THE VIRTUAL SHED
A space for potterings & musings of the modern Dad
Welcome to the third instalment of our regular feature, The Virtual Shed! The time is gone where fathers sat on the sidelines of family life… most of today’s dads are fully involved and invested in their children and have a lot to say about raising kids and what it’s like to be a parent. Women readily chat about the nitty gritty of motherhood with each other, but a number of our menfolk told us it’s rare they hear other dads talk openly and honestly about the reality of being a father, and they’d be really keen to hear this. So, the Virtual Shed was born! Each time we’ll be interviewing a different Dad and asking him some probing questions! We’re not interested in airbrushed waffle… We want this to be a space where Dads can be as candid as they like, and chat about the reality of parenthood in all its messy, wonderful and crazy glory.
So… the third resident of the Virtual Shed… it’s Gary! I’ve been desperate for Gary to do this for ages, ever since I found out he was quitting his impressive job to become a full-time stay-at-home-dad… something I know most parents – both mums and dads alike, myself included – would love to know more about. We’re really honoured to have him here! So, without further ado, introducing gender-stereotype-challenger, full-time-dad-of-three-6-and-unders, childhood-sweetheart-wedder, Lego/jigsaw-aficionado and all-round dude, GARY KISBY!
Tell us a bit about your family
There are five of us. My amazing wife Helen who I’ve been with for over 18 years (literally half my life), Mabel (6), Wilf (4) and Hettie (2). Hel and I went to the same school and have lived in South Manchester most of our lives. We went to the same uni (Central Lancs) after Hel left Leeds uni at the end of first year because Preston had better clubs, and although we’ve lived in a few different places we always knew we’d end up back in Manchester.
As a couple we tend to get bored quite frequently so we’re always on the hunt for a change of direction or a new challenge – we’ve moved house a lot, moved jobs a few times and we’re currently on our second big change. In 2007 we went out, drank two bottles of wine and decided to quit our jobs and go camping in France for three months, during which time we’d contemplate life and decide on our new career directions. As it turned out we just drank more wine and ate loads of cheese, but we had a good time all the same. Anyway, ten years on I have just taken a year-long career break to look after the tribe and allow Hel to focus on growing her own business, something she’s been working on part-time now for 18 months or so. The aim is to change the way we live: have less stuff but more time, more flexibility, more control over what we spend our time doing.
What do you do for work, and how do you juggle the hours/location(s) with family life and childcare?
Until eight weeks ago I worked in eCommerce, on Asda’s grocery website. I had done for eight years. I’m now on a year-long career break and have become a fully-fledged stay-at-home-dad. My office is in Leeds so I was spending three hours a day in my car, leaving really early so that I could get back in time to see the kids for at least an hour before they went to bed. I used to leave the house before anyone was awake in the morning, so an hour or two a day was all I got. I used to come in and take over childcare straight away – because I wanted to, not because I had to – but I found it hard. I’d be a bit tired, grumpy and short-tempered and this at the end of the day for them when they’re all feeling equally weary. So often it wasn’t the nicest hour, I don’t think any of us were at our best. I tried to work from home at least once a week and then I’d get up, do the school runs and allow Hel to work a little bit longer. We juggled the hours pretty well. We both had our ‘jobs’ and at weekends we’d make sure we each had some free time – no childcare, no household admin, just time to read a book or go out for a coffee, or watch all seven hours of a day’s cricket.
What does your role as ‘Dad’ in your family look like?
I’m not sure really. We don’t necessarily have set things that one of us does versus the other. But we actively stay away from the whole ‘mum does the ironing and dad does the DIY’ thing, not least because we hardly ever iron and I am shockingly bad at DIY.
I’m really good at the domestic stuff. Even before kids I always did most of the cooking and cleaning. Mainly because I’m dead particular and wouldn’t actually let Hel do it. So pre-career break we both did half of everything whenever it needed doing. Whereas now I do all of that stuff while Hel beavers away trying to earn us a living. Weirdly, this is how we’d always seen things going when we discussed kids and stuff as a couple of naïve twenty-somethings. I was always meant to be the stay-at-home one.
Practicalities aside, I’m the one that says ‘no’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘put that down’ and ‘get off there’ every two minutes. I’m also the one that gets annoyed because they clearly hear it so often it’s become meaningless. Hel comes more from the ‘they’re just playing’ school of thought.
Ultimately we both play to our strengths – they want to craft, they go to Hel (glitter is my Kryptonite), they want to build enormous Lego models, they come to me. I’ll take that.
How did you cope with the transition to fatherhood and the impact and changes it had on your life?
I never really considered it. I mean, I loved it. And I think it came pretty naturally to me. Yeah I missed just going to the pub in the afternoon, I missed going to gigs, watching the football in peace, having spare cash, independence, freedom, clean walls. But I loved doing laundry four times a day, having a bathroom that was full of neon plastic crap, finding unidentifiable stains on every sofa cushion and endless raisins underneath them when I went to turn them over. And sleep’s overrated anyway.
