Jonny McCambridge: Leaving behind the life of a stay-at-home dad
It was three years ago that I strayed off the well-trodden path.
A sudden deviation in the direction of my life took me away from stability and security in favour of something much more uncertain. The change was giving up full-time work, abandoning a career I had spent two decades building. There were several reasons why I did this but the most important was to spend more time looking after my young son.
At the time my boy was three-years-old, had just started nursery school and seemed to be paralysed by a social anxiety which stopped him from mixing, developing and thriving in the way that a parent prays that their child will. After discussions with my wife we both decided that our wee man needed just a bit of extra help to get him through the awkward and terrifying first years of education.
And so it was. I swapped the boardroom for the playground, the morning drive to the office was replaced by the school run. Where once my life had been dominated by the inevitability of deadline, now my affairs were dictated by the routine of the school bell.
The early days of my new life were marked by trauma at the school gates. Mornings when my son clung to my neck like seaweed to a wet rock and had to be pulled free by sympathetic staff. There were many tears.
But the passing of years changes us all and I watched as my boy evolved from scared in nursery to nervous in P1, content in P2 and comfortable in P3. Our morning routine now involves him skipping his way towards the classroom and he doesn’t glance back towards me standing at the school gates anymore. His social development, once a concern which kept me awake at night, has exploded at pace to create a prodigious little boy, contagious in energy and inexhaustible in creativity.
Which has inevitably meant that a new question has formed in my mind. If I gave up full-time work to help my son, and he is now thriving, should I not be returning to employment? Occasionally I will meet an old colleague and they ask after my health and inquire when I’m coming back. Sometimes job vacancies are forwarded on to me by well-meaning friends.
Up to now I’ve stuck to the same stubborn response. My wee man comes first, it’s not quite the right time. I attempt to adopt some form of nobility as I suggest that I’m putting his needs ahead of my own.
But there’s a problem. It’s not quite true. As I’ve recently watched my boy find his voice playing in the park or at tennis club I’ve been forced to confront the uncomfortable truth. He doesn’t need me there anymore. He’s not scared in the way he once was.
But I am. Scared of stepping back towards the relentless drudgery of employment, the unforgiving, macho media world which chewed me up and spat me out last time around. The truth is I’ve used caring for my son as some sort of cover, a defence against a harsh world. But I always knew it couldn’t last forever. Economic realities and a sense of unfinished business, of frustrated creativity, would push me back towards the inevitably grinding wheel.
And so here I am. Undertaking this new column is the first part of my integration back into full-time work. I hope you enjoy reading it. I am a little bit excited, and a big bit scared. But there’s a part of me which is sad too.
Sad because I know that things will never be quite the same again. I won’t be the one picking my boy up from school everyday. Sad because the time we have together will be more limited going forward, I won’t be taking him to the park every afternoon or fighting with him over homework. I won’t be there to play made-up games in the long afternoon hours.
I’ll always be his daddy and I’ll always be there when he needs me. But the familiar formula will be diluted just a little. It will not be just him and me together any longer. It is time to change path again. But this time I’m travelling in a direction away from my son.
I’m going to miss you buddy.
The elusive search for an image of wisdom, minus the custard
Some decisions require a little bit of thought and time.
Like when I was asked last week to supply a byline photograph which could be used at the top of this page. I felt a moment of considerable gravity had arrived. My decision now would have far-reaching consequences on how I was viewed by a new audience. Clever words will always be drowned by the force of image.
So I searched my phone for something suitable. The immediate problem was I had very few pics of myself. Most of the photos I take are of my son and his mother.
Even the ones in which I do appear I’m usually pulling a silly face. In one image I found I was sticking my tongue out. The tongue was blue. I’m not sure why. Eventually I uncovered something which looked vaguely suitable. Except when I enlarged the photo it seemed that there was custard in my beard.
In desperation I texted my wife.
‘Do you have a good pic of me I could use for my column?’
She responded promptly.
‘What sort of thing are you looking for?’
I thought for a moment.
‘Something in which I look friendly, happy and content. But also wise and experienced. Something where the eyes seem to suggest that I’ve lived an interesting life and become a better person because of it.’
I sent the message. I stared at the phone. Response came there none.
Later that night we talked about it. My wife suggested lowering my aspirations to something in which I don’t look stupid. I thought it a reasonable compromise.