First-time dads: "Paternity leave was my time to shine!"
Our style editor, Catherine Hudson, meets Giles, blogger at You the Daddy, and three of his fellow first time dad mates to talk all about being fathers of sons
Giles, 32 and Teddy, 7 months, J-P, 32 and Bertie, 11 months, James, 29 and Otto, 4 months, Andy, 29 and Felix, 3 months
How did you find out you were going to be a dad?
Andy: On my birthday! Claire put it in a card, which was waiting for me when I got home. It was a planned pregnancy, but an unexpected birthday gift! I quickly became obsessed with how big the baby was.
James: We were going for a night out, and Holly had done a pregnancy test that day. It was negative, so, out we went! The next day, she still felt like something was up, so I went out and bought about nine pregnancy tests; which came back positive.
Giles: My wife, Rosie, is quite impatient. She hadn’t read the instructions correctly, and only left the test for a minute. When I realised, and fished it out of the bin, it was positive!
JP: I think Annie sent me a text to say ‘you’re going to be a dad!’ I think, for a dad, it doesn’t feel so real until you can physically connect in some way. I remember exactly where we were when I felt the first kick.
What changes did you notice in your partner?
Giles: Well, there are a few hormonal changes…
JP: Hormones, really? What hormones?!
Giles: Yes, the mood swings can be quite full on... And then there is the horrible morning sickness, which isn’t just in the morning.
Andy: There were a lot of food things that Claire became totally averse to, while she was pregnant. I cooked a lot of pasta during the stage she had terrible morning sickness, so after that stage, that was a big ‘no-no’.
Giles: Before she became pregnant, Rosie was going through a big ‘Hemsley + Hemsley’ phase, spiralising etc. But, luckily for me, as soon as she was pregnant, all of that went straight out the window. Food suddenly got a lot more interesting, namely, lots of sugar, dairy, gluten, and bacon.
How did you tackle labour?
James: I felt so useless during labour; I couldn’t even touch Holly without her being annoyed. Running to fetch water was about as good as it got. I have never felt so useless!
Giles: You are basically terrified the whole time that something is going to go wrong. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to look down the ‘business end’. Of course, I ended up having a look. I saw the head and I am happy to report, I thought it was amazing.
Andy: Well, our hospital bed was quite low and I am very tall, so I didn’t have much choice - I saw it all happen, whether I had wanted to or not! You do give yourself a talking to, and say ‘come on man, you can do this’. But I, like James, felt like an absolute spare part.
What was it like when you got home?
JP: Going home for the first time is WEIRD! Everybody says it, but when you are carrying your little baby to the car, it just feels unreal. The health visitors came round the day after. I felt like we hadn’t even told anyone where we lived, and yet here they were, with all the necessary information. That was invaluable.
Andy: There is a definite sense of ‘now what?’ We ended up just throwing money at more ‘stuff’ in the hope that it would work with whatever issue we were having. If someone said something, anything, might work: we bought it.
James: I went from feeling useless, during the pregnancy, to using every minute of my time off to doing all the cooking, all the cleaning and the majority of the nappy changes.
Giles: I agree, I thought paternity leave was my time to shine! As in, she did all the work at the hospital and now I was going to take over at home. I took the lead in sterilising bottles and stopping people from coming over. I don’t think I have ever been so efficient!
FATHER AND SON
Can you describe the first time you saw your son?
Andy: I expected him to come out crying, but he came out quietly, just taking it all in. For the first 24 hours he was silent, and we thought ‘we have got the dream baby’ – little did we know... He then screamed the house down for the next two weeks.
James: My mum is a midwife, and she had told me a lot of horror stories over the years. So, I felt prepared, and maybe even a bit hardened. But the moment he was put on Holly’s chest I simultaneously burst into laughter and tears. It’s such a surreal feeling.
JP: I found the whole thing overwhelmingly emotional. I was given the task of telling Annie whether the baby was a boy or a girl. I remember looking and thinking, “Is that a… could that be a… penis? Yes, it’s a boy, it’s a boy!”
What is the best thing about having a son?
JP: Being able to take them to the pub! Only joking. Personally, I think that every guy wants to have a son, first up. It’s cool, because that longing, or worry that you might not have one, is already done with.
Giles: Isn’t there something a bit old school or cave man about having a son? Maybe about needing a son and heir? Not that Rosie and I do, or did, because if Teddy had been a girl, we would have been just as happy. But I do think that there is something in every man that just really wants a boy.
Andy: That’s funny because, although I couldn’t be happier with Felix, I really, really wanted a girl! It’s not that I’m ‘disappointed’ with Felix, but for whatever ever reason, I would love to have a daughter.
James: One of the best things for me is being able to dress him in clothes that I would love to wear but which are a LOT cheaper in his size! I would be interested to know what it would be like to raise a daughter, though. We have been so lucky to got through this whole experience without illnesses, and to have a happy baby, that things like gender just don’t matter that much, to us.
When it’s just ‘boys’ time, is there any secret behaviour you don’t tell mummy about?
JP: I love the lemon game! Seriously, you should all try giving your baby a lemon, after he’s about ten months, and watch his reaction - it’s awesome. Also, Annie is really into the way Bertie is dressed, but I couldn’t care less and just throw anything on him. Basically it’s a babygrow or nothing for me - whatever is easiest!
Andy: We have a little bath seat thing, which, when I’m making breakfast, I sit him on the worktop in. I put a photo of him in it on Instagram and my mother-in-law commented, "You know he can roll off that now, Andy?"
