The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

Latest update from the front lines comrades – it’s September and that means school has started. Now we all know school is great – tonnes of snacks, loads of shouting and running about and the mud pie kitchen. Oh yes, the mud pie kitchen! I mean, what’s not to like?!

But we all know that we can’t let on that we like school too much. We are a Resistance Movement after all, and we can’t resist something if we outwardly show the Ugly Giants that we like it. You feel me? So here’s the deal. Follow these instructions and resist, my schooled chums, resist!

1/. Wake up late and refuse to get out of bed until all your favourite clothes are laid out on the floor for you. Preferably in the shape of Olaf from Frozen.

2/. Swap out your pants / knickers at least sixty seven times. It’s an autumnal underwear palette you are after. Refuse the monochrome look, it’s so last year.

3/. Stuff your school jumper down the back of the sofa. This is an important plant that you can call upon later (see 15 below).

4/. Refuse to wear socks. Hold out for a multi-vitamin. Force the Ugly Giants to play their trump card early.

5/. Once you have the multi-vitamin, demand, in increasing levels of volume, to wear socks. Insist on putting socks on yourself. Scream at anyone who breaches your 5 metre perimeter until you have satisfactorily aligned your socks with your chi, any nearby ley lines and the eight planets of the solar system.

6/. At breakfast scream for Cheerio’s. A resistance movement cannot be sustained on an empty stomach and these little sugary O’s are perfect marching fodder. Half way through your bowl of sugary, salty breakfast cereal, stop and demand a fried egg on toast or anything else that requires the Ugly Giants to break open the cooking gear. Sprinkle Cheerio’s on the floor until you get what you want.

7/. You are holding out for an important Verbal Signal of Weakness (VSoW) from the Ugly Giants so procrastinate as much as you can. Use these precious minutes to discover a brand new hobby (such as dust inspecting or cognitive complexity theory), ask some important questions and demand answers (e.g. “why are big things big?” or a variation “How can big things be so big?”) or if you have a younger brother or sister simply hide him / her in a cupboard until the Ugly Giants are about to call the Police.

8/. If you have done everything right my learned friends you are probably nearing the point of VSoW so adjust your socks. The Toddler Resistance Movement demands sartorial perfection so get it right. Twenty minutes of committed sock fiddling should just about do it. Listen out for the Ugly Giant’s VSoW.

9/. “Come ON, we’re REALLY late”. There it is! BOOM! You’ve done it. The VSoW. The reveal. The Ugly Giants are now putty in your hands. You can hold out for pretty much any type of bribery. Whatever you want from the snack tin, it’s yours my fellow schoolers.

10/. They are weak. They are vulnerable. Now is the time to hit them with the Holy Trinity. Tell them you don’t want to go to school, you want to change your socks and that you are so tired that you need one of the Ugly Giants to give you a piggy back from the breakfast table to the front door. That should get you an oat bar, at the least.

11/. When brushing your teeth, the Ugly Giants will shout “BRUSH, DON’T CHEW”. They don’t really mean it. Chew, like your life depends on it.

12/. Before leaving the house, demand the micro scooter. Demand every single piece of safety kit and clothing to go with it.

13/. Take off the safety kit and clothing. It’s clashing with your autumnal palette.

14/. On the walk to school, stop off and talk to cats, pick flowers and inspect beetles. Feed the flowers to the beetles and feed the beetles to the cats. Try and eat the cats yourself.

15/. At the school gates make one last stand. Ask difficult questions, ask for your jumper (which is stuffed down the back of the sofa. BOOM! Payload!) or adjust your socks. Anything to avoid actual school.

16/. If you have followed all the steps above you should be entering the school just as the gates to your classroom are locked. This will cause the Ugly Giants an embarrassing trip to School Admin to plead their case and get the gates unlocked.
If you have achieved this then congratulations, YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE!

#VSoW
#sockfiddling
#toddlerresistancemovement

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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)

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.

