THE VIRTUAL SHED
A space for potterings & musings of the modern Dad
Welcome to the first of a brand new regular feature, The Virtual Shed! Family resources are often produced by and for women, but we really want to hear from the Dads too. 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 quite readily chat about the nitty gritty of motherhood with each other, but many of our male friends have said it’s rare that 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! Every month 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, without further ado… introducing the first resident of the Virtual Shed… Dad of one of my favourite families… PETE SMYTH! The bear-hugging, big-hearted, hairy half of Welcome Home and Emma Case Photography, Pete’s a busy lad and brand new dad! Over to Pete!
Tell us a bit about your family
My family is now four members… My wife Emma, our 5 month old boy Frank, our cat Maximo and me. I guess we’ve had a nomadic life for the last few years, travelling and working and we have just recently returned to my home town and Emma’s spiritual home of Birmingham to create the next chapter of our lives. It has had such a positive impact being back in the home city and setting up home for the family, like everything is kind of where it should be…for now!
What do you do for work, and how do you juggle the hours/location(s) with family life and childcare?
Emma and I work together, we photograph weddings and other things, we also run our photography workshop Welcome Home. Its definitely a work in progress juggling everything now we have Frank.
In our old life BF (before Frank) we were in a nice groove of who is responsible for what activities and always played to our strengths…. BUT now of course it feels like literally grabbing 20 minutes to complete work tasks, while the other either feeds/changes or cleans up or does the food shop or cooks…. You wake up some days and feel so full of hope and ambition and then barely mange to make toast and send 1 email before tea time! Constantly asking the other person to, “just hold him for 5 minutes while I wee or take a shower…” I can’t believe how much time we wasted BF, I mean how indulgent were we?
Other days of course feel really easy and everything falls into place…. in all honesty Frank is a pure joy to be around, its all the other stuff that’s difficult! Some days there is a guilt to not just devoting every second to him and talking and playing with him…. Unfortunately being self-employed this isn’t possible. However, I know only too well how lucky we are to be in this together and having so much family time compared to a lot of parents. We do also have a wonderful set of grandparents on hand to take care of Frank on the days we are shooting weddings or running the workshops.
What does your role as ‘Dad’ in your family look like?
I am a very hands-on, gregarious sort of dad, I have a good line in funny voices and songs that I’ve made up… of course the lyrics may need to change once he has a firmer grasp on English! I feel like I am the more practical, logical doer of the family, Em is more “the future strategy and plans with where we’re headed in life”… I like to think I’m the more “how we can make it happen and what we need to get there”… combined it feels like we’ve got it covered 🙂 I’m also the finder and fetcher of all the things, the shelf putter upper and the heavy object carrier and I’m a bloody good cook!
How did you cope with the transition to fatherhood and the impact and changes it had on your life?
I’ve always known I wanted a family and once Frank arrived my inner dad just came to the surface… Don’t get me wrong, it was an adjustment process for sure, it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love, it never ends, it’s a constant process of elimination…. The first few weeks are like chinese torture games… you drift through days on the least amount of sleep you’ll ever have while navigating the most responsibility you’ll ever have…. And worst of all, you can’t quit or call in sick! Nights of semi-sleeping on red alert, spotting for signs of life… trying to work out which noises are acceptable coming from a newborn and which are dangerous. The guessing game of is he a) hungry b) needs changing c) annoyed d) tired or e) all three. Shopping trips for things you didn’t need but now can’t survive without…. Sleepyhead baby mattress! SnoozePod! Babybjorn carrier! Euan the dreamsheep!…. You hit your natural groove eventually as does your new baby, you reach levels of endurance only Rocky Balboa knows about… you get to know each other and your patterns and it all slots into place and now we just can’t imagine life without him. I call him my Frankie Bonus! Because he just adds a bonus to every area of our life.
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 full on 100% dad. I’m genuinely caring, loving, enthusiastic and interested and just want to give him the best experience I possibly can. On the flip side it can be hard to communicate effectively with Emma, especially on little sleep, but trying to be open and honest and not resentful and niggly is key to things feeling like a team effort and not a battle, so I guess that’s where I’d like to do better, but its nearly always due to lack of sleep, it makes me really cranky!
Biggest pleasure about being a dad?
Seeing him smile whenever I go to pick him up, he literally beams when he wakes in the night and I go over to him. To look into his eyes and see recognition and joy is just priceless.
Toughest thing about being a dad?
Knowing that this is ever present and ever evolving, the fine line between protecting him from the tough things life will throw at him while also preparing him to stand on his own two feet… maybe I think too much, but I am aware that these decisions will always be there now.
Biggest surprise about being a dad?
That someone like me who is very gregarious and physical can be so patient and gentle. *private joke alert* Emma once said to me while I was drunk and handling something expensive…. “gentle hands Pete, gentle hands!” because I can be like a dog that has run off its lead and chased a car… BUT having Frank gave me this brand new level of gentleness and patience I didn’t know I had… I’m also now hyper emotional, I’ve always been a happy crier, but now, woah its like anything…. A kind gesture, a nice person, a gift… an advert… 24 hours in A&E! I’m just blubbing…. So, its definitely opened up the emotional spectrum for me too!
What would you like to ask other dads?
What’s the longest you’ve gone without showering? Seriously at one point I think I made it to a whole week, I just didn’t know or realise or care… oddly I didn’t smell that bad either… So I’m curious how other dads fared at personal hygiene during those first few weeks/months/years?
Best piece of practical advice for other dads?
Seriously, I think it would have to be, lose the guilt.. don’t worry if you’re not always on top of things… its ok, you are human, you’ve got this in there, it just needs to find its way… This applies to expectant dads as well, don’t think you have to be amped or super happy about what’s coming… its fucking daunting and there needs to be a period of adjustment and that’s ok! Other people will shriek about how excited they are and “ooooh I bet you can’t wait!” When really you’re trying to get your head around E-V-E-R-Y single thing that’s about to happen. Don’t be afraid to say if you are struggling, share your feelings, hopes, aspirations, fears, anything…. It’s all good, no one will judge you, they will be really glad they can help. In fact it was in the middle of the first few sleepless weeks I started a faceboook group called Daddy Dudes Club! Where we chat about stuff, and share funny stories and videos…. its bloody lovely! Any dads who want to join just let me know… And on a practical level, be open and honest and communicate with your wife or partner… if you need some solid sleep to cope, or would like to go to the gym, or ride your bike, or have a beer etc… say so, don’t think you have to be perfect all the time.
Thanks so much Pete for being such a belting first Shed resident!
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 Pete’s showering / personal hygiene question above (come on guys, we want honesty you grubby oafs!), or indeed any other comments about what he had to say, please do chime in below, we’d love to hear from you!