylucy on Twitter)

For excellent, thoughtful and challenging writing on motherhood and mental health try http://delusionsofcandour.wordpress.com/ (@SamCandour on Twitter)

For a funny, wry and often acerbic look at fatherhood check out http://haplessdad.blogspot.co.uk/ (@haplessdadbog on Twitter)

Thank you once again to everyone who has nominated me.

Competitions like this are great for the blogging community, of which I am part, so it is a win-win.

PND and fatherhood – seven tips for dads

Continuing the mental health month theme on my blog, this post highlights the devastation that PND can wreak upon a family. But it is also an optimistic post as it provides a chink of light by proposing seven key tips for dads whose partners are suffering from PND.

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Two months after our second child was born, my wife was diagnosed with post-natal depression. 

We already had an elder child who was 7.5 years old when her brother was born.  After my wife was diagnosed she seemed to rapidly go downhill in the space of three weeks such that she eventually ended up in a mother-and-baby unit which was over 100 miles away from home. 

I became a single parent looking after my daughter whilst my wife and son were in hospital.  After three months she was moved to a mother-and-baby unit nearer home but she was there for three days before she refused to go back to the unit on a home visit. 

The next day she went out for a walk and ultimately took an overdose at a nearby hotel. 

I will never forget having the police in my house in the middle of the night whilst I had to get friends to look after my children.  

My wife subsequently needed further treatment at a psychiatric hospital, then moved with my son to her parents for six months, who live over 300 miles away, and got far better treatment than provided by my local area of the NHS. 

Our relationship has now broken down. 

The points below are completely from my point of view and I hope they help you if your partner is suffering from PND:

1.            Take all the offers of help you need:   The number of people who offered me help from doing some hovering to looking after my daughter when I need to go somewhere on my own was at times overwhelming but so gratefully received.  I only ever needed to take up a small proportion of those offers but always did so when I needed to.  If you need help and have been offered it then there is no shame in taking it and people will be grateful that they can help.  If you do need help then ask from family, friends or neighbours – people will always be there if you need them.

2.            Look after yourself:  During the period of my wife’s PND I twice had periods of a couple of weeks where it felt like I could literally not stop crying (luckily I have my own office at work).  I was able to get carer’s support from my local health authority which for me was an individual who I could talk to every couple of weeks and who was not emotionally involved in my situation and who provided great support when I needed it.  If you do feel that you are not coping then try and talk to someone, and if you need more professional help, then try and get that help.  I was ultimately referred me for counselling with a local charity which helped me try and understand what had happened.

In my experience, my wife’s personality completely changed when she was very ill and it can be very hard to experience that change in someone you love all day, every day.  If you need to, try and give yourself a break even if that means going to the shops for 20 minutes and getting out the house.

3.            Try and find out as much as you can:  A local support group would have been fantastic but without one I had to try and found out as much information as I could about PND from the internet and other individuals who had been in the same situation as me.  Obtain as much information as you need so that you can understand some more about what is going on and why your partner is ill.  My only note of caution would be is to recognise that unless you have been through depression before, it is very difficult to understand what you partner is feeling and why she is feeling it, and that there is only so much you can also know and understand.

4.            Kick up a fuss so you know what is going on:  In hindsight, I did not know enough about my wife’s treatment or her medication, why some things worked and others did not.  I wish I had asked more questions of her doctors and the seemingly endless number of individuals who kept coming to see her when she was at home.  I was constantly told that ‘most of the recovery will be at home’.  I have had no experience of mental illness and wish now that I had known what to ask the people who were treating her and not just accepted what they said and why they said it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the nurses and doctors treating your partner to ensure you are satisfied with what they are doing and why they are doing it.  My wife got treatment to help her bond with our son at her parent’s local hospital which made some difference to her starting to recover; ask the people treating your partner whether there are these types of treatments which could help your partner as well.

If for some reason you consider one of the individuals treating your partner is not helping then try and get that changed.  My wife’s Community Mental Health Nurse would get cross with her when she forgot things but she forgot things because of the depression not because she was not listening.  We were ultimately overtaken by events but she wanted to change her CMN because she did not think the original individual was doing her any good.

