Fatherhood – Embracing The Tension

FATHERHOOD - EMBRACING THE TENSION copy

REPOST in honour of Father’s Day 

Rich and I have been married for 7 years, nearly 8, but have been together a decade in total at this point! We met when we were both still students and have laughed, lived, loved and cried together ever since. Every year is sweeter with my best friend. Marriage takes work and I’m blessed to work hard alongside him. He’s generous, kind and full of integrity. Don’t be fooled by his quiet demeanour, he has a witty sense of humour and works harder than anyone I’ve known. He has wisdom and discernment beyond his years, and a huge random tank of knowledge stored in that beautiful head. There’s so much I could say but at the risk of gushing and causing you to reach for the sick bucket, I’ll stop there. 

I asked him to write a blog on his perspective of parenthood, here’s what he had to say…

Fatherhood – Embracing the Tension

When Anna asked me to write a blog entry for her, I didn’t really know where to start.
There are lots of things that I could write about. I could write about a husband’s perspective on the whole birth process. Maybe I could talk about the initial days of fatherhood and some of the preconceptions I had. I could maybe give some pithy advice as to how to juggle life as a Dad and as the sole breadwinner. But somehow, I feel that all of the above could be written about by far more experienced, and eloquent people than myself.

Becoming a Dad has been the best thing that has happened to me, but also the most
challenging. It is both amazing and terrifying to think this little person is your child, your responsibility, your legacy. That you have the ability to both love her and also fail her. Going to work is bittersweet. I travel quite a lot with work, which always used to be fun and exciting. It now can seem as though I’m missing out when I’m away. We often can’t wait to get her to sleep in the evening, especially after a busy day but as soon as she’s in bed, we’re talking about her, missing her a bit if truth be told. Not enough to wake her up though! I’ve basically realised that being a Dad isn’t simple, it’s actually often paradoxical with the right thing being held in tension between two seemingly conflicting positions. I’m learning to embrace the tension.

Here are a few tensions I’m currently trying to embrace:

I’m expected to lead but I don’t know where we’re going

When I think of my Dad, I always felt like he knew exactly what was going on and what to do in any given situation. I’m sure he didn’t. He was probably doing exactly what I am currently, and making it up as he went along. As men, I feel sometimes we feel the pressure to have it all together and know which way we’re going. The thing is, most of us if we’re honest probably don’t know where on earth we’re going, let alone what we’re going to be doing there when we get there. It’s this self-imposed pressure that I think can cause a sense of inadequacy and even depression. The fact of the matter is, no one knows what is going on. If someone tells you they do, don’t believe them. We don’t get the full roadmap, we have light enough for the next step, no more, no less. I’ve come to realise that when it comes to my family I don’t actually have to know everything and have it all together. I don’t have to lead my family through a specific route that I’ve mapped out. I just have to show them how to take the next step. I have to model what it is to walk in faith, to walk in humility. I lead my family when I model excellence and a healthy work ethic. I lead my family when I am kind and compassionate in a situation that would often warrant a different response. I lead my family when I am consistent, loyal and faithful. I lead my family when I say sorry and show vulnerability. It turns out I can lead even when I don’t know the way by modelling how to take the next step with integrity, even if I don’t know the final destination.

I’m not 20 any more but I’m also not 80

It’s true. When I look back at what I used to look like, it’s as though a complete stranger is
looking back at me. I was a lot thinner, healthier and had way more energy. I have realised that actually, I am not immortal. I need to look after myself and my body so I’m still around and useful when I’m older. I’m by no means a health fanatic, but I have come to realise that I cannot expect to eat what I used to, drink whatever I want and do no exercise without repercussions. People never think of their health until they lose it. I don’t want to be a 40-year-old dad with an 80-year-olds body. I’m trying to look after myself better these days, understanding that I’m not 20 any more but I shouldn’t feel like I’m 80 either. I can’t do what I want any more and it have no repercussions. It’s early days but hopefully Sienna and Anna will thank me for it long term.

I can’t be there all the time but I can be fully present when I am there

This one is really important and so hard to do. As a dad, or the working parent, you can find yourself constantly feeling guilty. You feel guilty for going home early to see your child before they go to bed. You also feel guilty working late knowing your wife or other half is taking the full hit back at home. You know you need to go to work and put in a full day there, but you also need to be a dad/parent and help out when you’re home. I’ve come to realise that it takes discipline and perspective to navigate. Does that email need to be replied to this second? Can that call wait until tomorrow? Similarly, will missing a bath time once in a while ruin my daddy-daughter bond? Can Anna put her to bed once or twice without me being there? The answer is usually yes to all of the above. The real issue isn’t how much time you spend at a certain place, it’s being fully there. If work had 100% of your focus between the hours of 9-5 you wouldn’t need to take work home with you. And if your family had 100% of your focus when you’re with them, they wouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on you either. We lead full lives, we work jobs to pay bills. We work out this journey pragmatically, we have to. The goal is not to spend every waking moment with my family, it’s to let them know that wherever I am, I’m doing my utmost to do my job well so I can come back to them with no unfinished business. They are my priority, wherever I find myself and whatever responsibility I have to fulfil. I need to work in a way that honours my boss and prioritises my family.

