Well first off I really consider myself pretty much a failure as a traditional dad. For some people at least we seem destined to visit the same mistakes as our parents did on us, which is both heartbreaking because we know too well the damage it can cause but also allows us the unwelcome privilege of having some insight into the reality of that pain. We get unintentionally fucked up, we try not to fuck up our kids in the same way, and in the process of fighting tooth and nail not to, we feel the same pain, doubt, frustration and helplessness. I can be a “cool” dad, a dad my kids look up to, funny, adventurous, a guide into amazing experiences and places (within and without them). They love to hang out with me, and squeeze my hand, lay on the stage and hang out with VIP passes that only mean something to them (‘Andy K is our dad’).
But can I do the hard stuff?
Being a father is about being ‘there’ in mind and body, to be stable, growing old like solid oak, imperceptibly, where they can climb, find shade, feel secure in the knowledge that has always been there, and hope it always will, that no matter how far they wander, they can always see its branches waving - waving them away, and waving them home again.
I can’t be that dad. I can’t do the hard stuff, I’m just unable, no matter how hard I try, but luckily for them, they have a great mum, who can take on the uncool stuff (even though she is cool), to be always there - solid. I don’t give my mum enough credit, but all the good stuff in me was carefully and lovingly placed there by her.
This week their mum texted me to ask if I realised that the night I agreed to do a lecture for Doug Scott at the RGS, a benefit for Community Action Nepal, was also Ella’s 16th birthday. I just looked at the words and tried to work out how I could miss such a thing, so wrapped up in my work and my life - not a tree, but a seam of coal.
So my advice? (note most are the things I didn’t, don’t or don’t know how to do)
If you can’t have the life you want, then learn to love the life you have.
There is no good time to have kids, they come like a tornado and smash your life to pieces, and being a parent is all about how to rebuild that life with them at the centre.
Don’t resist change, adapt to it.
Don’t mourn the life you lost, but try and celebrate the life you have been given.
For a lot of dads kids are a total fucking nightmare; no sex, no sleep, no peace - just hard labour - eating, crying, shitting hell interspersed by sleep ambush tense. Don’t worry if you don’t like your child, just go with it - it’s natural. I don’t think most dads really bond with their children until they grow up a little and their personality begins to shine through, and then the love will come.
Many dad’s worries about not going away and doing ‘crazy stuff’ but you know what, most, once they bond with their kids no longer want to go away anymore.
This idea of adaptation is vital in sport, as it’s no use hanging on to an out of bounds life - take up a new sport that fits in with your new life like road biking, triathlon or base jumping!
Get as much sleep as you can!
There is also love and forgiveness; whatever you do it will be wrong in some way. All-father fall short (but only the best know it) but your children will love you no less, one day they will understand - they will forgive you, just as you have to forgive your own father.
A few months ago I was walking back through town from the cinema with Ella and Ewen. I can’t remember why but one of them suddenly said I was a selfish dad. At the time I felt I was barely hanging on, heartbroken. Those words at any other time would have been brushed away, just like when Ella said I was a ‘narcissist’, but not on that night, dropping them off, about to go home to an empty flat. I kind of lost it a bit, and got angry, saying they had no idea what I had sacrificed for them, that I could walk out of their lives in an instant, that I’d wanted to, that I had dreams and a life I wanted that hadn’t included them, but I hadn’t. That I had it in me to be terrible and selfish - but every day I tried to be a good dad, to do the right thing. It was a terrible thing to say, and they just looked down at the floor and didn’t say a word - the only sound of the evening traffic. Then Ella reached up and held my hand - just held it softly, as if she was afraid I’d push it away - but I didn’t, and so she squeezed tight, just twice, and I squeezed back, my eyes full of tears.