5.            Don’t try and fix the illness:  I constantly made suggestions to my wife about things she could do (go for a walk, got to playgroups to meet other mums, sleep when he is asleep, the list is almost endless) that I believed would help her.  They would not necessarily cure her and most parents have probably heard them all before but I had an almost overwhelming need to suggest all these things as I thought they would help.  Ultimately my wife’s depression was so severe that it was a struggle for her to just get out of the bed and get through the day and so she was not capable of doing the things I was suggesting.  Try and accept that your partner may not be able to do everything that everyone, including the healthcare professionals, says she should do and don’t get upset or angry if she does not seem to be helping herself.  It is the effect the illness is having on her.

6.            Try and appreciate the positive moments:  My wife had a very positive few days at home half way through her time at her first hospital and there was optimistic comments about her being discharged after this home visit.  However, as soon as she returned to the hospital she became more depressed and things took a turn for the worse after that.  However, those positive few days were something that could be hung onto as an indication that in the future she could get better.  Some of her weekend home visits were awful and it seemed like there was no end in sight but sometimes, even only for a few hours, she was back to what she was like before the illness started.  Try and see the good times as positive moments but understand that sometimes they may only be temporary.

7.            She will get better:  Every individual who takes their life because of PND is a devastating tragedy for everybody involved.  However, in nearly all cases (I don’t know the exact numbers, I am not sure anyone does) the person suffering from this dreadful illness will get better.  It will be hard to believe this at times but hopefully for you it will be true.

 

(NB The author of this post has requested to remain anonymous)

Men and PND – time to talk

Today 6th February is #timetotalk. For more information check out the time to change website

Over the month of February I am going to feature guest posts from people offering a male perspective on post natal depression (PND), with ideas and advice on support and care.

The idea is to raise awareness and get people talking about PND, particularly men.

Which is why I just had to feature this excellent 18 minute slot on The Last Word, an excellent radio show hosted by Matt Cooper on Today FM in Ireland. 

This programme was shared with me by the lovely people at Nurture.

The programme features two men Ronan Kennedy and Owen McGrath, whose partners have suffered from PND, plus Nurture CEO Irene Lowry.

Ronan and Owen highlight brilliantly why it is so important that men are part of the discussion on PND, and that men who are supporting a partner affected by PND often need support themselves.

Irene provides some insightful context and some interesting statistics that suggest that PND is still very much a taboo issue.

Please grab a coffee, put your headphones on and have a listen

Men and Post Natal Depression (the Last Word, Today FM 28th January 2014)

 

(Nurture is an Irish charity founded by counsellor Irene Lowry and co founder Lilian Mc Gowan. It offers counselling and support surrounding pregnancy and childbirth mental health illnesses & emotional wellbeing. Check them out they are doing great stuff)

Mental health and parenting – some tips for dads

Over February I am running a series of guest posts on Post Natal Depresssion (PND) and Perinatal Mental Health from a male perspective.

The idea for this series of blogs came about from meeting the fabulous Rosey on Twitter (@PNDandMe) during an enlightening Twitter chat on #PNDhour.

It made me realise I know little about mental health issues, and that it might be helpful for other men to have access to information on PND, at the very least to raise awareness.

This first article comes from Kathryn who has first hand experience, and has written this extremely helpful post for partners of people suffering from perinatal mental health.

Kathryn (on Twitter @katgrant30) is married to Tom and mum to James, 15 months.  They live in London with their kitten Cat.  Kathryn tweets about her experience of mental illness and mental health services (as well as her love of all things baking) and has written a blog about her recovery from postpartum psychosis on the Sane charity’s website: http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/blogging/show_blog/592
 
You can find out more about postpartum psychosis at: http://www.app-network.org

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Whether your other half is pregnant, just given birth, or perhaps running around after an errant toddler, there is one subject many dads would prefer not to think about, but definitely should.

Mental health. 
 
The perinatal (fancy speak for pre and post birth) period is an emotional roller coaster and (unsurprisingly) women are at higher risk of developing mental illness during this time.

The good news is, there’s lots a supportive other half can do to help.  Here are some tips from someone who knows (in no particular order):
 
1. Sleep.  However much your little darling baby wants to feed, make sure you step in at some point in the first few days to let mum sleep.  Whether that means some formula feeding, expressed milk or a few minutes of putting up with a hungry baby – that time for rest is gold dust for mum and nothing else matters.  She may not be able to actually sleep, but at least she might be able to rest her eyes.
 
