You ever feel like you’re being watched?
Not like one of those cheesy horror film ‘being watched’ situations. More like a Big Brother kind of thing – like your entire life is watched, your existence scrutinised, your actions documented and filed for future recall by someone.
At times, that’s fatherhood for me. There’s loads of people watching, all the time! I’ve developed Fatherhood Paranoia!
At the minute, through the power of the global media, being a father gets a lot of news. Right from the top of the political world and Barack Obama being taught to Snapchat by his girls or dad-dancing with Usher, to Tom Fletcher (off of McFly, now a children’s author, naturally) winning ‘Celeb Dad of the Year’ from some holiday comparison website – I kid you not! – being a dad is kind of ‘in’. Facebook heaves with page upon page of dad-devoted thinking and support. Twitter chirps about being a dad, looking after dads, helping dads.
I don’t disapprove of this. Not by any means. I need all the help I can get! Advice from other dads is exactly what we need. After all, mums do it all the time. They talk about sleep patterns and sleep deprivation, they talk about teething problems or feeding problems, they talk about the latest gadgets or tricks to get babies to do whatever it is they should be doing at that developmental stage, they talk about developmental stages!
So why shouldn’t we dads talk?
We want to be part of the process, part of the team. We might not be as emotional – theoretically we as men are not as emotional (too busy hunting and gathering to be emotional!) – so we need to talk to (or grunt at) other men. We might never meet them, especially if they’re just on social media, but that’s OK. Better. That’s better!
We wouldn’t want to seem weak or ‘less of a man’ in front of someone we actually know! I mean, I won’t even talk to my doctor if I can avoid it and he has to keep schtum about anything I tell him! So, we find camaraderie in the scores of unknown, online dads who offer advice. But if I’m on Facebook and I’m seeking out , then I get ratted out by my timeline. Everyone can see what I’m doing. I’m watched.
I’m watched closer to home. As the man of my house (cue more grunting!), I get to be part of the most important and exciting team I could ever imagine – the husband-wife partnership in charge of raising our son & our daughter. I can’t be a passenger and expect it all to work. My wife is incredible, but this is definitely a two-person job!
Our gorgeous daughter is 7, going on 17. She’s a bit of a handful at times – you know the kind of thing: she knows all the answers, she can do it all by herself, she doesn’t need to listen to her parents, she can be a right pain in the…
The boy is 18 months old. And apparently fitted with some sort of hi-tech battery that charges exceptionally quickly and discharges slower than any power source known to man. He’s a ‘typical’ boy – climbing, throwing, trucks, dinosaurs, Lego, throwing trucks, dinosaurs & Lego, hitting his big sister – you get the picture.
I’m watched by my wife. I know I am. I would expect it, because I watch her. I watch her work with our kids. I watch her help our kids. I watch her discipline our kids. And I am watched as I do those things too. My wife watches me for support – she watches in hope that I won’t undermine everything she has done, that I won’t go soft on our screaming daughter or on our pugilist son.
She also watches, I think, for inspiration, for hope. Being a parent of a sleepless child is hard work and has had a bit of an impact on us – we left tiredness behind a long time ago and are hurtling through exhaustion towards zombie living! I’m watched by my wife so that she can see she’s not alone in how she feels. I can cope with that, it’s my job to be her partner, but again I find myself in that situation. I’m watched.
But here’s the crux of my thinking….
I’m watched by my kids.
This is different to those other situations. Those people watch me for their own purposes, even if it is only nosiness or the appearance of my behaviour on their Facebook timeline. But with my kids, they watch me with one goal in mind – they are learning from me.
What a pressure that is. We don’t always realise it, but our own children scrutinise our every move, remember our every action, and build their very personality on what they see when they watch us.
When I’m a good dad, my kids watch me. When I read with my daughter, when I play board games with her, when I take her for hot chocolate (coffee for me! Sleep deprivation demands caffeine!), when I pick up her friends in our car, when I cook with her, I’m under surveillance. When I spend time with her mum or her brother or her wider family or even with my own friends, she’s watching. She’s developing skills that will help her interact with people.
When I build with my son, when we play with a ball together, when we horseplay together, he’s learning to be patient, to take his time, to find the limitations and appropriateness of his own strength and actions. So, when I’m respectful and caring and take time to make sensible choices, it’s OK that I’m watched. He’s only 18 months old, so he can’t quite verbally communicate with me – I can’t tell him how to behave – so the pressure is on to be a physical example for him. I’m watched.
I can’t get cross because of how my son treats his sister – he’s learned it from me. I can’t be too upset with the tantrum a 7 year-old throws when she gets knocked over in a playground – I taught her that. All because I’m watched.
When I’m a bad dad, my daughter especially watches that too. She watches as I get angry with other drivers, or frustrated in the supermarket when someone pushes in front of me or barges me with their trolley, or when I do undermine her mum and give in to her just to keep her quiet, or I complain about people in front of her. She’s watching and building the mindset that that’s all OK. And it’s not.
I don’t want my son or daughter to be like me – I want them to be better than me!
But, when my kids look to me for approval, when they glance at me hoping for a smile or a nod, it’s because they’re questioning if that’s how ‘I’d have done it’, they’re looking for me to show them I’m proud of them. And it’s OK, I think, to take a moment and smile to myself at that point. I have done it right. I’ve helped them to make that decision based on their observations of me.
That’s when you realise, sometimes it’s OK to be watched.