It tests friendships, ruins hobbies and kills your sex life, so is fatherhood really worth it asks David Atkinson?
I was on the radio recently, talking about this very topic as part of a panel discussion for Men's Hour on BBC Radio 5 live.
As one of five dads from different family backgrounds – I was taking the role of shared-custody dad, since you ask – we debated whether the joy of having kids outweighs the pressures and inevitable self-sacrifice it involves.
From missing Match of the Day to giving up nights down the pub with mates, being a dad is not all cuddles and gurgles. Indeed, a recent survey by Amazon Family revealed that some 64 per cent of people underestimate how much their lives will be transformed by becoming a parent. Watching a film without Disney princesses and waking up not feeling like the living dead were amongst the grumbles cited by the new parents questioned across the North West of England.
A.D. Miller, whose new book The Faithful Couple deals with the pressure of children on friendships and relationships, believes it’s easy to get into a siege mentality around children, especially when a new baby arrives.
“When you send that email with the uploaded photos of your newborn, what you’re actually doing is saying goodbye to a whole load of people. You’re life becomes unrecognisable to your childless friend,” he says.
“On the other hand,” he adds, “you’re going through an experience that is both fascinating and challenging.”
The role of fathers is generally perceived to have changed markedly over generations. From the hands-off, Victorian dads of yesterday to the nappy-changing multi-taskers of today, contemporary dads are seen to give more to – and get more from – fatherhood.
But, according to Dr Laura King, a family historian at the University of Leeds and the author of Family Men: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Britain, 1914-60, the evolution of the über-dad is less marked than we may think.
"My research into individual testimonies of fatherhood shows that rather than being distant, men and children in the past shared special and often close relationships, and fatherhood was a very important part of masculinity, particularly in the wake of the Second World War," she says.
"Some things are very different now – men’s openness about their emotions, and their role in childbirth, for example. But women still take on the bulk of childcare and are still understood to have a far more special bond with children than men. Fathers are still seen as the secondary parent in lots of ways.”
Back in the radio studio, the debate was raging on. But, as fathers, we also found common ground despite our individual circumstances to suggest the life change of fatherhood had been overwhelmingly positive.
Sure, we were more tired and had less time to ourselves. But we were also more selfless, more considerate and, faced with the unconditional love of a child, more in tune with our emotions.
Most of all, we agreed, it was the little things that made it all worthwhile. One father talked about the first words his son uttered. Another spoke of the bonding feeling of bedtime stories. Me? With my two daughters now aged five and nine respectively, I have moved into a new phase of getting out and doing more together as a tightly bonded trio.
I shared a story about a sunny Saturday in early spring when we want for a walk to a local park and collected wild daffodils from the roadside to put in a vase in the kitchen.
It was a simple pleasure and, yes, I could have been sat in a local cafe with a nice coffee and the weekend papers. But, like so many moments of fatherhood for me, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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