2. On the subject of sleep, try to keep an eye on any real insomnia developing in your partner – not being able to sleep even while baby is, or nervously waiting for baby to wake up.
 
3. Same goes for decent meals – watch out for any loss of appetite. Labour is a massive deal, and it takes a lot to recover from. So eating well is a must for good health – mental and physical.

4. You know your partner best so are best placed to pick up on any unusual moods.  Be aware though that these can change quickly, and may not present as typical depression symptoms.  Other mental illnesses that can strike include anxiety, or even psychosis – so if your partner has any history of mental health problems, be on the look-out for symptoms such as racing thoughts, mania, paranoia, insomnia as well as feeling down.
 
5. Access practical help from whatever sources are available.  If you have hands-on family who your partner is comfy with then don’t be afraid to utilise them.  Especially if you have to go back to work.  Practical stuff like food shopping, cleaning, laundry etc but also support such as making sure mum and baby get out the house every day, attend appointments, hold the baby while mum showers and field calls from visitors and well-wishers.  If you have the cash, think about hiring a night nanny.

6. Unless there’s a physical reason why they can’t, make sure mum and baby get out the house, every day if possible.  Find out what groups are running in your area (the midwife or health visitor should help here) and encourage your partner to go along.  At the very least, your local children’s centre will run groups for mums and babies.  If she refuses to go out, even if physically well, this is a cause for concern and worth getting to the root of.
 

7. Mums, especially mums who’ve been excitedly planning for this baby for months or years, often have high expectations of how they will parent.  They WILL breast feed for at least six months.  They WILL use Eco nappies.  They’ve read Gina, or the latest attachment parenting manual and they WILL follow it.  Mums who set such high standards for themselves might be in for a rough ride.  PND or other serious mental illness was not part of their plan so as well as the illness itself they also have to deal with a crushing sense of failure.
 
It isn’t always possible to breast feed, however hard you try, and those first few weeks are such a blur you won’t be able to read a sentence let alone a whole book.  Support your partner in her choices, make it clear to her what a great job she is doing – the baby’s alive!  Those baby wipes are not going to burn your baby’s bottom, so stop with the faffy cotton wool and water dance!  The milk’s getting in there so it doesn’t matter where it comes from, it all goes down the same way!   The fact you haven’t hand-washed that new babygro before popping it on him is not going to give him a rash!  This thinking won’t make the PND go away, but having such support may help mum feel less like a “failure” (although be careful not to belittle her genuine concerns, whether warranted or not they are real to her).

8. On this point, keep a weather eye on your partner’s anxieties.  It is completely normal to worry about how much the baby is eating/sleeping/puking/poohing… But there is a fuzzy line somewhere between normal worry and over-anxiety or even paranoia. Support networks from other mums can help here, whether that’s online or through NCT classes or whatever.  It’s also a good idea to develop a good relationship with your health visitor and baby clinic. 

9. Don’t assume that because your baby is approaching toddlerhood that your partner is “out of the woods”.   Also don’t assume that because all seems well on the surface that everything must be ok.  It can take some time for mums to acknowledge the problem and seek help.  You can only encourage and reassure them that all will be ok – help is out there, and it doesn’t mean you have failed!  If you can come along to that all-important GP visit, even better.

10. I can’t think of a 10th tip to make this a nice round number so will just say this – mental illness is perfectly treatable.  The quicker your other half seeks the help she needs, the quicker she will recover – so don’t go along with anyone (your partner or a well meaning friend) saying things like “it’s just the baby blues”, “you’ll feel better once the baby sleeps better” 

Moments that mattered

It wasn’t a beautiful day, but then again it wasn’t dreadful either. A typical English summer day; a little overcast, a little drizzle, the mercury hovering around 18C.

We had been invited by friends to go camping with them and their kids, which we had accepted.

The kids were excited and if I am honest, so was I.

The reason for this is that I love being outside. And I love being outside with the kids.

Outside there are no walls, no perimeters and no parameters. The kids can run free in a field and I can relax for a few hours, knowing that they are safe.

Everything is better outside.

For me connecting with nature is so important, and there is no better way to connect than being outdoors on a camping trip.

