Thursday, 5 April 2018

Old dad, new dad

As Marley's second birthday approaches, it feels increasingly inaccurate to describe myself as a new dad. 

It’s not just the fact that he is now running around all over the place. Or that he is capable of actually asking for things when he wants them – and telling us when he doesn’t!

It’s more to do with the number of our friends who have now had babies since Marley came along - almost two years ago! - making those early memories of fatherhood seem like a lifetime ago.  


Look at him! It may be the laziest cliché imaginable, but I genuinely can't believe how quickly he is growing up.


So I thought, as the father of an almost-two-year-old, it would be really interesting to get some perspective from a genuinely new dad; a very good friend of mine, Thomas, whose wife recently gave birth to a baby boy named Martin over in Madrid. 


Thomas (on the left) is French, and we met in Edinburgh a few years ago when I was working in a Kaplan International English school. He was first introduced to me through a colleague, we hit it off immediately and I quickly hired him to help me cover the busy international student events programme at the school - where he would go on to meet his wife-to-be, Sandra. 

This is their son Martin, just a few weeks old.


Speaking to Thomas about becoming a dad made me curious about what I could learn from a brand new father. I mean, surely you never stop learning how to parent? And maybe it's a completely different experience for everyone. Maybe it’s even more of a challenge having a baby in another country? Or maybe it's easier?

The first thing I asked him was about sleep; no one gets any sleep when they have a new baby. Right?

Wrong.

“Actually, the first night back from the hospital we didn’t set an alarm and the baby slept for six hours straight.”

WHAT?? Six hours??! We didn’t get that much sleep for a year!!

“Yeah, we thought it was amazing” he went on. “But then the midwife shouted at us, because he is supposed to eat every three to four hours to put on weight”. 

Ah, yes, I remember now. 


It’s amazing what you learn in those first days after a baby is born, though. When I asked Thomas about those days, I expected him to tell me about the little things, those small details that you've never had to think about before - nappies....feeding.....colostrum!

But his answer was more philosophical. 

“As a father I have learned to put the baby’s interests before mine”, he said. “It seems obvious, but when you are used to enjoying your life, like going out for a beer or dinner, you need to organize yourself differently”.

That is certainly true. 

And admittedly, Thomas and I have enjoyed our fair share of late nights together in the past(!) But that's not a lifestyle that’s particularly compatible with fatherhood, and it’s all about adapting to your new situation. 

As he says: “We had our first beer in a bar this week, on a terrace in the sun with the little one, and it was great. But now my brain is thinking of other things, like the changing bag, extra blankets or clothes just in case, or if the bar has changing facilities”. 

He’s learning fast!


So what’s the best thing about becoming a dad? 

“The status you suddenly receive, like you got promoted or something” he says. “People are treating you differently, with more respect – it’s called maturity, I think”. 

I like that. 

And I agree - I think when I meet new people these days, as soon as I mention that I have a young son I can feel a certain degree of respect that I’m not sure existed before. 

Or it could just be an age thing….


One of the really interesting things about Thomas, Sandra & their new baby Martin is their language situation. Thomas is French, he also speaks superb English (don’t tell him I said that…) and is rapidly improving his Spanish since their recent move from Edinburgh to Madrid. 

Sandra is Spanish, she also speaks superb English and has been learning French so she can interact more with his friends and family. 

They’re in a unique position where they can choose to converse with their new baby in three different languages. 

So which one (or two, or three) will it be?

“We decided before the birth that I will speak to the baby in French and Sandra in Spanish”, Thomas told me. “As we are also speaking English between us, Martin will have exposure to English as well”. 

It’s fairly widely accepted that exposure to foreign languages at an early age is a good thing for a baby’s development. And although Thomas mentioned to me that some people have warned them that Martin might take longer to actually speak if he’s learning more than one language, a recent study (incidentally carried out in Madrid) showed that “children’s native language continued to grow......and was not negatively affected by introducing a second language”. 

Basically, Martin, you are one lucky little man!


So what advice from the new dad? What can he offer from his first couple of weeks of being a father that could help other new parents?

“My advice would be….don’t listen to the advice of every one.” 

So, wait.....should we listen to his advice....?

“There are so many urban legends and old wives tales" he says. "My advice would be to trust the medical professionals and the mother of the new baby”. 

And I have to agree, especially with the last part. I have learned more from my wife about parenting in the last two years, than I had about anything else in my previous 33. 

And now that Marley has made the leap from tiny baby to busy little toddler, I am delighted to continue the education and hopefully help others with theirs too (I even plan to speak to an expecting mother in the coming weeks about what's in store for her, so watch out for that).

In the meantime, thanks very much to Thomas, Sandra and Martin! 

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