I have the honour of being Bespoke Daddy to two gorgeous twin boys, Sausage & Bean (names we’ve used for them since week twelve of pregnancy.) And the best advice I can give regarding fatherhood came from a Men-only antenatal course. (If you can find one running, get onto it!)
The group of 8 men (being the only twin Dad did feel like a badge of honour, I must admit!), with a volunteer tutor, spent a day in a London hospital one weekend.
We got to talk through the physics of birth in detail (not the time to be squeamish!), do a baby budget, and ask all those questions you’d never dare ask in a room full of pregnant women! Like what to do if she poos during natural labour!
Spoiler alert: The answer is NEVER tell her, or anyone else. The midwife will subtly whisk it away and won’t comment. Don’t react, and do your best to forget it ever happened! Deny all knowledge if she asks!)
Luckily, we had an elective section, so the issue never arose…
We watched a newborn baby getting her first bath, and even changed a nappy on a doll which had simulation poo – peanut butter… yum…
What was the best bit of the course, you ask?
We spent a short session reflecting upon and brainstorming what we valued most about our own fathers: a collection of never-perfect but mostly well-intentioned, average dads. And from this, came up with a list of attributes together that we wanted to employ in ourselves, as we learned to father our own children. Essentially it boiled-down to this: Take the good, leave the bad, keep yourself open to new ideas. A very Bespoke approach!
I decided I want my boys to know I love them and be willing to show affection so they can see it’s normal and good. I wanted to show them that they can reach for me and know I will always be there. And to me that means taking care of all their needs, both physical and emotional, regardless of traditional, gendered parenting roles.
The current image of fathers that society proliferates is of well-meaning oafs – Feckless Fathers, who are more interested in their own work/hobbies than in their children. They shy away from hard or dirty jobs like discipline or changing nappies. Or worse, combat ‘bad’ behaviour with totalitarian dictatorship.
Neither sat right with me.
From the start, I wanted to be present and hands-on. I set myself a goal to do all the nappies (around 22 per day) and for at least the first 7 days, my wife wasn’t required to change a single one. (She particularly relishes that she never had to deal with any meconium!) To this day, if I am home, she doesn’t need to change any bums, although thankfully that poo schedule has reduced somewhat!
In many (not all) families, it seems to be the case that the mum does everything and the dad just does the fun bits. I don’t think this reflects upon a man’s actual ability to parent well, but the individual father’s choice to conform to society’s definition of a dad, allowing himself to be iced-out of the parenting.
- He accepts a back-seat in the process.
- Doesn’t read the books or research during the pregnancy.
- Doesn’t take an interest in important decisions re feeding/sleeping/parenting styles.
- Allows others (albeit well-meaning people) to sideline him during the birth process.
- Is unsure what to do with a screaming poo machine (FYI, no one knows the first time – just trying is enough).
- Maintains his previous frequency of drinking/hobbies/sports whilst his partner has to stay home with baby.
- Doesn’t get stuck-in with baby from day one, then once he’s back at work, never quite gets it down pat, so of course always feels unsure when he ‘babysits’.
Of course there are many amazing dads, exceptions to this trend, but sadly this is the pattern that society has come to expect.
In many ways, having twins actually made it easier to take a leading role – since my wife couldn’t possibly have taken-on both babies on her own in the days following her section. (Kudos to single twin-mummies – you are so amazing!)
With two newborns to care for, plus a bed-bound Bespoke Mama, I was 100% required, and valued all the more. I didn’t reject help with the babies, but I also didn’t allow that help to remove me from the picture. I took responsibility for everything, and yes I mean everything. From doing all the nappies as I’ve mentioned, to helping latch a baby onto a breast (Sorry men, your partner’s boobs are no longer solely for your viewing pleasure!)
My wife has tandem-fed our boys from day 1. And I was involved in more than just keeping Bespoke Mama fed and watered – I even had to hold Sausage to one boob while she was holding Bean to the other boob. I learned how to aim the nipple so baby would open wide and then how to stuff his little gob with boob so the latch was a good’un. Not something every father will be required to do, but it was what my boys and my wife needed at the time!
I was solely responsible for washing and sterilising bottles and pump parts, and learned how to bottle feed EBM top-ups (During their second week they needed extra boob juice to get their weight up, due to jaundice). I got up through the night so we could breastfeed both boys and then bottle them.
For nearly 7 months they would only fall asleep on the boob, on my chest or in a carrier (unless we got super-lucky), so I would sit with the boys sleeping on me for 4+ hours every night in our Weego tandem carrier, and sometimes for much longer.
After a long day at work.
All so my wife could shower and snatch a little sleep between feeds.
When we decided to move north I gave up my job and briefly became an SAHD whilst my family was settling in, which I loved. I got a bonus 3 months to enjoy these amazing boys! Later, when I started my job-hunt, I had the twins under my care as much as possible.
Now I work evening shifts, but as soon as I get home I take over co-sleeping with the boys in their room – we have a Super-King floor bed; the boys sleep side by side at the top and I sleep sideways along the bottom, in a sleeping bag. This allows my wife to head upstairs to bed so she can get some ‘uninterrupted’ sleep (I take them to her to feed when they can’t be settled otherwise – usually 3 times a night).
I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m far from it.
I spend too much time gaming or on my phone. I believe in Gentle Parenting, but get frustrated and angry when I ‘know’ what they need but they won’t calm down enough to let me help them, or get a word in edge-ways. I’ve snapped at my wife from sheer tiredness and broken down after a sleepless night only to have to change just 1 more nappy.
I’ve been so sleep-deprived that I have hallucinated that I’m still holding a baby, when in fact it’s just my duvet! (You can see the babies are both safely in their cosleeper…)
Fatherhood is hard, but I’ve made my choice and I will keep choosing to engage even when I fail. My boys deserve my best – better, in fact – and I want to do them proud.
This post is NOT about telling other Dads how to parent. You will be a Bespoke Daddy – your parenting must be tailored to your individual family’s needs, and that’s going to look different in every household. But it IS a call to arms. Show up. Invest yourself. Put thought, energy, time and money into your family, and don’t settle for less when it gets hard. Let’s change the stereotype of what makes a Dad.
Regardless of our family’s specific choices, what I’m trying to communicate to you is my decision not to take a back seat.
Never allow your role to be filled by another.
No one can do it better than you.
Fathers are important and fatherhood is a calling not lightly taken-up or easy to bear. You can tell because those mistakes our own fathers made are still affecting us now.
I’m part of the Dad network Dads Group, a community on Facebook that seeks to promote fatherhood and especially the choice to be a SAHD.
What kind of father do you want to be? If you’ve made mistakes (we all have) it’s never to late to fix things. It might be hard, painful or feel impossible but you can always strive to do better for your family.
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