This morning I had a panic attack.
I’m fine now.
I used to have them all the time. Mainly because for ten or so years after graduating I worked in sales and recruitment jobs that sucked the passion from my soul and spat it out in the form of crippling anxiety attacks.
But for the last five years (no Jason Robert Brown pun intended) I’ve had a job that I’ve absolutely adored and lived a relatively care-free existence with my beautiful wife by the seaside.
But ten months ago all that changed. I mean, I still live by the seaside, I’m still married to the most beautiful, caring, incredible woman, and I still have a job that I love. But life is no longer carefree.
In October last year I became the proudest man in the history of mankind when we welcomed my son, Albie, into the world. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced relief like the moment the nurse passed this little, purple, gunk-covered alien through my wife’s legs and he cried his first (of many) tears, the culmination of a 36-hour labour that had left both of us utterly exhausted.
The last ten months have been a thrill ride. Everything they tell you about becoming parents for the first time is true to the power of a very large number. Sleepless nights, loss of freedom, strained relationships with EVERYONE, and dwindling funds have all played havoc with my sanity, but ultimately it’s all absolutely worth it when I walk in through the door after work and the hugest grin fills Albie’s face from ear to ear. October 6 my life was turned upside down and there’s not been a single second since then that I’ve wished to go back to how it was.
However there is one thing that’s continued to prove hard to shake. Dad guilt.
It’s the guilt of working late and knowing that I won’t make it back in time to see that grin. It’s the guilt of knowing that, currently, I don’t earn enough money to take him away on the picture-perfect holidays I see friends taking with their babies, or buy a house with a garden that he can run around in. It’s the guilt of leaving my wife at home all day to get on with, what I now know as, the hardest job on the planet. It’s the guilt of getting to a Sunday evening after just two days of sharing the load of full-time parenting and kind of looking forward to going back to work the next day for a ‘break’. It’s the guilt of getting annoyed, frustrated or even angry with this beautiful little boy who doesn’t know any better, just because he’s woken at 2am, or pulled a coffee cup over, or snotted all over the shirt I’ve picked out for an important day at work. Or it’s the guilt of not really knowing what the hell I’m doing or if I’m doing it right.
It’s no exaggeration to say that every day I’m faced with this guilt. And this morning that became too much. I don’t really talk about all of the above because life with a ten month-old is generally so busy that I don’t really even think about all of the above, let alone want to trouble people with it. So I’m sure that this morning’s episode was a conglomeration of 10 months of negative thoughts bubbling to the surface like a lava lamp of self doubt.
So, once my chest had stopped pounding as if a small child was bouncing up and down on it, I’d stopped breathing like I’d run a marathon dressed in chain link, and my vision had stopped feeling like I’d downed 10 sambuccas, I text my wife and told her. Instantly, just by admitting all this shit I was feeling, I felt slightly better, and as always she knew just what to say to make things right in my anxious bonce.
I can’t say that in the 12 hours since my mini-meltdown I’ve miraculously come up with the answer to all dad guilt – sorry dads. I don’t think there is an answer and I’m sure I’ll be feeling it all again tomorrow. But today I’ve learnt that it’s ok to feel these things and that we’re all in the same boat, regardless of how others may present themselves on Facebook. I think it’s natural for me to feel like I have no clue what I’m doing and natural to feel bad at the thought of not doing right by my son and wife.
Then I thought about a tweet a friend of mine posted recently in which she offered up that ‘we grow through what we go through’, and I think back to how scared and clueless my wife and I were ten months ago, and how well our little man has done so far in the first year of his life. And I think, I can’t be doing that bad.