Me and my shadow

I know it’s March, but Happy New Year to you all. It’s been a long time since my last article, though I’m sure you’ll forgive me as I’ve been busy getting used to being a dad and looking after something that isn’t a plant.

The big news is that I’ve managed to get six months’ away from my job to look after my boy. It’s under the “Shared Parental Leave” umbrella and has been possible here in the UK since 2015. I won’t go into it, but look it up using your preferred internet search engine. There are so many blokes I talk to that don’t even know it is possible to do. Six weeks in with my son, I can already feel myself bonding with him in a way I’m not sure I would have done if I’d stayed working full-time. I do really feel it’s a complete life changer. Although I still work from home three days a week when I’m at work, so I have been around for him, popping my head in to see him now and then, but it just doesn’t compare with being with him full-time, dressing him, feeding him, playing with him and planning days out with him. Strangely it’s allowed me to look after myself better too, and I’ve found another side to me that’s organised and pretty much on it.

He’s always been out and about with us since day two, and has had very rare days where he hasn’t been out at all. The way I see it is I will fit him into my lifestyle as much as I can. I don’t see my lifestyle as a very poisonous way to be brought up – lots of outdoor adventures, no sitting about watching endless TV, just ridiculous amounts of babble, silly jokes, songs and puns and just generally trying to make him laugh. This is what goes round my head anyway, it’s just that being a dad has allowed me to verbalise it.

From the outset, this was going to be six months of adventures and me setting the framework but allowing him to guide it and change me along the way, and so far that’s exactly what’s happening. The thing is, he’s very easy going anyway so half the battle isn’t really there. Towards the end of last year, I started to think of things that we could do together. From the start, we’ve always kept living our lives and interests and finding ways to include him, so I felt this should continue. We invested in (mainly second-hand) carriers and buggies. The running buggy brand new would have been very expensive and we’d decided we weren’t going to get one, but as he got bigger, walking the Park Run with him in his sling was getting harder. A friend of ours found a second-hand running buggy for sale so we bought it. It’s been a massive win for us all round. We run with him in it, and I do trail walks with him in it too. It’s opened up so many opportunities for us to further include him in things we didn’t think we’d get to do for a while.

Generally, he and I are active and outdoors every day, be it a walk around town, a country walk or a National Trust garden or the like. I love seeing him amongst nature, getting him to listen to and watch the birds, or feel the texture of a tree’s bark. On a woodland walk the other day he fell asleep amongst the loud birdsong going on around him which was brilliant.

I’m learning plenty from him too. I have found that I take things for granted, having that, “Oh, that’s just a blue tit” mentality that makes me turn and walk away after a couple of seconds, whereas he will watch things until the very end, until they have disappeared from view completely. So I do this with him now, and it’s giving me a new appreciation of the simple things, letting me rediscover the magic of wonder. I now walk slower too. The fast walk of having somewhere to be isn’t there anymore. Our walks are just that – ours. In the words of the late Chuck Berry, “with no particular place to go”, we amble along. No need to rush anywhere, he is my full-time occupation these days.

With the days brightening up and spring getting into gear, we’ve been out walking a lot recently and I’ve been pointing out birds to him, flowers and explaining things that we see along the way to him. Obviously he won’t understand any of what I’m saying now but I feel it’s important for him to hear me talking to him about things in a relatively normal tone instead of the play tone I use with him at home.

People around me told me that my six month leave would be magical and that I had to make the most of it. I was more apprehensive than anything leading up to it, mainly about if I’d be able to cope on the challenging days, or if I’d be able to be as good with him as his mum is. Of course, after a few days, we found our own stride and we are just us, not comparing ourselves to anyone or anything, in a world of our own. This has been magic and it’s only the start.