Enhanced interrogation techniques

We’ve been battling inconsistent sleep patterns with The Halfling for about 4 months now. Every now and then she has a brilliant night and you think to yourself, “maybe she’s finally turning a corner and her sleep is getting better.” Most nights she sleeps solidly for the first 3 and a half hours and then becomes increasingly restless until dawn. But every once in a while, she has a night where you feel like it would be preferable to stowaway on a SpaceX rocket and seek refugee status on Mars.

I know that’s probably how my wife felt in the early hours of this morning when I, hitherto asleep in the main bedroom, awoke at 1 am to The Halfling midway through her rendition of the Anvil Chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera, Il trovatore. It always amazes me just how much noise such a tiny person can produce (from both ends, mind you). I am a solid sleeper. I could sleep through a nuclear holocaust, but apparently my daughter’s lungs contain more earth-shattering power than Tsar Bomba because she took me out of REM from a whole other part of our home. My wife who was in the nursery with her must have been at her wits end, and if our neighbours didn’t hate us before, I’m sure they do now.

I got up several times and stood outside the nursery door, contemplating whether or not I should go in to settle her. I hesitated because I think running to pick her up every time she cries during the night only serves to reinforce her dependency on physical contact to fall asleep. On the other hand, she is more than capable of belting out the song of her people for 4 solid hours, losing her voice in the process, then continuing to warble away for another 4 hours in rasping, dissonant chords.

According to Wikipedia, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is a euphemism for the U.S. government’s program of the systematic torture of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with sleep deprivation included as one of the methods used. In other words, the CIA simulates parenthood in order to torture and forcibly extract information from terrorists!

I remember driving to work on my first day after returning from paternity leave and almost taking out an entire section of the Buckinghamshire stretch of the M40 Mortorway during my commute. As challenging as I have found it operating on far less sleep than ideal, I know my wife has it harder. I can’t imagine that at any point today while my wife has been at home, that she’s had a chance to recoup any of the sleep she missed out on last night, but will have to face doing it all over again tonight.

There are people who will say, “sleep when your baby sleeps”, but they obviously have never had kids of their own. And if they do have kids, then it was clearly such a traumatic experience that their brain blocked out the memories of what it was actually like in that first year, otherwise they would know such statements are about as useful as vegan cheese on a pepperoni pizza.

Me. Sleeping while my baby sleeps…

I realised I have, in this one blog post alone, used extra-planetary decampment, forced rendition of terror suspects, state-sanctioned torture and the most powerful explosive device ever detonated to describe night-time at our house. It’s really not that bad, I promise. But sometimes in the moment, when you start to lose perspective, it can seem as though it is.

It’s that time of night again and my wife has retreated to the main bedroom to try and secure a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep while I hold down the fort. The Halfling finished her bedtime protest a few moments ago… No, wait, I jinxed it. She’s wailing like a banshee again so I guess I’ll go in a few minutes to reassure her that we didn’t actually follow through on the earlier threat to abscond to Mars. I have no idea what tonight will be like, but fingers crossed we can all get a little more sleep than the night previous.

Outsourced parenting

I like my job and I enjoy working at the company I do, but I love being a parent. It’s not even close. If it was financially viable, I’d trade in my career in a heartbeat to be a stay-at-home dad. I would probably have to do battle against my wife, Gladiator style, with the spoils right to becomes the stay-at-home parent going to the victor.

My wife and I recently secured a nursery place for Afia. We’ve been dithering on a decision for a little while, mainly because we both travel long distances to work and hadn’t yet come to a conclusion on whether to select a nursery closer to my office or closer to my hers. As luck would have it, she recently secured a conditional offer for a new job much closer to home and has an interview lined up for another – both only a 12-minute journey door to door. This meant we were able to select a nursery close to where we live.