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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.

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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.

The forty eight hours of me

Peace. Quiet. Alone

Peace. Quiet. Alone

It’s Friday night, I am 41 years old, I am home alone, and I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

Just a few minutes earlier the front door had closed shut. The muffled sound of small, crackly and excited voices faded. I heard the car door shut. The engine was started up, the car pulled out of the drive

And now here I am, left standing in silence, like a forgotten old sock on a radiator.

Complete silence.

My wife has taken the children away for the weekend and I don’t quite know how I feel, or who I am.

I turn and walk away from the door, a familiar paradox forming in my emotions – those uneasy bedfellows of joy and sadness jostle for primacy in my heart.

As soon as the family are out of the door I breathe a sigh of relief. But it is a sigh tinged too with the vestiges of regret. Regret that I am not going with them. Regret that I will miss all those little moments that have become so important.

That moment after dinner when we have a disco which always ends up with everyone collapsed on the floor in a panting pile of giggles.

That moment when my son puts his arm around his sister as she talks him through a book.

That moments when my daughter will whisper that she loves me in my ear.

That moments when my son fixes me with his gaze, stares into my eyes and somehow connects with my very being.

Moments when all the drudgery of the routine has been completed and we can glow in the precious embers of the day, nestled under the duvet sheets and cuddling close as the much loved and familiar bed time stories are told once again.

Moments when my wife and I look at each other and with one weary but happy expression, count our blessings that we have got them safely through yet another day.

They have been gone for a few seconds and I am already missing all of this and more. The house seems quiet. Too quiet. The toys are strewn across the floor, a multi-coloured legacy of what just was.

Children enter our lives in a whirlwind of noise, energy and emotion and from that moment on, there is no let up. As a father this is like a drug.

But it is moments like this, when the drug is taken away, that I miss it, need it, crave it back again. My personality has become so intrinsically linked to my children that it feels like my identity and character are collapsing without them. Again, I am home alone. I am 41 years old. And I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

But it doesn’t take long before I remember. The sadness begins to make way as a positive realisation dawns on me. I am home alone. I am home alone.

I walk over to the toys and start putting them away, one by one. And as I do so, a wave of nervous excitement passes over me. I start to think who of my friends I can call.

I can go for a pint. In a pub.

I can have dinner. In a restaurant.

I start to recall all the films I want to watch and make a mental note to check the listings of the nearby cinemas. I make a mental note to check the timings of the live football on TV. I start to think about the work that needs to be done in the garden and all the other things I find hard to do with children swarming around my ankles, pulling at my trousers and demanding attention.

I start to excitedly break the next two days down into units of time. Some units are about getting jobs done, but some units – in fact most units – are hedonistically and selfishly dedicated to me.

One and a half units will be spent on getting my hair cut. Two units I am budgeting for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in our local Cafe and a read of the papers. Another two units will go on televised sport. I start to calculate how many units are left.

The weekend is shaping up. I am home alone. And already I am starting to feel like a man again. I am no longer a husband or a father. I am a man, it is just me, and it is starting to feel really good.

I catch myself and I feel guilty, but not so guilty to rein in the flights of fancy that are now coming in thick and fast. I could get the train to London and take in a show. Why not Liverpool? I’ve always fancied a night at the Cavern Club. Hell, why not get a last minute flight and check out Amsterdam…….?

I decide against these things. I am home alone. I have the weekend to myself and my primary goal is to wake up in my own bed, at my own pace, and to do those things that I don’t normally get a chance to do. This is “me” time with a capital ME. This is my one weekend where I can be selfish and hedonistic.

And I know that come Sunday evening the car will pull up the drive, I will hear the car doors open and the muffled sound of scratchy, excited little voices will get louder. My daughter will reach up and press the doorbell and run off screaming with excitement, my son will be jumping up and down on the spot, shouting unformed words, fingers coming in through the letter box.

