When you wish upon a child-free star
Sick and tired of being sick and tired
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. You are one of the 2,584 dads (and curious non-dads) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own here.
It isn't often I wish for a life without kids. Being woken by a 2 year old screaming “SPIDERRRRRMAAAAAAAAAN” on Sunday morning at 6:15am is one, clearly. But top of the list, numero uno, the ultimate time I wish I didn’t have to look after a tiny human? It’s when I’m sick.
Oooooooof. Being sick with kids is tough. You're still required to do everything a non-sick parent does—cooking, cleaning, school runs, bedtimes—but whilst the Battle of the Blackwater is raging inside your body. It’s playing Parenting Simulator, on Extra Hard, with the Rock Band guitar for a controller—every waking movement wading through a vat of syrup with concrete shoes.
It’s impossible not to think back to the before times, being under the weather without children. With hindsight, it was bliss: grab a duvet, crash onto the sofa, stick something on the TV and work your way through a mountain of hot Lemsip and Halls Soothers.
Long-term sickness is something we all hope to avoid, and I can’t begin to comprehend the trials that people face when parenting with a chronic illness. But even the short-term bouts, the bumps on the road that come this time of year, are gruelling. You're often not the only sick one—your kids almost certainly brought it into the house to begin with—so you're juggling their grumpiness and broken sleep with your own: waking up at 3am with snot cascading down your face dealing with a crying child who has woken up with the same issue; trying to tame an uncontrollable coughing fit as you're putting the baby to bed; or a blocked nose leading to a night of snoring that makes you partner wonder whether “til death do us part” really is as binding as they make it sound.
Speaking of partners: when you’re not doing great, they’ll help you carry the weight, if they're not coming down with it too (thank you to mine, who continues to do a magnificent job looking after us all). If you have grandparents nearby, they can help too, but it's tougher than ever with Covid an ever-present (and currently increasing) threat.
On the "C word": I’ve been feeling terrible for two weeks. But if I'm completely honest, I haven't been what I’d call “fighting fit” since I got Covid back in July. My defences have taken a battering, I'm more prone to getting sick, and I'm slower than usual—often in body and sometimes in mind. I feel like I'm getting better, and then I'm not. The Dutch have a saying that "sickness comes on horseback, but departs on foot.” I can’t help but wish this episode would order an Uber and fuck the fuck off. I was talking to a friend, a little older than me, about this strange back pain that won’t shift since July. "Oh yeah,” he said, “I've had that for about 10 years now." At what age does “getting sick” and plain old “getting old” become the same thing? I hope the answer isn't 38.
It's all too easy to beat ourselves up for falling short of the idealised father we want to be. But when life gives you lemons, you don't always have to make lemonade—sometimes you just need to squeeze 'em into a cup, mix in a little ginger and honey, pour on the hot water and give yourself a break. This week's newsletter is for those of us who aren't feeling 100%—no deeper meaning, no sub-text to parse, nothing to ponder—just 600 words, in lieu of a hug, from one sick parent to another: you're doing great, don’t be too hard on yourself, and let Grandpa Netflix look after them for a while.
3 things to read this week
A few weeks ago I wrote about the power of saying no. Yesterday I took a taste of my own medicine and dropped a huge No which I’ll share more in a members-only newsletter tomorrow. This article on Warren Buffett's 6 ways to say no is something I feel like I’ll come back to for years to come—full of practical advice on how to prioritise what's important and protect your most previous resource: time.
Highly recommend this essay from Andrew Reiner, author of Better Boys, Better Men, on reimaginging masculinity: "Even if we no longer buy into many of the traditional and dangerous masculine behaviours – such as hiding our real feelings and reacting aggressively anytime our masculinity feels threatened – many men still unwittingly cling to vestiges of the old scripts that no longer serve us."
Not completely fatherhood related, but the best thing I read this week: “The State of the Literary Jonathans” by Emily Gould in Vanity Fair. Two great lines, amongst many: "Employers today demand 24/7 access to your mind and soul and claim to be “like family,” which is accurate in the darkest sense" and "The Corrections holds up, a 2001 hit that bangs as hard as Is This It."
🎄 The New Fatherhood gets festive 🎄
I've had a few people get in touch to ask about gifting subscriptions for Christmas. First: thank you for even considering about it. Second: although you can already do it here, and schedule it to be delivered on Christmas day, I wanted to try and push for something better. So if you're thinking of buying a gift for a dad or dad-to-be in your life, look out for next week's newsletter when I'll have everything set up and ready to go.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
We're big fans of the Storybots here—for the songs, and the special guests too. Here's an episode on why we get sick, with Wanda Sykes dropping in as a doctor who isn't feeling great.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
On Friday I attempted to convince you to watch Get Back on Disney+ followed by a request for recommendations on what to watch next. A lot of good stuff in the thread, here are a few favourites.
"Finished the first season of "Foundation" last week. It took me 2 or 3 episodes to get into it. Quite different from the books but I really enjoyed it in the end. The first two seasons of "Babylon Berlin" are superb. If you like history I recommend pairing it with the book "The Coming of the Third Reich" by Richard J Evans." Kyle
"Slowly watching S3 of Succession. For my revenge bedtime procrastination, I’ve somewhat gotten through S4 and most of S5 of The Wire. Season 5 is better than I remember it, and feels fresh cos it’s the only season I haven’t watched to death endlessly." Ivor
"Daughter was born on Tuesday so may not be watching anything too soon. Looking forward to Cowboy Bebop and Hawkeye once we're a little more settled." Thomas
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