Am I a stay at home dad?
Yes. Well, no. Well, yes, sort of.
On Thursdays I am at least. Thursday is the day I swap a temperamental manager, functional design documents, and seven pre-lunch gut eroding cups of coffee, for an appeasable infant, sheep and clown combination patterns, and two dirty nappies before breakfast.
My daughter was already 5 months old when I started using my parental leave to have one day a week at home, so in that respect there were no surprises. I knew what had to be wiped, how often, how hot, how cold, how loud, and how quiet. I knew what she liked and didn’t like, I knew she couldn’t keep her eyes open when listening to ‘Iron & wine’, she would have a grin like a sedated Jimmy Carr when she heard any opening chords from Tracy Chapman, and the very sight of Bono would bring her to tears.
In fairness, that last one may actually be me, but either way I felt I would have this under complete control. I was wrong.
The biggest mistake I made was thinking this was an extra day off. It wasn’t. A couple of post-work hours with my daughter in the evening, or weekends of tag team child care with my wife didn’t prepare me for full days of looking after her. There was constantly some end of her that needed attending to, and this simply wasn’t fitting in well with my attempts to use Thursdays to catch up on my ‘Sopranos’ and ‘The wire’ box sets.
It took several weeks of disastrous Thursdays for me to realise I was approaching it all wrong. She was never going to simply fit in with whatever plan I had for my day. She was my day, and all the other stuff just had to fit in where it could.
While the weather allowed, we got out as much as possible. I don’t play Mr. Mom, I haven’t succumbed to the world of coffee mornings or play groups, and as delightful as they may be, my interest in other people’s babies has a limit somewhere just north of ‘does she sleep through the night?’. That aside, my daughter gets more than enough exposure to other children’s mucous, hair tugging, and eye poking during her three days at crèche. No, we use our time wisely; in her ten short months so far she has brought the car for a service, helped me shop for a Smartphone, and barked instructions at men with chainsaws out in the back garden.
I’ve made sure that all the trappings for a trip out with baby are as manly as is humanly possible. Our stroller is the Land Rover of the infant transportation industry. It made better headway through the recent snowfalls than most Audis, is big enough that I could probably catch forty winks in it myself, and it cost more than my first car. Neither Porsche nor penis extension are required while directing this beast (the stroller, not the child) from the bank to the butchers.
The television doesn’t get a look in on Thursdays now, and while the recent weather has kept us mostly indoors, the radio has become a great substitute with every current affairs and talk show getting an airing. So much so that now, at ten months old, while she can’t tell the difference between a Liga biscuit and a Lego block, leading to many a nappy changing surprise, she can probably babble the finer distinctions between subordinated debt and bond holding better than most.
The other side of the coin is the breaking up of my working week. As passionate as I may be about moving 1s and 0s from one database to another for forty hours a week, a change of pace and scenery is very welcome.
All office jobs have their irritations, and mine is no different. The upside to having a midweek break is that the urges to break a keyboard across a colleague’s face or to snap a ring binder shut on my manager’s windpipe have somewhat abated. Should the truth be reluctantly told, I’m probably just as productive in four days at work as I ever was in five. The extra day away from work leaves me more focused and happier when I am there.
Now that Christmas and all its disruption has passed, I’m looking forward to getting back into our Thursday routine. In January she will be introduced to a few DIY stores, where she can give her opinion on which of the four hundred shades of white will suit the landing, and what’s the best spade for digging up the lawn. I can’t wait for the Summer as she’s starting to become much more mobile and by then she’ll be trotting around by herself, getting us both into trouble.
I don’t know how much use any of this will be to any fathers considering mixing their week between work and staying at home, all I know for sure is that it’s not what I expected. It’s much harder and much more enjoyable once you get the swing of it.
If I were to give a tip, I’d say find a good chiropractor, you are going to spend half of your day bending over.
Oh, and don’t bother ordering that box set, it’ll be cheaper by the time they go to school anyway.
‘Who you calling Mr. Mom?’ was originally published by Dad.ie in January 2011.