Before I open the door and get bowled off my feet by a tidal wave of sticky hugs, noise and unbounded enthusiasm, I will breathe in the silence one last time.

And in that moment I know that there will be a tinge of disappointment. Disappointment that I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to do during the 48 hours of me. Disappointment that my peace and quiet will be broken. Disappointment that Time will once again no longer be mine.

But there will also be joy as the old, selfish me makes way for the new improved me; the father, the husband, the carer, the anchor, the port in a storm.

I will be euphoric that they are back. I will acknowledge that being just me is great, but that actually my life has far greater meaning when my wife and children are around. They define me in ways that I never could on my own.

I will reflect and acknowledge that the only reason I can properly enjoy time alone, is by knowing that they are coming back. It is that, and ONLY that, which will make the next two days – the 48 hours of me – so precious.

A weapon called the word

There is a heat wave. England blazes temporarily, a shimmering heat-haze halo surrounds her crown;

The thermometer hits 30C (86F). The air is hot, thick and muggy. Sun kissed skin, shorts and flip flops abound.

We head out to our outdoor public swimming pool for some respite. We are joined by my daughter’s best friend and family.

The girls rip around the swimming pool together, laughing, splashing, exploring and making mischief. Other friends join us. It’s perfect. Just perfect.

It’s 5pm, the shadows lengthen, but the heat continues.

Thoughts turn to food. We decide to eke out the remnants of the glorious weekend in the sweltering courtyard of a nearby pizzeria. Six adults and six children under four. Magnificent chaos.

We are the only people here. The adults kick back and chance bottles of cold beer. The children pulse, faces red and glistening with sweat.

The sky turns a peachy hue. Honeysuckle and Jasmine curl around a trellis, radiating a heady and intoxicating scent. The courtyard bakes.

It is a perfect scene but fatigue sets in. Tempers start to fray. My daughters’ best friend is tired and becomes emotional. But my daughter wants to carry on playing.

After one rebuke, my daughter turns to her best friend and blurts out “Do you like me?”

I am surprised. I have never heard my daughter seek affirmation before. She may be 3 years old but I still have this mental image of her crawling around in nappies, squawking excitedly at house flies and chewing on our furniture.

And I can tell by the intonation in the question that she is feeling a little hurt. Something has happened between them.

If I’m shocked by the question, then the shot gun blast of a response knocks me off my feet.

“No. I DON’T like YOU

It is delivered with an indignant turn of the back, the emphasis firmly on “YOU”

This passage of conversation stops everyone in their tracks. Someone on the table gasps.

Silence.

A fly buzzes past. A car horn sounds.

The perfect day begins to crumble.

I immediately feel a whole series of emotions; anger, heart-break, sadness, shock

My daughter starts weeping, hard.

Not only has she asked a question that has laid her emotions totally bare, but she has done it in such an open and public way.

And she has received the ultimate social put down in return. Worse still, it is delivered in front of all the people she cares about most in the world.

“I DON’T like YOU

Ouch.

Fucking OUCH.

My daughter sits on a step and sobs her eyes out, her back turned to the group. No parent likes to see their child cry, but I notice this is a different kind of crying.

My daughters face is contorting in ways I have never seen before; her face is the canvas for the expression of her soul – writhing, wounded, anguished and vulnerable.

Yes I expected this kind of thing during the teenage years, but not NOW at three years old. Surely not now? Not yet.

The parents of my daughter’s best friend, to their credit, try to reassure, try to get their daughter to apologise. They try to blame it on the heat, they try to resolve the situation.

It couldn’t have been easy for them to hear either, for our children are tiny little mirrors that reflect right back at us.

They try, but to no avail. The damage has been done.

I don’t know what to do or how to react.

Part of me wants to ignore it. It has happened, it’s going to happen again, and my daughter is going to need to learn to deal with it on her own.

And after all, maybe her best friend doesn’t like her and was just being honest.

It was brutal honesty, but at least it is honesty.

