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Fatherhood and the Importance of Being Present

Words by Rikesh Chauhan.

My daughter is almost 16-months-old, and if I could, I would wrap every strand of hair on her beautiful head in bubble wrap. She’d be a very small, much cuter bubblewrapped version of the Michelin Man. If there was a way to protect her from absolutely everything, I would do so in a heartbeat. Hell, if I had the ability to stop every icy cold drop of rain in the winter from falling on her perfect, pure, angelic being I would do so with bells on—and umbrellas in tow, probably. The point is, having a child has unlocked a new level of absolute vulnerability and internalised freaking out. My wife laments about how I never cried at our wedding (my defence was that I was so happy, and I don’t cry happy tears), and now, somehow, I find myself welling up when the Madrigals give Mirabel the doorknob that brings Casita back to life. Fuck. I have never felt so alive, and so terrified of everything. I don’t ever want anything bad to happen. I don’t want anything to happen. I want this moment to sort of be frozen in time whilst continuing to experience all the many highs, and all the many lows, that come with parenthood. I want to fall more and more in awe of my wife. I want to appreciate (and vehemently apologise to) my parents.

It’s an incredible vulnerability that has me on the cusp of tears on more occasions than I’d like to admit. It’s also made me want to be a hermit and never go to any social events or dinners so I don’t miss anything at home, ever. It's me stressing out having to do international trips with baby as a plus 1, and then immediately wanting to do it all over again as soon as we’re back. I want her to experience everything the world has to offer—but only the good things.

I remember when she was a little bit smaller than she is now, I had her strapped onto me in a carrier whilst I was running errands—limbs dangling, head with bobbled-beanie bobbling along to the rhythm of my footsteps, eyes wide open and taking in the world. With a bag of groceries in each hand—providing perfect balance, might I add—I walked past three guys that were standing ominously outside a bodega that has more police raids than customers at this point, smoking a spliff and chatting about one thing or another. Given the situation and old stereotypes (I grew up in Luton where scuffles manifested out of literally nothing), I had a look around to see if there was a way to bypass them without looking bait. Alas, there wasn’t, so I proceeded straight, expecting one of them to move aside at my behest. He did, but instead of the usual staredown or ghosting, he looked me in the eyes, beamed with a smile, and said, ‘that is cute as hell man.’ And, as I walked on, I overheard him turn back to his mates and say how men would never have done what I’m doing a few years ago, and that times have changed—presumably for the better by the inflection. It got me thinking about fatherhood, how much it has actually changed in a generation, and what it means to be a good father today. And I think the thing that tops everything is that of being present.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re not the best at fatherhood. I don’t really think anyone can be. What’s important is that you constantly do the best you can. If you have a child, you’re committed. You’re in. 110%. I took the decision of quitting my nightmare-ish 9-5 to go freelance, and finished up at the company a few days before she was born. It was a risk that worked in my favour and offered me the opportunity of organising work life around her, not vice versa. Not many men are able to do this, and don’t get me started on how fucking terrible paternity leave is here in the UK if you’re not working for META. But even if you’re away from 9-5, five days a week, every moment you’re back home is an opportunity to be present, and not just with your baby, but with your partner also. It’s hard, working all day and coming back home to your other job. But thems the breaks, man. It pains me to hear stories and shared experiences of mothers struggling to keep their heads above water, whilst also having to then take care of her husband or partner’s needs. Or that their partners aren't pulling their weight. Like, bruv. Do you understand, on top of everything you see her doing, the mental load your partner is dealing with? It’s not just in the actions, but the reminders, the mental notes, the planning, the lists, remembering to write the lists, the preparing for bath time during the baby’s nap time, the meal planning, the doctors appointments and injections, remembering to pack the bag and never ever forgetting the red book. None of which is for herself.

Also, why is it that the Daddy says 'I love you' but the Mummy says 'Sshh, sshh, sssh'? Like, Mum deals with enough shit as it is, why are the powers that be making her the bad cop? Fuck outta here.

It’s one thing men, previously and still to date, really need to be more accountable for. Having a child isn’t a mother’s responsibility. It’s both parents. Equally. Always. Again, it’s not to say that any of us are perfect, but we really have to do the best we can, and then try to do it better. For ourselves, and for one another.

And another thing. I’d like to take this moment to quickly caveat and say that single parents deserve knighthoods and the government should pay for all their shit. All of it. They should never, ever, have to pay any taxes. Gordon Ramsey should be making all their meals. Give them the world because fuck knows how they do it. The same goes for teachers, by the way.

My wife is unbelievable, and being at home, I get to experience her magic on a daily basis. She inspires me to want to be a better father, and to make sure I’m doing all I can for both of them. Sometimes, yes, it means I’ll be away for long periods of time as there’s a roof that needs to remain over our heads. Kids are expensive—why does three days a week at nursery cost the same as what I pay for rent per month? But the best I can do for both of them is to be present, available, and here to rely on—whether that’s for doing the nighttime routine, or the nursery drop offs, or to do the grocery shop, or to clean the house, or to read a book, or to give Mum a kid-free day, or to lean on. I take pride in all of it. I desire to be more. It’s the first time I’ve really and truly understood what my purpose is. It’s to be present. My depressive bouts have more or less gone since being with my wife and especially since having our child. Although it is a beast that’s never really vanquished, the more I am here, the less I am worried about it. It’s of loving something to such an extent, your caveman-like instincts of protection kicks in and becomes somewhat of a constant. I know she will have obstacles, and I won’t always be able to help her. But whenever I can, you can bet I most certainly will.

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