I began to feel I wasn't cut out to be a full-time dad
Last year, Richard Duffy wrote in these pages about the shock of becoming a father, just as he emerged from college into recession-hit Ireland. So how’s it going now that he’s a stay-at-home dad?
LAST YEAR was a tumultuous one; finishing college, starting work, moving in with my girlfriend. It should be pretty difficult to pick just one, stand-out moment, but it’s easy: 3.29am, October 24th. The moment my daughter Alannah was born.
I wrote in these pages last September about the fact that Alannah was not planned, that her arrival just as I emerged from college into recession-hit Ireland took some getting used to. But there is a remarkable contrast between the uncertainty I felt then, and my comfort with that fact now.
That’s not to say it was an easy adjustment. For the first few weeks Néad (my partner), Alannah and I settled into our home and dealt with the various different tasks required of us. We learned how Alannah liked to be held for her bath, which noises she found soothing, how to encourage her to feed. We learned all this while also keeping the house and hosting a mountain of visitors.
The day after my graduation from DCU I had landed a job with a small TV production company. It was exciting, dealing with cameramen and directors. After a stressful day I got to come home and vent to Néad while using cool terms such as “editing suite” and “post-production”.
But TV runs in seasons and when the season was up in February, I was out of a job. This roughly coincided with Néad returning to work after her maternity leave. So the decision seemed clear-cut: I became a stay-at-home dad.
I haven’t always found the experience easy, but I hope Alannah has. I struggled to find the balance at first. Néad is more sociable than I am, so her friends would show up throughout the day while she was looking after Alannah. Néad had also joined various parent and baby groups and met up with women she got in touch with on a website for new mums. But I’m not comfortable in those kind of groups. I would most likely sit awkwardly in a corner, and wonder how soon it would be acceptable to leave.
Given that Néad finds it so much easier to be active and sociable as a stay-at-home parent, and that I would much rather be the financial rock in the equation, it would be better if I was the one working.
I thought it would take me a while to adjust to relying on Néad’s income, to being the Mammy, and she thought it would time to adjust to helping support me. But it turned out to be fairly easy for me to wrap my head around the set-up.
It helped that we both knew that this was only a short-term solution, but I was so busy with Alannah all day that I didn’t really have time to sit around feeling emasculated anyway.
And I was getting some work done, a little bit of writing here and there, planning some projects for the future. I was being somewhat productive, so I didn’t feel like a “deadbeat dad”.
I wouldn’t trade in a single moment with Alannah, but it’s still frustrating when I’m getting into a rhythm of writing and she wakes up wanting to play. Mostly, she’d get her way, but not infrequently I would set her up on her playmat to entertain herself while I got a few more paragraphs written.
There’s a bit of guilt involved when I’m doing something productive, but when I’m doing something enjoyable the guilt becomes astronomical – and it is greatest when I’m indulging my own inner baby: playing a video game. (I am still only 25 after all, so I have several years of adolescence left.)
Alannah takes precedence over all of my hobbies, of course, but I have quite a few of them, so that’s a lot of guilt.
But while I tried to make light of it, after a few weeks, I genuinely began to feel like I was simply not cut out to be a full-time dad. It was devastating to think that there was a part of fatherhood I was not capable of.
I spoke to Néad a little about this, but she had enough on her plate with getting used to not being around all day.
Taking Alannah to visit Néad at lunchtime every day made things easier for all of us. It gave me a routine, and the days started falling into place. I developed a better understanding of when Alannah liked her naps and her feeds, or just to play.
And little by little I started figuring out the really important stuff: how long I had to watch TV while Alannah napped, whether or not I had time to tackle a level of a video game while she fed. And then when Alannah wanted to play (with me, not the video game), I was only too delighted to play along.
Now I’m even able to do some housework. And more and more I’m finding that what I want to do with my time is to be with Alannah. Lately I haven’t been playing video games; I’ve been getting Alannah bathed or just reading her a story.
But just as we’re settling into the arrangement, we realise we can’t really afford to keep it up.
I had never really stopped looking for work, but I wasn’t putting as much effort into it as I could have been, and that brought its own guilt, due to the welfare payments I’m collecting. I believe welfare should be treated as a weekly wage for job-hunting. I didn’t feel like I was doing enough to earn it. I can work, I want to work, I need to work.
But patchwork freelance jobs aren’t enough any more. I need one that covers the cost of childcare. Ideally we want to put Alannah in a crèche so that she can start socialising, but that’s almost as expensive as hiring a minder, which is an economy I find bizarre. The most affordable option is an au pair, but that would mean giving up the home office.
A recruitment agent recently invited me to apply for an exciting position at a major multinational. I didn’t get it in the end, but it was an encouraging experience. I’m confident in my employability and hopeful that something stable is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, Alannah has decided I’ve done enough work today. It’s playtime. We both love playtime.