The other part of me wants to step up into man-mode and solve the problem; I want to give my daughter a big hug, carefully admonish her friend for saying something so cruel, gently but assertively elicit an apology and then, situation resolved, accompany everyone (smiling) back to the half eaten pizzas – the perfect day, still on the cards.

But while man-mode is ideal for fixing punctures or strimming hedges, it is not equipped for emotional trauma. The fragile gossamer threads of emotion cannot simply be fixed with some glue and a screwdriver.

This is going to happen again. She needs to work out how to deal with this herself. She needs to know that I am here for her, but that I can’t fix the way that her friends feel about her. And I certainly can’t fix the way that makes her feel.

But I can role model a reaction to social rejection. A reaction that will hopefully breed resilience. A reaction that will equip her for everything that is to come.

I went with what seemed instinctively right. A comforting arm. Whispered cajoling. A big hug. No judgments, no admonishment, just calm reassurance that I am there;

She did calm down. We eventually went back to our pizzas. The evening finished on a reasonable footing.

But I can’t shake this feeling that my daughter’s innocence has been dented by her best friend and I have done nothing to protect her.

And this little incident, played out very publicly in the theatre of the restaurant is both a window into the future and a comment on the present.

For the present it tells me my daughter is growing up, quicker than I realise.

For the present it has rammed home my limitations as a father.

For within my home I can protect and provide and nurture. And yet the moment I step out of the door, I am reminded of my parameters.

Society snarls and bares its teeth like a rabid wild animal and I have to turn away. I cannot protect my daughter, not even from tiny words that tumble from a tiny mouth.

And for the future it tells me there will be more of this to come. Social rejection, alienation, paranoia and shifting social bonds are unfortunately all pervasive features on the rich landscape of modern childhood.

And for the future it tells me that for every success and failure that my children endure, I will feel it as profoundly as they do.

And one thing is for sure.

My young daughter has probably been dealt the first of many, many blows to come, with that subtle, yet powerful, weapon;

A weapon called the word.

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This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk

To the power of two

The transition from a family of three to a family of four can often be extremely difficult. New bonds need to be formed, new patterns established and a new personality accommodated in the already complex dynamics of a thriving household. It is no wonder that two children can seem exponentially more challenging than one. But eventually there comes a moment when all the stress is forgotten.

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

Those first few weeks as a family of four were extremely difficult.

My daughter, who by now at 21 months had started to mellow, became very volatile again and her sleep was disturbed.

Regardless of the amount of care we put into carefully introducing my daughter to her new brother, jealousy still reared its very ugly head.

And while my son was a very laid back baby, going back to a few hours sleep a night was very difficult for me to do.

And my son’s crying used to wake my daughter.

And she became tired and cranky

And as a result we all became tired and cranky.

It was intense.

Exhausting

Every day was just a relentless process of giving. Giving every last bit of myself to little sponges of seemingly infinite need.

And the nights were worse.

No escape.

No respite. Night after night of bleary eyed wake ups.

A feed would finish and just as quiet returned to the house, and I began to feel the warm embrace of sleep, a whimper would start up and within seconds crescendo, jolting me into reality.

The days and nights merged into one feverish process of giving.

Giving to my children. Giving to my wife. Giving to my job.

And it was the depths of mid-winter. The joys of autumn and Christmas long gone, the promise of Spring not even signalled by a snow-drop.

The days short, dank and cold. The nights long and claustrophobic.

It was a harsh winter.

Barbaric temperatures and rain and snow kept us all indoors and behind bars.

The screaming and crying began to echo off the walls, a stereophonic reminder of the responsibilities of fatherhood.

And then I became sick. It was inevitable.

It was winter. I wasn’t sleeping. I was stressed

It was probably just a normal virus, the kind of winter sickness as a young single man I would have cast off within days.

But in this new state it lingered. For days. For weeks. For months.

