As much as I like to pretend that I’m not, I’m just as scared of becoming a dad as the next impending father…
When I speak to friends and colleagues about the fact that we’re having a baby in 16 weeks they tend to react in various ways.
Some people tell me that this is great news and that my wife and I must both be very excited. Others gaze at me and make an elongated cooing noise whilst I try to avoid responding like David Brent. Some tell me that this is wonderful news but their words fail to mask the quite obvious horror within.
Those that don’t have children yet are often a little surprised by the situation. After all, why on earth would you voluntarily sign up for financial uncertainty, changing nappies, sleep deprivation, being transformed overnight into your own parents, changing nappies, never having any free time, stress, changing nappies and welcoming a new housemate whose only contribution is to keep everyone awake at night, require constant supervision and drain you of every resource you possess. Why would you do that?
When I speak to friends that do have children, they react in exactly the same way. Some don’t need to say anything and just laugh. Most have taken great pleasure in letting me know that this is undoubtedly the end of my life as I know it.
The big difference, however, is the stories that those who are already parents tell. They know what lies ahead. I think it must be an English thing to respond to what is ostensibly good news with our best efforts to scare the living daylights out of the person. “Ah, that’s wonderful news!” we say, lying, when hearing about a new baby/job/house/partner/car/relocation/holiday, before going on to list all the pitfalls and problems associated with that decision. Once we’ve distilled just enough fear and trembling we sardonically reassure the person, lying, with a hollow “but I”m sure you’ve thought about all those things already.”
The truth is, of course, that I’m as scared of becoming a dad as the next guy. What I am surprised about, however, is what I’m scared of.
I think I’ve come to terms with the nappy situation. We’re not (quite) going to be left penniless and destitute. I’ve been left holding the metaphorical baby enough times in my life to suppose that the literal one can’t be that much worse.
There are, however, three fears that affect me the most when I think about becoming a father.
3 Reasons I’m Scared of Becoming a Dad
1. Sleep Deprivation
I like to prepare myself for the worst. I’m expecting not to get much sleep for quite some time.
Some people have a Thatcherian ability to survive on very little sleep, but I’ve never been one of those people.
I think that my fear is that a lack of sleep will leave me cranky, ill, and unable to cope with the normal demands life brings, let alone the added responsibility of raising a child. I’ve got a couple of very capable friends who really struggled with this.
2. Professional Frustration and Failure
Flowing out of the first fear is the concern that I won’t be able to do my job as well as I’d like to. I’m at the start of my career and am very ambitious. I’m a little nervous that I’ll start making mistakes that I wouldn’t if I’d had a bit more sleep.
However, I’m comforted by seeing my friends and colleagues combine a healthy prioritisation of family life with professional success and I’m looking forward to getting my 21% ‘wage bonus’ (don’t tell my wife but this is the real reason I signed up for this parenthood lark).
Besides, most good lawyers are sleep deprived.
3. The Responsibility for passing on a Moral/Ethical framework
This is undoubtedly my biggest fear about becoming a dad.
Children quite obviously emulate their parents. They inherit genetic traits which are inherent and unchangeable, and then they respond behaviourally to the way that they are raised. If nature doesn’t do it then nurture will definitely get them.
This does frighten me somewhat.
Over the next few years I will have a profound impact on the way that a human being thinks, feels and responds to the world around them. They will watch me closely and copy me instinctively. They will replicate the character flaws that I know about and the character flaws that I am unaware of. I will see things in their personality that I dislike and want to correct – only to realise that they are only doing what I do.
I’m scared of becoming a dad because my children will ask me questions to which I cannot give an answer. They will try to make sense of the world and reconcile tensions that seemingly cannot be reconciled. They will expose my hypocrisy and inconsistency. They will ask me why I do and think and believe certain things, and I will have to think long and hard about what I say. On reflection I think that it’s easy to critique the moral and ethical framework that others adopt but very difficult to create a healthy one yourself.
What am I going to do about the fear of becoming a father?
I’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s not much I can do about my first two fears. I have preemptively weaned myself off coffee in the hope that I can spectacularly relapse in a few months time when I really need it, and my wife has very kindly taken to waking me in the night – usually for pregnancy-related reasons, once for Brexit – which is very thoughtful of her.
The third question is rather more complex. In some ways it’s not really a fear – more a nagging sense that I’m soon to be encumbered with a completely different responsibility to anything I’ve experienced before.
As a result we’ve started asking each other questions like “what sort of parents do we want to be?” and “how should our children feel about our family?” I’ve asked friends what they liked about their childhood. I’m questioning some of the things that I instinctively think and considering how I want my child to see the world.
The good thing about most fears, of course, is that there is much to be gained by facing up to them. Given the present circumstances, I’m not sure that I have too many alternatives.