The sights, sounds and smell of a campsite are part of the experience too.

The high pitched rip of a zip, the flap of canvas and the pungent smell of fresh grass, woodsmoke and freshly brewed coffee all combine into a heady mix.

And when you are camping everything ebbs and flows with the rise and fall of the sun. And at night, as the sun drifts below the horizon, the infinite expanse of the universe unfolds with celestial majesty, mind-bending in its vastness.

Just one night out in the elements and the mind can become untethered from the daily routine, released from the shackles of the flickering electric box in the corner of the living room and the piles of bills, letters and reminders that enslave us on a daily basis.

Camping is communal living, how humans would have co-existed many hundreds of years ago, before office blocks, air conditioning and artificial strip lighting. For me this is part of the allure; to get back to basics, however temporary.

And we are fortunate in that we have a phenomenal campsite nearby. There is something magical about this campsite, nestled in the shadow of a white horse, carved in chalk on a hillside dotted with lush and ancient deciduous woodland.

Once we had arrived and found our friends, the tent went up reasonably easily and the kids got to run around, liberated, urgent and red faced, constructing imaginary universes and populating them with imaginative abandon.

The drizzle stopped and the afternoon blended lazily into the evening. As the sun went down groups of people began to gather around freshly lit fires. With the kids so content, some of our group chanced an early drink.

The bedtime routine went well, and the adults in our group had, by now, started to sink into their chairs around the fire, faces lit and glowing amber as the flames licked and danced. Only one child remained awake, my daughter.

It wasn’t the kind of awake that was problematic though. There were no tears, no tantrums. It was a gentle kind of awake, driven by curiosity and an active mind.

After a few failed attempts to settle her into her camp bed, I decided to bring her around the camp fire. It was a risk. By now we were firmly into adult time, and the addition of a child may have been looked upon dimly by my peers.

But within a few minutes it became apparent that my daughter was content to sit quietly on my lap, settling into the hypnotic soundtrack of the night;

There were snatches of conversations from around the camp fire; I could hear a story being shared, an offer of more food, a bottle being opened.

And there was also the sound of a guitar and a soft but beautiful voice singing a quiet refrain.

The sound of a tent zip punctuated the air, and a lone blackbird piped melancholy from the tree tops.

I could hear a peel of laughter from across the field, a group bonding over a joke or story, and all of this was set to the gentle hiss and crackle of our fire fanned by the night breeze.

My daughter cuddled in tight, her curls falling on my lap, and at once I felt utterly content, at peace, my heart melting into the fire.

I realised she had probably never seen the night sky like this before, pitch dark and bottomless, so I asked her to look up at the stars. She lifted her head and fixed her wide eyes on the sparkling canvas above.

It took her a minute to take it all in, and then the questions started; magnificent questions driven by the young, pure and inquisitive mind of a three year old.

I don’t know how long we spoke for, but it was beautiful. A father and daughter huddled close amongst friends, cuddling under a vast night canopy and warmed by a fire, repeating a conversation that humans have been having through the millennia.

I sat with her, talking in whispered tones, long into the night, not even moving when she eventually fell asleep on my lap.

It was too perfect, magic, and I didn’t want to move, lest the spell be broken.

And my enduring memory from the night was of my daughters angelic eyes, facing skywards, reflecting the embers of the fire, desperate for knowledge, her mind beginning to tangle with some of life’s imponderables.

And for me it was a deep and profound connection with my little baby, a truly rare moment in the normally frantic rat race of everyday life.

Since that night I have realised that my daughter is growing up fast, and these moments will become less and less.

There will become a time when she will leave my side and stride out into the big wide world on her own. And when that does happen, she won’t know it, but my heart will go with her.

But for this one night, I was able to savour this moment, a primal bonding between father and daughter, a moment so precious and pure that it will stay with me until I die.

This was for me the moment of 2013.

A moment that mattered.

This post has been created for the lovely Mummy’s little Monkey and is part of a competition she is running on her site designed to get people writing about moments from 2013 that mattered to them. If you have read this post, or any of the other posts in the moments that matter series on her site, and feel inspired to contribute your own moment that mattered, then please do. You could even be in the running to win an iPad mini courtesy of those good people at Lloyds www.lloydsbank.com who are doing a sterling job in supporting the blogging community.