I eventually began to shake the virus off and we moved into Spring, my son getting stronger, the night feeds becoming less, my daughter becoming more accepting.

It was still incredibly difficult, harder than I ever thought it was going to be. But there were signs that things were changing.

I once caught the two of them sitting and giggling at each other. It lasted a full four minutes. Four minutes of beautiful, unreserved joy.

I stood and watched and listened, daring not to move, lest the spell be broken, letting the beautiful and heart breaking sound of their euphoria break over me.

And this summer, a brilliantly tempting vision of a potential future has started to shimmer, mirage-like, on the horizon.

With the weather getting better and the back door frequently open they have both started piling outside together; a little crackling ball of fizzing energy, rampaging around the garden, pulling up flowers, eating worms, falling over, getting up, noses in EVERY corner.

No stone unturned.

Six months ago, they were screaming and crying and hanging off my legs and ankles, demanding attention, demanding time, demanding food, demanding love. Now there is occasionally peace.

They will be reading together

They will be in the sand pit together

They will be hunting for slugs together.

My daughter always initiating, my son the little wobbly accomplice.

And just this week an event happened that inspired this whole post. An event that is still as poignant now as it was all those days ago.

I was upstairs in the bathroom, facilitating the bedtime routine. It is easier these days.

But this night the kids disappeared. I heard joyful giggling. I called out to them to come.

Nothing. Just giggling. Lots of giggling.

I called again.

Nothing. More giggling.

I started to get annoyed. That familiar feeling of bedtime routines coming back, the knot of tension building in my chest. I strode into the bedroom ready to admonish.

I stopped in my tracks. I paused. And then I let out a huge belly laugh.

In front of me were my kids. They were both stood there, cheeky grins on face, staring at me, waiting for my reaction.

Because on her head, my daughter had her clean knickers, her pigtails sticking out of the leg holes. And on his head, my son was wearing his trousers, the legs of which were dangling down like giant dog ears.

There was something about this simple moment that levelled everything.

In my laugh, months of stress and tension had been unleashed.

And when my kids saw that I was laughing they both burst into hysterics. My son laughed so hard he fell over, the trousers falling further over his eyes. More laughter.

They had planned this together. They wanted to entertain.

That moment made me realise that the crying and screaming and jealousy and tantrums that used to echo around the hollow chambers of my mind, are gradually being replaced by giggles, laughter and squeals of delight.

I can see them every day, forming bonds, entertaining and looking out for each other. They are little buddies.

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And that is why tonight I am sitting on the decking writing this post.

Both my children are bathed and washed and safely in bed. They sleep through these days.

And I am looking out over my garden. I am remembering the trousers on head incident and I allow myself another chuckle.

It is a warm, comfortable evening. The sun is setting and the smell of summer jasmine and honeysuckle is carried by a gentle breeze. The shrill cry of Swifts echoes overhead. A lawnmower burrs in the distance, providing a gentle backdrop to this perfect scene.

I have a cold beer.

Tonight I am happy.

Tonight I take a drink to the power of two.

This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk

This was my father; he was my hero

It has been four years this month since my father died. This  post is a tribute to him and the legacy and footprint that he left. It is the hardest blog post I have had to write.

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RIP July 2009Just seven days before my father died from cancer he had completed a 7km walk, had devoured a fish and chip lunch and sunk two pints of real ale.

He was by all accounts, despite being in remission from chemotherapy, in fine fettle.

In fact I cannot remember a time in my life when my father had been anything other than in fine fettle.

He was part of the original “keep calm and carry on” generation, a generation devoid of the insidious poison of celebrity and entitlement culture.

This was a generation that had lived through the trauma of evacuation, the horror of war and hardships of national service.

This was the generation that had peered into mankind’s stifling, toxic heart of darkness and had survived. A generation for whom work was not an option, but a source of pride and identity.

His resilience came from these formative experiences and was aided by the fact that he possessed a natural physical prowess, a genetic gift passed through the generations. He was quick and athletic, but strong too. He had an engine that would seemingly never give up.