Most parenting articles about milestones focus on baby’s first ‘this’, or baby’s first ‘that’, but I’ve begun to realise over the last 7 months that parents have to navigate milestones of their own too and this one, sending my baby off to nursery, just got very real for me very suddenly. Afia has never been anywhere with anyone without either my wife or I or both of us being present. Will she be okay without us? How am I supposed to just ship my child off into the care of strangers from 8am to 5pm, three days per week and not feel anxious about it?

I never thought I’d be that parent. You know, the one who lingers at the classroom door afraid to leave after having already dropped their child off on the first day of school or nursery, but now I think I might be. It seems like such a big step for her so soon, and I don’t know how she’ll cope with the separation. My wife thinks I’m being the baby and that Afia will be fine – she’s probably right.

I guess what I am really afraid of isn’t whether Afia will cope with being at nursery, but that when my wife finishes her maternity leave and goes back to work, how precious little time we’ll have with our child. The relationships she forms with the adults responsible for her care will influence and shape her developing mind and sense of the world around her. I call it outsourced parenting, though it feels more like parenthood supplanted. I know there is no danger of her becoming confused about who her parents are, but I do find the paradox of childcare disconcerting. The need for us to both work full-time jobs because raising a family on a single wage is unsustainable, but ending up financially less able anyway because the nursery fees will likely exceed our monthly mortgage repayments by more than 30%.

One of my earliest memories as a 4-year-old, is of the sense that my parents had been absent for what felt like weeks. I remember the jubilation I felt at their arrival home from work one day, and immediately telling them about how the babysitter had spilled some talcum powder on the floor, carefully selecting the phrase, “throw away” to describe what was clearly an accident. I won’t try to psychoanalyse whether my four-year-old self was subconsciously communicating feelings of abandonment in the words I used that day, because I only remember how much I missed them. The reality is that my parents had only left for work earlier that same day, but our morning and evening interactions were so fleeting they faded into obscurity. Or, at least, they felt so far away in the mind of young child.

We still have at least a couple months yet before Afia is scheduled to start nursery, and we’ll spend that time introducing the concept of separation to her infant mind by letting her stay with Nana for an hour or two every now and then. I’m sure she’ll be fine when she does eventually go to nursery, but I can’t promise my teary face won’t be pressed close against the crack of the door for a last glimpse after dropping her off on that first day.

Mummy and The Halfling – Precious Moments

Not quite a daddy’s girl… yet

Her dad is usually the first man a woman ever learns to love. At least that’s the theory anyway. My daughter however, doesn’t give her affections to anyone easily, and 7 months in I’m still working hard for her love. After a marathon 54-hour labour, largely without any pain relief, my wife gave birth to our little girl Afia, via emergency caesarean section. The exhaustion and trauma of the whole thing meant that she was effectively bed-bound for the first few days postpartum, and housebound for the next 5-6 weeks thereafter. I happily assumed ownership of all the less glorious tasks of caring for a newborn (e.g. nappy changes and night feeds) and maintenance of the household so my wife could focus on her recovery and bonding with our new baby. We also restricted the number of visitors in those first few weeks and requested they either brought a meal with them or donned a pair rubber gloves to scrub the bathroom when they did eventually come to visit.
Aunty A cleaning our bathroom
For me, those early days, especially my two weeks of paid paternity combined with a few annual leave days I had saved up from work were beautiful, but it was over far too quickly. Getting to know my daughter, figuring our her different cries and watching her learn about the world around her was an amazing experience. Going back to work obviously meant we had much less bonding time together, and at 6 weeks old when she rejected the bottle completely, any role I could play in supporting her feeds came to an abrupt end. We then effectively only had about 2 hours of awake time together during the week – the period between when I got home from work and when we put her to bed time. I took ownership of the bath and bedtime routine so we could have some exclusive daddy-daughter time together, but at some point, I really did start to feel as though she was rejecting me too as she did with the bottle before. It’s natural for baby to be more attached to their primary caregiver, but I think I just started to become a vaguely familiar figure to her. When I was home on the weekends, Afia would start to warm up to me by the end of the Sunday, but then pretend like she didn’t know me by the Tuesday. Fast forward to the present and I think she has definitely developed more of an attachment to me over the past month or so. I’d like to think that my steadily growing repertoire of stupid faces and dad dancing has in some way contributed to making me somewhat memorable during my day-time absences. I tweeted the other day that for the first time, Afia giggled, almost jumped out of mummy’s arms and practically flung herself at me when I came home from work. Mummy is still her favourite of course, but operation ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is now well under way! I read yesterday that O2 have announced an extension to their paid paternity leave to 14 weeks, and think it’s an amazing and positive step towards encouraging more of a balance for parental leave options. I also wonder how much more of a bond Afia and I might have built if I had the opportunity to stay at home for longer after she was born. Who knows, maybe if we do have another child, extended leave policies for dads will be far more commonplace. In the meantime however, dad dancing will have to do!

