I recently read an interview with Brad Pitt where he mentioned feeling retarded when it came to his emotions. It struck a chord with me, as it’s something I’ve often felt about myself. I have been known to joke about it in the past, but deep down I’m worried it will affect my ability to be a good enough dad for my kids.
I have a day job that requires me to work in HR. That’s Human Resources. HUMAN resources. For me the term is slightly terrifying and I’m not entirely sure how I’ve ended up on this career trajectory. I’ve had the pleasure of being subjected to all manner of ‘personality’ and ’emotional reasoning’ tests, all in the name of personal development, team building and understanding these humans I am required to serve. What have I found over the years? I’m introverted, analytical, prefer routine and process and have the emotional capability of a robot.
Some motivational feedback:
You are pretty cold and rarely concerned about what others think. Thanks to the cold that helps you make decisions more assertive but sometimes it can upset orher people even though you do not mean to
You may have a weak understanding and acceptance of your emotions and personality. You should spend some time reflecting about your emotions and behavior and spot your strengths and weaknesses. You can struggle at dealing with rushes of emotion. You are the best at working autonomously. You usually do not have outstanding leadership skills. You should learn how to act with a bit more diplomacy.
You probably have good relationships with some of your colleagues, but others may be more difficult to work with.
They may have a point…
Anyone that knows me would probably agree I prefer dealing with a spreadsheet, or finding a way to do things quicker, than listening to the endless whines of other people. ‘My boss won’t let me spend all day on the internet blah blah blah’, ‘my toe hurts too much to come to work blah blah blah’ – if anyone dares shed a tear in my presence they’ll get a cold stare and be sent to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
So how does this work with kids and their inevitable meltdowns over a banana breaking in two or the being served water in a red cup? Has the words ‘pull yourself together’ ever worked for a child sobbing because their spaghetti is too wiggly?
I remember when we were expecting our first child, I was freaked out. I could barely look after myself and understand my own feelings, how could I understand the needs and feelings of a baby who couldn’t talk. I thought about what sort of dad I was supposed to be. Having grown up in the 80s, my media influenced expectations were fairly low and littered with goofy, flawed or inadequate dads :
- ET – no dad
- Back to the Future – weedy dad
- Teen Wolf – hairy dad
- Indiana Jones – mythical dad
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – goofy dad
- Star Wars – dark side dad
- Three Men and a Baby – out of their depth dads
Over the years it hasn’t improved: Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and… Daddy Pig. All are portrayed as being unreliable and stupid fun time daddy’s who can’t be trusted to look after their own children. Why are dads portrayed this way?
A glimmer of hope should have been Ross Geller from ‘Friends’. Seriously, what’s not to like? He’s clearly the most intelligent one (that’s Dr Geller to you), he’s a palaeontologist (who doesn’t LOVE dinosaurs?!) and he clearly loves his son (but his lesbian ex-wife has custody). Unfortunately, he’s ridiculed by his supposed friends and reduced to being a goofy, and sometimes resentful and manipulative odd-ball with his most memorable quality being the ability to be divorced.
So if the media had taught me anything it wa being a dad was going to be easy. All I had to do was leave the hard stuff to mum and everything will be ok.
But I wanted to be better than that. I didn’t just want to be this daft fun time daddy. I didn’t want to be a strict dad either, or a super-strong but cold dad, or one that never talked to their kids about ‘important things’. I wanted my son to grow up to see me as a friend, to share his stories and trust that he could place his worries on me. Unfortunately it felt like there was a gulf between my apparent emotional capability and what was required.
Hello Baby… Shouldn’t I feel different?
When our first child NJ was born, I didn’t feel very dad-like. He arrived via an elective section and I remember looking at him being weighed on the big cold scales, screaming his lungs out and looking very fragile and alone. I didn’t know what to do. The midwife was checking this and checking that but didn’t tell me if I was I allowed to touch him or say hello. Was I supposed to know this? I had a camera ready to take the ‘special first photo’ but he was screeching – should I still take the photo? In the end I just sort of tapped his hand and said hello, which felt awkward and formal, until she wrapped him up in a towel, thrust him into my arms and said I could go show mum.
I didn’t feel different for weeks, if not months. It was the single most important event of my entire life and I just felt… normal. Here was a baby and he seems interested in crying, feeding and pooing, usually in that order. He didn’t sleep anywhere near as much as everyone said babies did and a lot of things felt like an endless chore: wash bottles, sterilise bottles, washing on, drying on, feed baby, burp baby, change poo, change poo, change poo. For someone who likes routine, it got old quick.
I had read self-help books and guides in the quest for learning how to be a good parent and none told me anything about the lack of feeling anything. There was a lot about postnatal depression but only the mums get that, right? The books had been pretty much wrong about most things up to this point, so I just figured it was a learn on the job deal and it would all be ok (like the movies taught me). And besides, surely to have any emotions after all the crying, formula, nappies and sick would just be a bonus?
Hello Toddler… logic shmlogic
Once the chaotic early days passed there was the realisation that the only thing that stopped NJ crying was feeding, sleeping or gurning like a constipated gorilla until he giggled. I am pleased to report that the ‘dad feelings’ finally did emerge when he started to turn into a little person rather than a baby. In fact, and I’m a little ashamed to admit, they were fairly proportionate with how interactive NJ became.
Some of my fondest memories are from this period, as he learned to walk, talk and even poo his pants because he was ‘too busy playing’. He discovered chasing me around the garden with a gushing hosepipe was hilarious (which it was) and that he couldn’t go to sleep and I couldn’t go to work without a kiss and a cuddle first.
However the world of logic, which I cherish so much, does not apply to toddler-time. During these years I faced irrational demands such as ‘I want the book with the duck dog in it!’ (Bonus points for identifying which one it is – I had no idea) and tearful nights over his beloved ‘Balloony’ (his balloon who he had drawn a face on and who sadly popped). I’d like to think that I was by this point suitably equipped with understanding and empathy, rather than armed with just a roll of the eyes, a cold stare and a heavy sigh.
Hello School… it’s complicated
The commencement of school attendance was really where my emotional limitations have been challenged the most. In the eight years of parenthood, there is no worse feeling than when my son comes home sobbing because he had been bullied. And this is at primary school. Like ‘the talk’, I knew the issue of bullying was going to arrive sooner or later, I just expected it to be years away.
Infuriating, frustrating and upsetting, it has left me often feeling completely redundant as NJ has suffered from exclusion, taunts and threats at school, with the school itself dismissing it as ‘boys being boys’. In terms of my own feelings, I’ve surprised myself just how protective I feel and how determined I am for him to be safe and happy. No matter how emotionally out of touch I think I am, we’ve talked through his problems and how he handles them. It is almost like we are learning it together at times.
Hello Eightitude… prepare to be wrong about EVERYTHING
NJ is now eight and the challenge is now his defiance and ability to disagree with everything I say. He thinks he can do anything and that he knows everything. It has led to many disputes where his stubbornness has come up against my difficulty to articulate myself clearly enough.
This is the final frontier for me. Parents with teenagers look at me with a knowing ‘it’s only just begun’ smile but I’m grateful I’ve made it through eight years of parenthood. We now have three kids and I’ve not turned into a dribbling wreck.
I feel like I am a completely different person than I was before fatherhood, and I have learned a lot more from the kids than any work course or emotional intelligence test. So can someone who is emotionally retarded be a good dad? It’s a stupid question really.