A letter to myself, from a father of three to a father of none

Family swimming

Simon over at Changing Dad put up this fantastic post yesterday in which he wrote a letter to himself before he became a father. I thought I’d try the same. Here goes …

Dear Tim (circa March 2007),

You may not recognise me, with the bags under my eyes and the expanding streaks of salt in my pepper-black hair – but I’m you. A few years older, several kilos heavier and none the wiser, but that’s what years of sleep deprivation does to a man. (Believe me, waterboarding feels like a lovely hot shower by comparison.)

I remember you, though. Mustard-keen to start a family. Holidaying all over the world because that’s what you do pre-kids. The California road trip. The Great Wall of China. Standing on top of a volcano and at the face of a glacier in New Zealand. Watching musicals on Broadway and football in Barcelona, Rome, Madrid, Florence and, er, Wigan. Not realising that the future holds in store Butlins, Eurocamp, farm cottages on the Isle of Wight and the unholy horrors of a thousand soft-play places.

It's a far cry from the Louvre ...
It’s a far cry from the Louvre …

I remember you moving into our current house too. Seven years ago this weekend, it was. Back then it felt palatial. More toilets than occupants. Wide, empty spaces ready to be filled with the wonders of V-Tech toys and Brio train sets. Now it feels like someone put the entire house in the hot wash and it shrank while you weren’t looking.

Little did you know then that – *spoilers* – Heather was already pregnant with Isaac, who would be born in a pool in the dining room. And that two years later you yourself would be delivering Toby on the living room floor. And two years after that you would be racing down the M4 at 120mph marginally above the national speed limit to get to the hospital for Kara’s birth with just a few minutes to spare.

Here’s another spoiler: you did alright. Not perfect, but then parenthood isn’t about perfection – it’s about survival. (Make sure you watch a sitcom called Outnumbered. It will be starting soon. You’ll learn a lot from it. Take notes.)

There’s really no point me telling you too much else because, quite frankly, you wouldn’t believe it. But I’m going to anyway. Here are a few things I wish I’d known when I was you.

1. Whatever people tell you to expect, whatever tips they share with you from their own experiences with their children, forget it. Your children will be different and unique and infuriatingly difficult to work out and they absolutely will not conform to ‘the rules’ (especially Gina bloody Ford’s rules). Just when you think you’ve got them sussed, they will change just to keep you on your toes. Get used to making it up as you go along. Improvisation is the name of the game.

2. You’re used to a luxurious 7-8 hours’ sleep per night and a lie-in with the papers at weekends. You’ll get by just fine on less than six hours’ sleep – and broken sleep on most nights at that. Big tip: never, ever, under any circumstances, complain to your breast-feeding wife about how tired you are. Not if you still value your life, that is.

3. Also, get a bigger bed, preferably one which comfortably accommodates five. Either that, or fix a lock to your bedroom door. (I know what you’re like with DIY jobs – just buy the bed.)

4. Never walk across the floor in the dark in bare feet. There’s always a stray piece of Lego waiting to get you.

5. Whatever crimes your kids commit – and they will be both many and heinous, such as dropping your iPad down the stairs or deleting half the contents of your Sky+ box – all is forgiven the moment they smile at you. It’s like the sirens’ call: no parent can resist it.

6. You can’t always be Hero Dad. Enjoy those moments where they look up to you as the Best Dad Ever, because there will be times when you also have to be the villain and say no to them. No matter how much they cry. Or refuse to go to sleep. Or say they don’t love you any more. Often all three at once.

7. Accept that 1-6 above will inevitably leave both of you perpetually exhausted and grumpy with each other. Stick with it – you’ll come out of it stronger. Or dead. One or the other. You’ll both be so tired (see 2) it’s hard to tell the difference anyway.

8. You probably haven’t heard of it yet, but there’s this brilliant thing that’s just been invented that will remind you that it’s not just you that keeps messing up, that other dads are in the same boat and that life is always worth laughing at – all in doses of 140 characters or fewer. It’s like having your own personal therapist on your phone. Trust me. You’ll grow to love Twitter like the friends you no longer have time to see.

There were about 905 other things I was going to tell you, but I’ve probably scared you enough already. Oi, come back. I’ve got one more very important thing to say to you.

Why it's all worthwhile
Why it’s all worthwhile

When I started writing this letter I thought I’d be jealous of you. That I would envy the life I used to have – the life you currently have. And yet I look at my three kids, and the reality is I’m not jealous at all. I love being a dad, and you will too.

I’ll see you in a few years.

Best of luck (even though I know you’re not going to need it),

Tim

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