Aidan, Founder of TMFC
I’ve sat on this story. Max is 3 now and Henry is 6. Time has moved on, but the story I think, still has a part to play. I think at some point I’d filed this away under the title - Chapter 1: Realisation.
It’s pitch black apart from the subtle hue of the cup of water against Max’s musical owl, the softness of ‘Hush little baby’ chiming away as I sit trying to work out if he’s asleep or not. I’ll move at some point, and tiptoe across his creaky floor to the stairs and descend one step at a time to the landing below, hoping not to disturb the lightest of sleepers!
Watching our kids sleep has always been a safe haven for me. It can be stressful getting them down especially when you’re trying to balance work, a business, and your relationship. But it’s a time to reflect, gather my thoughts, and work through the events of the day. I never used to reflect in this way. I used to internalise it all, move past it, and leave unanswered questions to eat away at me. Now I write. It’s become a place of sanctuary but also a place to release the pressure!
It’s been 2 years since I admitted my struggle and challenged myself to change my approach to fatherhood and regain control of the world I’d allowed to spin off its axis. A complete overhaul in my behaviour was necessary. At times, I’ve dabbled and let things slip. You think you’ve gained control, the confidence builds, and you believe in your ability to stay on top of things but let’s face facts, this parenting stuff throws up the unexpected. The challenge is that parenting throws left and right jabs and uppercuts, and at times you feel like you’re on the ropes!
You’ll have survived the first and second round, and then you’ll get caught by something you didn’t see coming, and all of a sudden your senses are clouded, and with your back against the ropes, you’ll hit survival mode and come out swinging. All the training and education ignored, you’re in a slugfest, and survival is your only shot.
It’s not always this chilled! Man, there have been nights when the screams have reverberated off the ceiling of the loft room. At times, the decibels reached a crescendo, crashing off the wall and splitting my eardrums. Max is here because Henry’s always been the perfect sleeper, but also the little monster had grown so attached to mum it was making it difficult for her to manage her career and motherhood.
In a post-pandemic, controls lifted world, we’re both working parents with Max at nursery and Henry at school we’ve adapted well, but let’s face it, the world is not set up to protect working parents! We’ve balanced where we can, juggled, and tried to stay afloat all year. We’ve done an incredible job, but the first thing you sacrifice is your own health and well-being! The hours get longer, you’re chasing a better future for your family, but in reality, you’re chasing your tail!
Sitting in the soft glow of the owl, I can’t help but think back to what could have been. In April 2020, a few short days into paternity, I snapped, and the snap caused a seismic shift in my mentality. I could have been lost to the statistics, left my kids and beautiful wife to fight on alone and without any reason or warning behind my decision to end it all. What a selfish act? At the time, my pain had become my prison. The words had ripped through Teri, and from time to time, I still see the scars, they are very much healed but not forgotten. That night she might have shown me I had something to fight for, but the fight wasn’t hers, it was mine.
The day I admitted my pain and accepted I needed to fightback I became stronger. Look, let me tell you something…. I’m not a serial overachiever, highly qualified, wealthy bloke. I’m just Aidan, a guy who really struggled adapting to fatherhood until I started to work on me. That night I witnessed the magnitude of a decision I could have made, and it brought me back to life. It gave me a much needed kick up the backside, new found resilience, and desire to change for the better. Too long had I suffered in silence and ignored the tell-tale signs! The funny thing is I had it all in the locker already, and I know you do too! My pain wasn't my prison, it was testing me day in and day out, it exhausted me, but boy it made me stronger.
As I reflect, I feel an enormous sense of pride in my progress. A sense of urgency washed over me that day. I didn’t quite know what it was, but the desire to change had taken over. I started small, I aimed at improving every day. I chose to react and took steps to change the dialogue that I had allowed to destroy my self-confidence. There hasn’t been a day since where I’ve allowed the voice inside my head to control the way I see the world. Every negative thought I’ve had since, I’ve exercised and focused on understanding why I may have reacted in the way I did.
Gone is the tightness in my chest, the anxiety and the dull ache that had descended across my furrowed brow. I smile more. I choose to be silly and look to make my boys smile. There are times when it’s not easy! I’m not the perfect father, but I’m committed to impacting my boys from a position of strength and confidence.
For the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own skin. I opened up that day, it wasn’t intentional. As I uttered the words, I felt the noise reverberate around the room! The scream shattered the glass that I’d allowed to thicken around my heart.
To the dad struggling but can’t understand why, the emotions break against you. At first, they’re disguised because you’ve allowed yourself to believe that ignoring them is the best approach. The winds whip up and the waves crash, over and over, and as you’re dragged under the surface, you fight for the right to breathe as your mind and body are thrown against the rocks. The relentlessness breaks your spirit, and the smile seeps away as you gasp for air.
