Earlier this week, we talked about how to be the perfect birthing partner as part of our #JoJoPapaBebe campaign where we’ve been dedicating the blog to dads. Today, we’ve got a guest post from Ian Newbold, from Single Parent Dad, whose wife passed away when their son Max was just 7 months old. Here, he tells us about the challenges he faced raising Max as a single dad, writing his book, and finding love again.
The hardest part of Being in at the deep end
When my wife died I was the bread-winner, I was in senior business management, earning good money, looking after staff, making decisions and helping set the agenda for the company’s future. A far cry from being a full-time parent.
So it was a drastic change to suddenly be the only person our 7-month old relied on round the clock for his care.
But the thing is, while babies are hard work, they are relatively simple. What goes in must come out etc. We had Max in such a good routine, I’d looked after him on my own a lot before his mother passed away, so looking after him on my own didn’t present many practical difficulties.
The hardest part of looking after him was convincing others that I was up to it.
It’s forever improving but I think there were some people assuming, that while I’d do a decent job as his dad, I couldn’t be an adequate replacement for a mother.
Dads are generally perceived and portrayed as the auxiliary parent, the back-up, the hapless fool that does their best, but are readily mocked for their attempts.
For example at any number of playgrounds, play groups, swim sessions, park walks, nurseries, play & stays and even hospital wards I was regularly asked without hesitation: “Where’s Max’s mum today?”
I can’t recall once hearing any mum be asked where someone’s dad was that day. No, they’d get asked what does such-and-such’s dad do for a living.
People are just so used to seeing mothers do the child rearing they assume only they are capable of it. Children, spotting the obvious difference of who was looking after him, would ask us all the time where Max’s mum was.
Those questions weren’t always easy to deal with.
Keeping Samantha’s memory alive
Max was really too young to appreciate the gravity of losing his mother. And as they only knew each other for seven short months I though it was going to be difficult for him to have any memory of his mum.
It would be up to the rest of us. Me, Sam’s family and friends to help him build a picture of his mum as he grew older and his understanding matured.
I’ve basically never made talking about his mum taboo. Neither have I force-fed him information about her, or made sure we dedicate certain times and dates to remembering or learning things about her.
With children asking us all the time where Samantha was, one of the positives was that it gave me a chance to practice an explanation, and I would always be honest.
I’d say she died, but she’s still part of us, and we keep her in our hearts and our minds all the time. Kids didn’t always get it, but it’s something that Max started to understand.
We’d have pictures around, and Max would ask questions and get answers. I would always reassure him to ask anything he wanted to know, and at any time. I still do.
It upsets him to talk about his mother at times, so I don’t push.
He has a great relationship with Sam’s family and some of her friends. They are just a regular part of his life, as they should be. They will be there to fill the blanks when they need to be filled.
Writing Parenting with Balls
When I was approached by a publisher to write a book, I thought it was a wind-up. Most authors come up with an inspired idea, flesh it out, and then go looking for a publisher. Instead, the process happened for me in reverse.
There were difficult times in writing the book, where I was revisiting memories for the first time. Recalling painful events that had happened a good few years ago and writing about them was tough, it led to lots of restless nights, and perhaps at times, reflection on some of the tough decisions I took.
I was also very concerned about writing a book that only a sadomasochist would want to read!
What happened was tragic, but it was also inspiring, and led to me forming a relationship with my son that simply wouldn’t have happened if life had gone to plan.
There wasn’t a moment where I wouldn’t have changed the past or switched places. But I will forever be grateful for the gifts that grief rewarded me with.
The book is a very open and honest account of how it was for me, the troubles and successes I had along Max’s early years.
It will probably make you cry and laugh at the same time.
Hopefully its overall inspiring message is one of not feeling sorry for me, or anyone for that matter, and get on with being grateful for what you have.
Life is way too short.
Finding love again
I met Helen a few years ago now, and we married last summer with Max as our best man.
It was a day that none of us will ever forget, and it formalised us as a new family.
That was the most difficult part of starting any new relationship. We couldn’t change the past, we all had to be prepared to accept that, and we also all needed to get on, and love each other if any relationship was to succeed.
I needed to love Helen, her me. Max needed to love Helen, and feel love in return.
When I suspected I could eventually develop very strong feelings for Helen, I threw her in at the deep-end.
Probably not a tactic that is often advised. More so, take your time introducing a new partner to children, and be absolutely sure about your own feelings before you do etc, etc.
I had none of that. I didn’t see the point of falling hopelessly in love with Helen – which I did – if Max hated her.
So I sent them off on a day out together without me! I wasn’t quite that cruel, as it was with my sister too, who Helen had already met. I was interested to learn how they’d all get on.
But I needn’t have worried.
They’ve got on great from day one.
Thick as thieves at times. And I actually don’t mind it when they gang up on me, even liking it at times.
It fills me with a warm glow knowing that Max has someone else who cares for him as much as me, and I know his mum would be pleased too.