But, on a serious note, it wasn’t like any of that was a surprise and having Mabel more than made up for it. It also happened that our close friends were pregnant at the same time and quickly a couple of others too, so we were all in the same place.
What I massively underestimated was the impact it had on Hel’s life. I’m only really getting a sense of this now (and it’s nothing like the same situation but, you know). I went back to work after my paternity leave, back to friends and colleagues, able to sit down for an hour at lunchtime and eat uninterrupted. If you look after a child, you literally don’t get a minute. Parenting is the hardest job in the world.
As a dad, what things do you think you’ve got nailed, and what things do you think you could scrub up on?
I’m world class at making Lego models. I’m trying to drill into them that you have to have symmetrical brick sizes and colours where at all possible.
Food. They eat well, and most of the time it’s the same stuff we’re eating.
I can do a full supermarket shop with all three of them.
I’m good on beaches. Holes, sandcastles, ornate sand sculptures.
I’m working on the music – Wilf bobs his head to a bit of 90s hip-hop and I can get them all rocking along to Ace of Spades. But then Mabes will start humming a Radio 2 jingle and I’m all, “Where’ve you got that from?!”
There are a million things I could scrub up on but I try not to be too hard on myself – you can’t be perfect. I do think that if I can be a little more empathetic a little more consistently I’d be winning a little more. Hel’s really good at this and she always reminds me to consider stuff from their point of view. I might be barking orders at them to ‘get dressed now’ but if they’re fully engrossed in some fantastical role-play (and you stop to think about that for a second) you can understand why they don’t spring up immediately.
Biggest pleasure about being a dad?
You get a few times when you stand back watching the three of them play together, completely engrossed in their own world and you think, “I helped to make those lot. I got them to where they are now”. Sometimes it seems a little surreal that I share my life with these three little humans. It might sound a bit clichéd but when they run on an empty beach, splash in the sea, get covered in sand and just don’t give a shit about that or what time it is, where they actually are or where they have to be next – happy days.
There are a couple of specifics at the moment too – I love it when they show genuine compassion. Wilf gave Hettie his monkey (his sleep toy thing) the other day because she was upset, he didn’t know we were watching. Also, one time, one of them (I forget which one) lost at Snakes and Ladders and didn’t chuck the board at the winner in a rage.
Toughest thing about being a dad?
I’m not sure this is any different to being a mum but… I feel the weight of responsibility. Wanting them to ALWAYS be happy, to enjoy stuff, to be confident and secure in their own personalities, to have the courage to do what they want to do, not just what their mates do. To treat people well and to put other people first. I mean, it’s getting a bit deep now but, having to consider how/if you talk to them about the Manchester bombing or the Grenfell Tower tragedy is tough. You just want them to grow up in a world where that isn’t the norm.
I’ve recently found out that it’s tough to say you’re a full-time dad without someone asking ‘Why?’ No one would ask a woman the same question. As dads I don’t think we get the opportunity to be an equal part of raising a baby (which is as restrictive to mums). It would be amazing to live in a more progressive society where the onus is on parents rather than mums to raise kids.
Biggest surprise about being a dad?
People are genuinely surprised to see you filling a traditional female role. I find it really weird that strangers make comments when I’m out with all three of them about how I’m doing a good job or asking me if I’m babysitting them today. And also, that it changes your relationship with your partner. All of a sudden you have to share them with these little folk so you have to make sure you keep some dedicated time to be a couple.
What would you like to ask other dads?
Putting finances aside, would you ever want to be a stay-at-home dad?
Do you think there are enough/any organised things to do for dads and kids (there are millions of these for mums, right?)?
Are you already considering if you’ll come across as a cool parent when they bring their teenage mates round?
What’s the best Lego model you’ve ever built?
Best piece of practical advice for other dads?
EVERYTHING is just a phase. When you’re in the depths of despair about whether they will ever… sleep through the night/stop throwing a massive tantrum every time you are kind to them/stop punching their siblings/like playing Lego as much as you do… be assured that they will. At some point.
And NEVER take TV off them as punishment. You’d be better off jabbing pencils into your eyes. Just think it through first.
Thank you SO much Gary for taking over the Shed this time, it’s been an absolute pleasure!
OTHER DADS… the penultimate question in the Virtual Shed will always be, “What would you like to ask other dads?” We’d love you to chip in to answer in the comments below, so that the Shed can become more interactive, a virtual Dads’ community, rather than just a straightforward interview. So, if any of you have any responses to Gary’s stay-at-home-dad / organised fun for dads and kids / cool parent (LOL) / Lego questions above, or of course any other comments about what he had to say, please do chime in below, we’d love to hear from you!