It’s impossible to always be in a good mood, but I ‘m consistent with my countenance

I have made the decision, that I always want Sienna to know that I’m pleased to see her,
regardless of what kind of day I’m having, and regardless of how much of a pain she’s been. That’s a choice, it’s a decision that I’ve made, that she will always know that her Dad is pleased to see her. It’s important to me because that’s how I want her to view her Heavenly Father. I’m not always in a great mood. I could have had an awful day but I have disciplined myself to always smile at my daughter whenever I see her. It’s a small thing, she probably doesn’t even notice it, but I need to remind myself that it’s how God is with us. He looks on us and smiles. I can’t always be in a good mood, but I have committed myself to be consistent with my countenance towards Sienna. She needs to know that she can always come to me, no matter what, and she is welcome. She needs to know that her Dad is, and always will be, pleased to see her.

Written by Rich Harris

365 Days Later

365 days later

Technically upon writing this, it’s only 361 days since the birth of our beautiful daughter Sienna, but it’s her birthday week and I try and post on Mondays, what are a few days between friends?

Coming up to her first birthday has made me reflect on this past year and the highs and lows of becoming a parent.
I thought I’d ask myself and Rich, “If we had to choose three things that we’ve learnt over the past year what would they be?” It’s almost an impossible task to only pick three because it can be a daily stretch into the unknown, navigating continual beginnings, as she progresses from one stage to the next. However, we’re always up for the challenge so here they are:

Anna:

I’m Stronger Than I Think – Perseverance Pays Off

Perseverance takes on a whole new meaning when there is no get-out-clause, you’re sleep deprived and you have no previous experience to draw from. In the early days, weeks and months it often felt like I was climbing a rocky mountain in flip-flops after not sleeping for a month! An uphill battle, with the least amount of energy, whilst feeling totally ill-equipped. Every now and then you stop to take a breathe and are awed by the view, but then it’s head down and back to the grind. However, I made it, each day was followed by night and each night followed by a new day. One step at a time, often one day at a time I put one foot in front of the other and just kept going. Not because it was easy, not because I had the training, not because I was always excited or passionate but because I had to. Now I think back to those early days as welcome distant memories, smiling at the highlights. Today Sienna presents new challenges with her strong will and determination (ha!) but every day she brings joy and life, and to see her grow and learn, smile and flourish make every drop of blood, sweat and tears worth it. There’s no amount of preparation that can make you ready for your individual unique child, it’s a journey that has to be lived, like many things in life.

I Love Sleep – Discipline Reaps Rewards

Thank God for sleep training! Like anything worth doing, it requires consistency and determination but it has huge benefits. From the start, we established the difference between night-time and day-time for Sienna due to some great advice. It hasn’t been easy and this year has meant I’ve hardly left the house on an evening. However, she now has no issues going to sleep pretty much anywhere as she’s in such a good routine, the sacrifice and continuity are really paying off. Parents have different approaches to different things but most likely for most, there’s still some discipline involved somewhere. Discipline requires keeping the long-term goal in view in order to outwork the daily, often mundane tasks to achieve your goals. Discipline can feel restrictive but it actually brings freedom in the end. Freedom to plan, freedom to enjoy its benefits, freedom from issues avoided through lack of discipline.

Just Call Me Bendy Barbie – Flexibility Is Key

One huge lesson for me has been learning to relinquish the need to always be in control. Preparation and schedules are all important and necessary but when the poop hits the nappy at 3 am in the morning in catastrophic proportions, you have to strip your child and chuck them in the bath whether you or they like it or not! I like to be in control of my own life, that’s not an uncommon or unreasonable ask. I’ve learnt to make plans but hold onto them lightly. I take a breath and whatever happens, try and enjoy and embrace the moment I find myself in. There’s nothing as important as this little tiny life that can’t wait another 5 minutes, a day, a week, a month or even a year if necessary.

Rich:

Be Kind To Each Other- Everyone Has Had A Tough Day

Being a parent is not easy. Whether it’s dealing with a cranky child all day, or having no sleep and having to go to work and deliver on projects. It’s tough, you’re shattered and probably just about holding it all together. It can be so easy in this type of stretching environment to play the “woe is me” card and paint a picture of how your day was way worse and far more stressful than that of your spouses… but don’t. Be kind to each other, prefer one another, go out of your way for one another. Try and laugh together, enjoy the absurdity of parenthood. Be kind with your words, they’re the oil that keeps the wheel spinning.

Children Love Easily And Forgive Quickly

It’s true and thank God that’s the case. We all get it wrong, probably way too frequently for our liking, but children are far more forgiving and resilient than we give them credit for. They aren’t insecure, they don’t care about what people think about them. As far as they’re concerned, they are the most awesome human being in existence. They don’t try and hide their emotions to be cool when daddy comes home from work, Sienna’s face lights up. When daddy tells Sienna off for touching the TV, there’s usually lots of frowns and a few tears, but her default position is towards love and closeness. It’s only when we grow up do we, unfortunately, learn how to be insecure.

“Important” Things Aren’t Really That Important

Oscar Wilde once said, “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” I like that thought. This year has been a discovery of what actually matters. As adults, we get so myopic in our view of success. Having Sienna has stripped away all pretence. The things I used to worry about just aren’t as important as they used to be. Perhaps I’ve got wiser, maybe I’m just more tired. Whatever it is, it feels good to remember that Sienna couldn’t care less whether I’m good at my job or not. She doesn’t care whether I get promoted, get a pay rise or drive a nice car. She just knows me as Dad, and to be honest I think that’s pretty cool.

365 days later sienna