Dad lives matter

I’m not an activist, and I don’t have any socio-political agendas here. I’m aware of the connotations a statement like, “dad lives matter” has, so why did I think it an appropriate moniker for my Twitter page (@dadlivesmatter) and the title of this blog post? Let me take a step back and tell you about my own journey into fatherhood because any self-respecting dad blog deserves a decent fatherhood origin story to help kick things off, right?

My wife and I found out we were expecting our first child on Christmas Eve in 2017. It seems so far away now that I write it out loud… The news wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it didn’t quite sink in for me immediately. I remember feeling very hesitant to talk or think about the pregnancy in definitive terms, almost like I was half-expecting someone to say it was just a joke. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted this pregnancy, and I was happy about it. I was just a little afraid to believe it I guess. I’m not sure when it did, but I was fully on the pregnancy train by the time morning sickness was in full swing and my wife was puking multiple times per day.

During my wife’s pregnancy, I began to notice just how few products featured images of only dads with their babies. It also struck me for the first time just how much of the imagery used to market baby products feature families that don’t look like ours – it’s a sobering moment when you realise yours is not the picture of a wholesome family unit.

As with any expectant parent, you start to think about all the hopes and dreams you have for your child. I thought about how my wife and I would work to mould and shape this little human into a resilient, intelligent and ambitious individual – vivacious and full of boundless curiosity. I also thought about what it would mean to be a black father raising a black daughter in a country where we are minorities. How would she feel if someone tried to pet her hair because they wanted to know how her tightly bound and textured coils felt to the touch? Will she have access to the same opportunities open to her otherwise non-black peers? Will she feel a connection to her African and Caribbean heritage, and that of her parents and grandparents? Will she feel empowered and confident enough to express her natural and authentic black self – and if she did, will it be threatening to others?

Marvel’s Black Panther film last year was a cultural phenomenon and a huge hit at the global box office. It was significant for my wife and I however as it was where we publicly announced to our friends that we were having a baby. We took a picture at the cinema to mark the occasion.

Pregnancy Announcement Feb 2018

Whatever you think about the film, it is important for one key reason. Representation matters. It matters that my daughter is surrounded by depictions and imagery she can relate to, and to let her know that she is not an ‘other’. It matters that black dads are seen to be present and positive influences. And it matters that dads in general are considered competent and trusted caregivers. I am in enough dad groups on Facebook to know that dads can often feel underappreciated, disconnected from their partners, and inadequate parents. I also know that some of these dads don’t feel as though they have anyone in their lives to speak to and therefore, I think it’s important to recognise that dads find parenthood difficult too.

I don’t want to for one minute diminish the magnitude of the responsibility mothers have on their shoulders or the challenges they face, but I do want to endorse and recognise that dads matter and I hope you will too.

New dad. New blog.

Thanks for joining me!

The idea for this blog started out as an April Fools’ day joke on Facebook, but what isn’t a joke is just how amazing it is being a dad. My love for sharing my experiences of fatherhood is second only to my joy in living them.

I don’t have some grand vision or plan for what this is supposed to become. I’ll write about my thoughts and experiences of fatherhood, and who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy reading them. If I can in some small way contribute to the number of amazing dad blogs out there, then I’ll have achieved far more than I set out to.