Picture the scene; about five years ago, in a trendy old man’s boozer in Farringdon. I’m standing surrounded by a bunch of lifelong friends, all about 30 years-old. We’re out for a few fine ales after work, laughing the warm, sunny evening away with conversation centred around laddish tales, summer festivals and our worrying hairlines (which we’re all concealing, badly, with wispy quiffs). We’re making plans for the alleged 26° heatwave we’re expecting at the weekend and being British and in the midst of some very rare and prolonged Vitamin D, plans are being made for a BBQ in the park, supplemented with some lukewarm beer and a flimsy Frisbee.
Everyone is up for it, except one.
That one, we’ll call him Ricky (because that’s his name). Ricky has a very young daughter. His issue with coming out for a BBQ … her afternoon nap. Sorry, whaaaaaaat?! Ricky, now on the defensive, explains that his daughter has a strict early-afternoon nap and being out and about would disrupt her routine too much. Accordingly, we are then educated on how babies need to nap to help them sleep better at night, aid brain development and help their bodies recover from their stimulating mornings (of what, rattles and cuddly toys?). Yawn.
Unfortunately, being a group of young, child-free trendies (ok, just child-free) we just don’t get it. He’s passing up the opportunity to hang out with his mates in the sun, whilst dining from a disposable BBQ and drinking lukewarm beer! We leave the pub thinking we’ve well and truly lost him; after years of sweaty gigs, boozy nights out and Balearic holidays, it feels like Ricky is forgetting his bros.
Now picture the scene; fast forward five years, I’m typing away deep in the Berkshire countryside, sipping lukewarm tea whilst the whines of a teething baby are just about drowned out by Toy Story 3 exploding from the TV. I’m very pleased to say I’m now a dad of two beautiful children; a three year-old daughter and a five month-old son, who both thrive under routine and familiarity. These are the things we’d dismissed on that sunny evening, all those years ago.
In fact, every single one of us from that night is now a father and thankfully, a lot less narrow-minded than we were back then. We’re all just about staying afloat in the very same boat Ricky voyaged in first and looking back, it’s hard not to think what a bunch of self-indulgent and blinkered idiots we were! Everything, literally everything has changed now that we’re responsible for children, and quite rightly so. Nowadays, there are far fewer (ok, almost none) last-minute BBQs, drinks after work and music festivals. If there is a glimmer of an opportunity for such social gatherings, they’re arranged weeks, no actually, months in advance. And then, most of us will be late because as all parents know, getting children out of the door is a gargantuan task that involves some heavy-duty wrestling, a lot of iPad-based bribes and decanting half the toy box into six small Disney-themed backpacks. Some families will pull out all together at the last minute because their child has a cold/chicken pox/high temperature (delete as applicable) – I’ve been that family on several occasions now, but I can see, and all of my friends can, that it’s fine. It’s totally fine, it’s just life as a parent.
Having a child is life changing, everyone understands that, but during those childfree, carefree days I probably didn’t appreciate the magnitude of those changes. The focus of life is instantly realigned to ensure the best for your child and if that means upsetting a couple of grumbling mates along the way, well that’s just how it has to be.
That said, keeping up relationships with key friends is absolutely vital, whether it’s with a fellow parent or a mate without children, it’s important to work at these friendships. Fellow dads can compare notes, have a moan, share advice and crucially, will understand if you’re running late or can only meet at a precise location at an exact time to ensure you’re home in time for bedtime stories.
On the flipside, non-dad friends can provide that much-needed respite from the world of Iggle Piggle/Peppa Pig/Paw Patrol (delete as applicable). Having a social life doesn’t have to end with the arrival of a small dictator and nor do our relationships with our childless friend, just a little adjustment to expectations is all that’s required. Drinks can still be guzzled with gusto at children’s parties, that Village Green fete and its quaint cake baking can do its best to match the carnage of Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage and BBQs in the park can still be lit; only now, you might find yourself surrounded by pretty pastel bunting strung from the trees and mucky kids’ faces encrusted with Waitrose guacamole, instead.
When you have kids, life changes and priorities change with it.
Dads, or soon-to-be-dads, throw yourself into fatherhood, it’s the best thing ever, but appreciate your friends, you’ll need them. Friends of dads, go easy on them; when you’re a dad, being at home to put your baby to bed, listening to their tuneless violin recital or simply comforting them when they’re suffering with their third cold that month, those are the important things that can’t be missed. If a lads’ dinner can’t be attended or a post-work drink has to be postponed, your friendship will survive.
Being a dad and maintaining a social life is a tough juggling act, but with a little understanding and a change of outlook, good times and good friendships can be had and enjoyed for years to come (some soft play centres serve alcohol you know… actually, scrap that, soft play is hell on earth, even with alcohol). I’m happy to say that I get it, Ricky. I totally get it. And I’m sorry for not understanding.