Lisa from Pass The Prosecco Please runs a feature called #FatherhoodFriday which introduces us to many daddy bloggers, or dads who happen to blog, and explores what fatherhood means to them. I’ve read a few and many are very, very positive and fit the norm of what you’d expect to hear a father say; not all, but most.
In order to balance the view, and maybe offer an alternative to those dads who found, or are finding it phenomenally harder than they imagined, both physically and emotionally, here are my answers to the questions.
Tell us a little about you, and your family – feel free to change names and include as much or as little detail as you wish.
My name is Tony and I write under the pseudonym Papa Tont. I’m married to Vikki and am dad to Olivia and George. We are a military family and both enjoy and despise the associated pros and cons that go with that. We constantly live with a cloud of uncertainty hovering over us: never knowing where we are going to be living one year to the next; regularly having to make new friends and saying goodbye to old ones; being thrust into alien environments where we have no idea if we are going to be compatible with the existing neighbourhood. All of that on top of the fear of deployment leads to an extremely fragile and chaotic way of life. This uncertainty has exacerbated underlying issues that have resulted in my wife struggling with various mental health conditions over the years including depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and most recently anorexia nervosa. It’s been hard on all of us, me included, and I’ve often questioned the life I’ve created for myself; I’ve spent the last few years trying to do the best by my wife, my work, and my kids and it’s taken it’s toll, but with the right help and good friends we’ve all come out the other side stronger than ever.
Tell us about your blog – what made you start, when did you start, etc.
Because of the stresses on our lives, I was referred to a clinical psychiatric nurse for a period of time. As part of my care, he identified that I had no outlet for my frustrations; I wasn’t going to the gym as much as I normally do, I had no friends that I could talk to, and my work still sits firmly in the stigma of soldiers not having emotions and needing to just “man” up. He recommended that I start a diary in order to vocally express my emotions and force me to think through and deal with them. I began a blog called Disillusioned Dad in 2013 which helped me a lot, but the turning point was completing an Equality and Diversity Adviser’s course with work that taught me a deeper understanding of empathy, diversity, and inclusion. I began seeing life from other people’s perspective not just my own, and most importantly I began to see myself and my actions through my children’s eyes. Something clicked, and my entire outlook changed. Turning that outlook into action took a little more time but as I was no longer disillusioned, the blog was no longer applicable. My online persona became Papa Tont and not wanting to be hamstrung to a parenting blog, I changed the name to The Life of Tont.
How did you feel when you discovered you were going to become a daddy for the first time?
If I’m honest, I was nonplussed. I’m not sure if it was shock, or me being so used to compressing and hiding emotion that I just couldn’t identify what I was feeling. Becoming pregnant was an emotional story in its own right. When we were living in Spain, we became pregnant but couldn’t feasibly care for ourselves let alone a newborn, so we decided to have a termination. We immediately felt guilty, ashamed, upset and I don’t think we have gotten over it even today, but when we returned back to the UK all of Vikki’s friends were falling pregnant and her pain was achingly visible. I had never wanted to have children. I’m not a natural daddy, I used to be awkward around other people’s children and couldn’t understand why they did the things they did. I would talk to them like grown ups, often in inappropriate detail and candour. But seeing the grief etched on Vikki’s face every day, I put my thoughts to one side and decided it was the right time for us to have a baby; almost a decade later it is still the best decision I’ve ever made.
Can you remember how you felt when your first child was born?
I felt nothing, and this is something that I am so passionate about. I felt like a freak, I felt abnormal. Why wasn’t I overwhelmed with love or joy or just something! I’d seen it in the movies, media, and blog posts that there should have been a choir of angels singing, and a flood of deep and unconditional love swoop over me the minute my child held my finger with their tiny little hand. I felt nothing. It was all so matter of fact. Like I had just bought a new bit of technology and was unboxing it for later use. When I spoke to other dads as a collective I was called sociopathic and described as cold and callous, but when individually alone, they confessed that they had each exaggerated how they had felt because it was what everyone “expected” of them. I’m sure some men do feel how I’ve described above, but I think it’s important for people like me who didn’t feel that way to say so without ridicule or judgement.
What has been your biggest challenge as a dad?
Learning to love my children, understand them, appreciate the world from their perspective and still maintain a relationship with my wife. It often feels like a competition. When I come home from work who should I hug first? If I see my wife setting a standard I don’t agree with, do I argue on behalf of the kids or compromise to her way of thinking? When the kids are being disruptive, is it because they are being naughty or are there other factors at play? For me, the biggest challenge of being a dad, especially one who has been raised and made in such stereotypical patriarchal environments as the military, is adapting to a rightly progressive world of equality.
Tell us a funny parenting story!
I can’t think of a single anecdote of a belly laughingly funny moment, yet there are thousands of small incidents that have made us crack up. When our son got his first erection and cried his eyes out with fear; when my daughter pulls a really serious singing face that she has copied off the latest pop star; when either of them regurgitate a really grown up parenting phrase against the other, but they don’t get it quite right. All of these little moments are priceless to me.
How do you fit blogging in around parenting – do you have a set schedule?
As blogging is a therapeutic aid for me, and a means of meeting new people, I only write when I want to. It’s not a main source of income so I don’t need to stick to a schedule or commitment. This is why I avoid things like linkies, regular contributions to other people’s blogs, or running scheduled posts. It becomes too much like a chore and evolves into something that I no longer enjoy or get benefit from. I write as and when I feel like I should write, or when I have a topic that I really want to write about.
What would you say are your best qualities as a parent?
Right now, I would say my ability to truly empathise with the kids and an appreciation of the world from their perspective, gives me the ability to award appropriate reward and discipline in order to get the best out of them and instil those values which I believe are most important. It can be frustrating for my wife when it appears like she tells them off and they sulk for ages, yet I can tell them off and still be their best friend.
What advice would you give any first time dads?
Don’t tell people how easy you’re finding things, it soon comes back to bite you in the bum. And find someone you can talk to. Someone who won’t judge you, and someone who will openly listen to anything you have to say. If you can’t find this amongst your friends or work colleagues, don’t be afraid to go to groups or professional help. Every inch of you will want to put your family first, but at some point you need to put yourself first, because if you break who’s left to care for your family.
Name your top three parenting essentials for new dads/parents.
A friend; a babysitter; a relationship with your partner. Everything else is just material.