Indeed there were days when I thought he was hewn from the mountains themselves, a man of granite, surely immortal. He viewed broken bones as “a bit of a nuisance”, glandular fever as “a bit like a heavy cold” and even his terminal cancer diagnosis as “a bit of a disappointment”.

Even in his retirement my father was incredibly busy, seemingly moving up a gear with every year he lived on the planet.

He was a keen gardener and continued to play tennis, squash and badminton to a decent standard.

He continued to march tirelessly up and down mountains leaving his wife and considerably younger sons trailing and grumbling in his gigantic wake.

He continued to plan and execute exotic holidays, marching his way through Amazonian river basin jungles, tracking big game on the savannahs of the Masai Mara and going off road on the vast sand dunes of the West Australian desert, trusty map constantly in hand.

And he watched me go off to work in numerous war and disaster zones. He presided over the marriages of both of his sons. He became a grand-father. He survived prostate cancer. And all the time he laughed and maintained his sense of humour.

Much of my memories of my dad are of a man with incredible energy.

A man with ridiculous robustness;

A man with a resilience and pragmatism that can only come from living through a world war;

A man with a quick and cultured wit.

A man with passion for sports of all shapes and forms;

And a man with a penchant for discussing anything and everything with sound opinion, knowledge and humour;

Many of my memories are of him up a mountain; tough, gnarly hands clutching a battered old map, eyes squinted, staring off into the distance, the quickest route to a cold pint flickering across his mind.

On his deathbed, my dad told my brother and I that he was proud of us.

The truth is that we are proud of him, and lucky to have had him as a father.

I love sometimes catching his traits living on in me.

For example I have recently taken quiet satisfaction in seeing my broad beans grow.

I have enjoyed tackling mountains and peaks for no other reason than that they were just there.

I chuckle to myself when I have found myself denouncing modern sat nav and GPS technology in favour of crinkly old OS maps.

To my father I am thankful for giving me his pragmatism, his natural curiosity, his desire to experience life in its fullest – ‘I would rather wear out, than fade out’ he once told me.

I am thankful to him for giving me his desire to travel and understand different ways of seeing the world; I am thankful to him for sharing his need to get up amongst the mountains and look down from his lofty perch, in order to get perspective on the world and the human condition.

I am thankful that he taught me to appreciate geography; society, nature and place. And of course maps.

I am thankful for him spending hours in the garden helping me to perfect a good forward defensive stroke, and a consistent line and length that has since sent numerous batsmen skulking back towards the pavilion. And I thank him for my ability to be able to throw a cricket ball into the middle of next week.

I thank him for teaching me how to bend a football round a wall and for teaching me the principles and importance of playing for ‘the team’.

I thank him for my right foot. I blame him for my lack of a left.

And even though it has been four years now I still miss him terribly. I miss talking to him about anything and everything. I miss his presence. His gentle nature. His sound advice. His desire to see me constantly improve myself. His poring over a bridleway or footpath on his battered old maps.

I miss talking aimless nonsense with him over a few pints and Match of the Day.

Such is my sense of loss that I miss him for the life events that haven’t happened yet, and for things that may never happen.

But my memories of him are rich and full and perfect, and I have no regrets.  The footprint he left behind is long and deep.

Given how terribly quickly his condition deteriorated, I was fortunate to be next to him when he passed away.

And strange that it may sound, we had some beautiful moments in those final days before he died.

Moments when the love in the room was electric, crackling and surging through us all, revealing itself as a primal and infinitely powerful force as old and as mysterious as the universe, lighting up the murk and temporarily dispersing the shadows of death itself with its brilliance.

I am thankful for those moments and for all those moments in my life.

My father died much in the same way that he lived his life – with grace, dignity and youthful humour.

This was my father. He was my role model. My gentle giant. My stability. My anchor.

This was my father.

He was my hero.

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This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk