There was a time – oh how all men miss those good old days! – when men were men, women were women and babies were - well, men were blissfully unaware what babies were. Not so anymore. We are expected to take on roles evolution has equipped us very poorly to deal with. Even the very definition of fatherhood is a moving target, frustrating everyone involved – apart from sociologists of course who are wetting their pants in anticipation of all the inane studies they can make.
It became obvious to me as I took part in what has become the activity of choice for all us struggling dads - the baby swimming class. Freya was about 18 months when I attended the first session.
Around me stood ten other dads and one lonesome mother in waist deep water, singing ‘Cuddly koala, cuddly koala, possums too, possums too…’ and I was struck with how stupid we must look. Next to me was a guy with tattoos that to my untrained eye made him member of a satanic cult, two rival motorcycle gangs and a torture appreciation society. He too was singing along: ‘wallaby and wombat, wallaby and wombat, kangaroo, kangaroo.’ We are so confused about our roles as fathers that even this guy, who probably spent his weekends smashing other people’s heads together for fun, desperately trying to work it out by attending these non swimming sessions. He looked like an absolute dork, not that I’d tell him to his face. We just have no role models. Who should we turn to? Our own dads with their no nonsense view on fatherhood? Or a celebrity father? Perhaps Tom Cruise could teach us a thing or two about fatherhood? He seems to know about most other things after all.
No, we are alone, desperately making it up as we go along. And this is where it all falters. How can you be good or bad at anything if the goal or the road there isn’t defined? Is it only with 20/20 hindsight and a grown child’s opinion we can find out for sure whether we were any good as fathers? Or is the constant feel of inadequateness enough as a pointer to how you are performing?
I love being a father, but sometimes I wish it came with an instruction manual from this century.
Mikael Svanström, author of "Getting pregnant the Hard way" - buy the book from www.mikaelsvanstrom.com or your local bookstore.