 

A Red Demon Rising

photo

There is a knot of tension rising in my chest.

My son is writhing and planking on the change table, his eyes screwed tight shut, screaming like a dentist drill. He is tired beyond logic and reason.

It’s been a really tough couple of months, it’s the end of a really hard day, and I am exhausted myself. But I am just about holding it together.

I try to put his pyjama trousers on and his flailing feet kick me in the stomach, right in the solar plexus. The pain makes me feel sick.

His screaming is bouncing around my head, and my brain is throbbing. I haven’t eaten or drunk enough fluids today. My needs are secondary these days.

But I am still holding it together.

I’m now trying to put his pyjama top on and he is getting furious. I try the usual placating moves, the false choices, the soothing voice, the singing, the tickling, but my patience is wearing gossamer thin and he is going nuclear.

Suddenly he lunges forward and hits me on the nose. It hurts. It really hurts.

Still he screams and writhes.

I’ve tried hard to suppress the anger but my skin is beginning to flush and my ears ringing. I’m starting to feel removed from my body.

I try to stay calm and in control. I’m holding him now, still trying to negotiate the pyjamas.

He opens his mouth and clamps his teeth down on the soft skin between my neck and shoulder.

The extreme pain causes a flash of bright red light in my head, and a surge of rage courses through my veins.

Now I’ve lost it.

I’m properly yelling at him now. The force of my voice scares even me.

There are flames burning up my back and neck, my head is swimming, my ears ringing and my heart racing. My boy is still screaming. My daughter has retreated to a corner. Her fingers in her mouth and her eyes wide open. She looks horrified.

But I am full of fury.

The red demon has risen.

The red demon is me.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My wife comes in and tells me to leave the room. But I am full of fury. I’ve snapped

And the demon is jumping up and down, gibbering manically on my shoulder, gleeful at the chaos.

My wife tells me to leave the room again.

Suddenly I realise what I have done. I take a horrified step back.

I leave the room, shaking with adrenalin.

++++++++++++++++++++++

I am out running in the cold streets. The rain is on my face. It’s refreshing. My heart rate is up and my breathing rhythmic. I am scanning my body and physically I feel good.

Emotionally however I am shot through.

The red demon is still present but with each step I take the flames are subsiding, the fiery rage dissipating. His embers are still glowing but the demon is skulking in the darkness now, whispering to the shadows in forked tongues.

But his legacy is strong. I feel filthy, polluted, toxic.

I am going over the incident in my head, reflecting and analysing.

I am making excuses. I know I am stressed. I know the last few months have been really hard. I know I am exhausted, and yes, my boy was acting up. But the one thing I keep coming back to is that there is no excuse.

There is no excuse for losing my temper. There is no excuse for yelling at a two year old child. There is simply no excuse.

Anger is an important reflex in the story of human survival and evolution, and if harnessed correctly should continue to play a role in inspiring us to strive to be better as individuals and as a society. But it needs to be managed.

The cold night air is in my lungs, in my head. I can see things incredibly clearly. I was totally in the wrong. There are no excuses.

Much to the demon’s disgust I begin to harness the aggression constructively. I am starting to feel grateful.

I am grateful for my wife’s understanding and quiet, calming presence. Not just tonight, but at all times.

I am grateful that this is the first incident where anger has got the better of me in close to four years of being a father.

I am grateful that this incident has made me determined to be an even better father. To love my little boy even harder.

I am grateful that I can use this to show my children how important it is to apologise when I have done something bad, to show them how truly sorry I am – to hug them, kiss them and breathe them in. To show them that I am also vulnerable and prone to error.

I am grateful that I can use this to learn and grow. I will be able to identify the warning signs in future. I will be able to harness the powerful emotion of anger correctly.

My feet are moving quickly over the concrete now. The demon is squealing and shrinking, and in its place a pure white light is growing.

I am running faster. I want to get home. I want to see my children. I want them to see my vulnerability. I want them to see me apologising.

And I want them to see a light burning in my eyes.

But instead of the red light of anger I want them to see a glorious, luminescent glow of pure love blazing from my soul.

Because that is what I feel right now.

The light of love in my heart finally engulfs the demon. I am sprinting to my front door.