Birthdays – a celebration, and a chance to review
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
First off, I guess I should say sorry. Both to you, the reader, and to my dear wife.
Since she decided to start my small space on her blog, the rule was simple, and singular. I had to come up with 1 post, of at least 500 words, per fortnight. I managed the first one (although I guess you could describe it as a little bit of a cop-out – it was, after all, only my introduction; and it’s not really that difficult to write about yourself…) I was supposed to provide her with one to post on Wednesday, the 16th, but what with our daughter’s birthday on the Thursday it got totally overlooked.
To be perfectly blunt with you, I actually thought I’d gotten away with it. That she had forgotten, her mind focused on creating a tractor-design cake confection; and hey presto, my obligation might have disappeared out of the window. Reader, this did not happen.
On Saturday, as she sat at the laptop to write her weekly blog post, she looked at me sternly; with her head on a slight tilt to the right (I know this means I’m in trouble, we’ve been married long enough for me to read the signs). “Where exactly did you email your post to?” she said. “Oh, was that THIS week?” I tried, feigning innocence in the best possible way. “I thought with Rosalind’s birthday you would have scheduled it for the FOLLOWING week – as I know you had so much to do” I followed.
If you need it confirming that this strategy didn’t work – then this second post should act as proof enough. Needless to say, I remain, steadfastly obliged to provide a blog post, and a combination of a 2 year old’s birthday and Father’s Day have given me no leniency.
But they have provided some inspiration, of a sort.
Birthdays, Father’s Day, any celebrations are, of course, an opportunity to enjoy ourselves. To revel in the successes of another year, to congratulate ourselves on becoming a year older and wiser (Rosalind @ 2 can say plenty of words, refuses to let me feed her and increasingly refuses to get dressed – so she is well on track); and to look forward to what the future holds.
But they also provide an opportunity to review – to quietly contemplate what the plan was, what actually happened, and whether the two bore any substantial similarity to each other in real life.
Obviously, what with dealing with a global Pandemic, I think it’s safe to say that for the majority of us, the plan we had in our head didn’t really align with reality. And that’s okay. It’s not that our lives have to follow the plan that our brains set out for us – my father-in-law’s favourite saying is “a plan is only the basis for change”, after all.
It’s more that a sense of a plan gives a sense of direction, I think. Like a guiding North Star. Having a plan allows us to review the year with a purpose, to assess what we could have changed to be more “on plan”, or what about the “plan” itself, no longer fits with the family life that we are actually living. It allows us to make like the architect of our own lives – drafting, rubbing out and re-drawing a fresh specification for the coming year, one that better fits with our overall family values.
When I think about MY plan – the one that I had for becoming, and being, a father; I see many ways in which I have veered off the course I wanted to steer. For one, I feel I have spent the last two years as a father “bobbing along”, feeling that rather than being an main actor in our family play, like part of the ensemble – I come in, provide the interlude comedy, leave to rapturous applause, and then leave the actual acting to my wife and daughter.
Part of the problem with MY plan was, ironically enough, that it was exactly that. MY plan. That meant that before Rosalind was born, I didn’t voice my intentions, nor my desires, around the type of father that I wanted to be. In fact, I suppose you could say that I went the other way entirely.
I expected, because this is the normal way of things, that Charlotte would want to take maternity leave – and I also expected (shamefully I suppose), that that would mean she went either part-time or stopped working, whilst I returned to work.
The sad part about those expectations (aside from the implicit gender biases which I am acutely aware of after the fact), is that I never really stopped to consider whether I wanted that to happen. Yes, I am the higher earner, that is true – but at the time that Charlotte fell pregnant that was only by £8,000 gross, so not an insurmountable number. Yes, I was employed whereas Charlotte was self-employed; but she had a complete client book and her income was steady.
Whilst on paper it made “sense” for my life to continue in the same vein as it had before Rosalind’s arrival (that was certainly the easier choice), ultimately that has left me, 2 years down the line, feeling like a visitor at a hospital – ushered in during visitor hours, allowed to make a fuss of the patient, then ushered out again so that the professionals can get down to the “real work”.
Rosalind knows who I am, of course, she sees me every day. But there is probably a good reason that her favourite phrase is “Daddy gone”, and has been for at least the last 4 weeks. Because I am “gone”, more often than I am “here”. I am transitory – and fundamentally that might affect her relationship with me into the future. It may not, of course, I have no way of knowing at this stage. But the fact that I feel sad every time I hear her say it as I leave means that I want to try to do things differently, to change the status quo – and to hear her say “Daddy here”, rather than “Daddy gone”.
I know that simply sitting down over Father’s Day and quietly contemplating how I would like things to change for this next year is not good enough – I recognise that my brain alone can’t alter the course of our entire family dynamic simply because I wish to make it so. But; I also recognise that voicing my desires can at least open up a new path for us to explore – it can be the metaphorical clean sheet of paper for us to design a new plan.
Reader, I know that having financial coaching might seem unnecessary – pointless even. Although I daren’t ever admit it to my wife’s face, I didn’t really understand what my wife said she was going to do when she said she had a plan for a “business”. But the further on into raising a child that I get (or more accurately, the further on into raising a child my wife and daughter get, as I stand by); I understand and appreciate much more acutely.
It is about allowing both parents to voice these desires – and their worries – at a time prior to those worries or desires becoming an unspoken “thing”.
I know that turning around to Charlotte now, 2 years down the line, and saying that I want to go part-time, or even become a stay-at-home parent would be monumental – and probably cause a lot of grief and stress and upset within the family dynamic.
But had I had someone, a professional, who had enabled me to say those things, who had facilitated the right environment for my wife to hear those desires; and who could have worked with us to figure out the money to make it so 2 years ago; we might be in a very different place today.
So if you want one piece of fatherly wisdom from me in this post (and I do have to ration them as they don’t arrive that often), it’s this:
the single most damaging thing you can say in your relationship prior to having a child, is the thing you DON’T say.
And if you want a safe space to say it in, to someone who can help both of you appreciate and hear each other – well, I might be biased, but I know a fairly good family money coach.
All the best,