James: Holly won’t like this, but I think the face he makes when I blow in his face is really cute and funny, so I do that when she’s not looking. I know that she watches Sex and the City with him, so we are even.
Giles: Funny enough, I am the stricter parent. Rosie is more likely to give Teddy a dummy, or bend any of our rules, than I am. We are both all about Teddy having a routine at home and working around that. He is in an amazing routine now, so we feel like it was worth it.
WORKING IT OUT
Did anyone take shared parental leave?
Giles: Andy and I both took just the statutory two weeks.
James: I have been really lucky; my work has been really flexible. I took the statutory two weeks, plus another two weeks holiday, and we are taking a month off this spring to travel around California. I would have liked to take shared parental leave, but financially it just wouldn’t have worked out long term for us.
Giles: Same here. We would have loved to do that, and I did look into it. I have to say, I often felt guilty while Rosie was pregnant and going to work. I mean, It’s awful that they have to commute when they feel like shit. I’d happily stay at home with the baby, but I don’t think I would want to experience being pregnant myself!
JP: I work in banking, and it is quite frowned upon to take any kind of time off. One guy who had a baby before me: his partner gave birth on the Friday, and he was back in the office the following Monday. So I feel like the precedent had been set. I took the full two weeks, but I would have like to taken more, ideally.
Giles: I think that, in theory, we would all have liked to do shared parental leave. Even if just to see how hard it really is!
But, you get that insight at the weekend?
Andy: Absolutely! Weekend? What’s that? All your colleagues are saying ‘hooray for the weekend’, time to relax or party, or whatever, and you’re thinking, ‘oh God, the weekends are worse!’ During the week Claire gets up and does the burping as well as the feeding, but during the weekend, I feel like I have to muck in and help. The weekends are not weekends, as we knew them. (All agree)
How have you gone about striking a work/life balance?
Andy: After having a baby, the whole work/life balance thing becomes your absolute focus, but it is hard to prioritise. I am also a counselor in the evenings, so three nights a week I don’t get home until about 11pm. I feel like I don’t get anywhere near enough ‘dad time’.
James: The last few months have been so busy at work for me, so it has been really hard to get home before he goes to sleep. It is difficult to get home before 7pm.
JP: I’ve been reading that at their age, though, that although it is lovely for you to see them, they actually don’t need you as much as when they are say age 5 or 6? I just wonder; at what age does it become more important that you’re around? And is it better that you sacrifice a bit of ‘home’ time now, and work hard, for everyone’s eventual benefit, when they are still so young?
James: Personally, I know that Otto changes so quickly; it is possibly more for me that the ‘home time’ holds that importance. One time, I didn’t see him for three days straight, and he had grown and changed. And I was absolutely gutted.
Andy: When Felix was about four weeks old, Claire took him to Scotland to visit her family, and I had 13 hours sleep every night, it was brilliant. (All laugh). But he had changed so much. He was a different baby when he got back. And he won’t remember him growing so fast, but I will. So for me, I want to be present as much as possible.
Giles: FaceTime is our friend! And WhatsApp. Sending pictures of whatever is happening, whether they are in the garden or whatever, it’s a great way of being involved when you physically cannot be there.
So, would you like more?
Andy: Yes, 1000% I want more! I’ll keep going until I get a girl.
James: I think we will leave it a couple of years, because it will be nice for Otto to be an older sibling. Although… we are thinking about trying, already!
Giles: If you had asked a few months ago, I would say I am quite happy with one, but I do want a bigger family. Sometimes, during the ‘dark days’ of the newborn stages, the thought of having a second, and having two under two, sounded horrific!
JP: I had always wanted three, but I’m now thinking that two is a great number to stick at! Seeing these younger babies, here, it takes me back to the days when you are so tired that you end up arguing about stupid stuff. Then, when you finally get a night of decent sleep, it all becomes beautiful and lovely, and fun. You just need to get through that tired phase, then it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll want more.
OVER TO YOU
Any nuggets of advice for first-time dads?
JP: Speak to as many dads as you can. I was so underprepared and hadn’t really asked anybody what happened after you bring a baby home. Try your best to enjoy it, because there will be moments where you look back on things and think ‘that was pretty damn cool’, but at the time, you might be pulling your hair out!
Giles: My advice would be to read up about actually ‘being’ a parent. Because the biggest physical deal, giving birth, is the shortest part. And the part where you have to figure out how to parent, and what being a parent really means, is never ending.
James: We downloaded so many useful apps. I took loads of Ubers back-and-forth from the hospital, and we used Deliveroo for takeaway food. One of my favourite memories is sitting in hospital, just the three of us, and Holly and I calmly munching on pizza. It tasted extra good that day.
Giles: On the subject of food, It’s a very British thing for people to offer homemade food and help, and for you to say ‘oh no, that’s ok, thanks’, in return. Don’t do that. Accept any and all offers of help, especially people who offer to cook for you. Immediately say ‘yes’ to all offers of homemade lasagnes and washing up being done.
Andy: Friends who already have babies just appear with food, they don’t even ask! But in terms of general advice, just be OK with the fact that you will often not know what the heck is going on! When you start experiencing the ‘firsts’, like the first time you see their eyes, or the first smile, which is probably gas but you can claim it anyway. Just keep hold of those thoughts for when it’s four in the morning, and he is wide-awake. Again.
Giles: Rosie and I have become much better at working as a team. Before Teddy, we were very independent, but now we don’t have to even ask each other questions about Teddy’s day-to-day care, it just works. We just get the job done, together.
This article appeared in the July 2017 issue of Gurgle magazine