The crashing waves see your body turning under the surface. As you’re held under for longer and longer, the fight begins to drain away. Soon, if you don’t fight back, you’ll be lost. The current will pull you out further and further, and exhausted, you’ll dip below the surface one last time.
The reason you’ve not asked for help is that you’re too proud. Too proud to admit that shits got real scary! You see only your limitations, and because you do, the challenges ahead begin to overwhelm you. As a new dad, all these challenges are new and unpredictable. These are challenges that will grow as you overthink even the smallest steps. You think if you bite down, you can fight on.
The pain subsides at first, but the longer you ignore that tightness in your chest, the firmer the grip.
Let this be a lesson to you: Your pride is destroying your confidence, happiness, and is a risk to your family’s future. There are times when the tightness comes back. My research into PND gives me confidence to recognise the signs. I don’t think it ever goes away; it must be controlled and managed, and it’s on you to make the change. My world overnight was turned upside down, but reflecting back, I’m not convinced my world was ever the right way up. I think it was always under the surface, and that’s why PND kicked so hard!
Immediately after the birth of a child, your priority is to protect mum and baby. In most scenarios, you become fiercely protective, but at the expense of your own health. I’ve seen plenty written about looking after everyone else first, but what happens when the world crashes around you and you’re not equipped to support yourself or them?
You seek solace in your isolation because you think she doesn’t want to hear it. How can you admit a struggle after watching her superhuman effort? You’re intimidated by her power and ability to take control of her body and mind. Let’s boil it down to facts, her strength and mental resilience challenge your masculinity and the very core of the man you thought you were.
Honestly speaking, you feel you can’t be vulnerable! She chose you for the qualities she admires, and I’m sure your strength was something that attracted her from the start! It might not be your physical strength, and of course, strength is shown in many ways. But I’m sure it’s something that drew her to you in the first place.
I recall thinking how incredibly selfish of me to seek out support. I was wrestling with trying to turn off my emotion and ignore the pressure building. Ultimately, when she needed me for the qualities she’d come to love and believe in, I was absent, not thinking straight, and the guilt was stopping me from facing my fear. I knew I had to be strong and show her that I was indestructible! The reality is I had been living a lie.
I’m a problem solver - I enjoy the challenge of adapting and taking control to deliver a solution. As a new father, even with experience, I wasn’t equipped for the feeling of helplessness. One moment you have it all figured out, and the next, your heart is racing, and your head is pounding. We’re prepared to sacrifice everything, but our fear of failure stops us from opening our hearts and our minds to a different way of thinking.
Our perspective is clouded because we consider ourselves to be strong physically and mentally. To show vulnerability is going to be seen as a weakness, and it’s the fear of ridicule that stops many from admitting the pain they’re feeling. However, I think it runs deeper than the fear of ridicule. I believe it’s the loss of respect that we perceive will happen in the home that forces us to hold it in. When faced with the dilemma of opening up, you’d rather bottle it up and risk the relationship you’ve built with her and your young family than lose the respect of the woman you love.
My own experience showed me that when pushed, I could articulate the pain I was feeling; it’s just I had chosen not to talk about it. I firmly believe that if your relationship is built of strong stuff, and I recognise that raising a family can push you both to your limits, but I believe admitting the source of your pain will lead her to applaud your bravery and she’ll see someone willing to show vulnerability for a greater cause - Your family.
I didn’t know how she’d react or whether she’d understand. As a man you have to feel heard, and that’s something that I’ll forever be grateful for. You won’t know how she’ll respond until you take a step.
Trust is important, and communication is too, but reflection on your transition into fatherhood is also a key step. You might not be ready, and you may not have found the words, but by reflecting on the impact your struggle is having on you, your relationship with her and them, you can focus on weighing up whether a change in approach is worth the risk.
Deep down, you might feel like you’ve failed her and your family, but that’s because you’ve lost faith in yourself and your confidence has been rocked. By reflecting on the progress you’ve made and what’s holding you back from nailing the delicate balance required to succeed in your role, you can ready yourself for a change in approach.
On my own journey, I knew she’d stand by me, but I wasn’t confident! The rawness of the event rocked the foundations of our marriage. For months, I’d catch her checking for clues of a struggle. She caught me one day in the kitchen trying to connect with my emotion, and it caught her off guard. She’d seen me vulnerable twice in a very short space of time. I’m sure to her I was a shadow of the man she fell in love with, but my willingness to gain control helped her come to terms with the man she was living with. At some point, I think she saw me growing, and the smile returned. I think she even fell in love with me all over again.
To make a change, you must first accept your frailties. The desire to make changes must come from you, and it starts with accepting you have frailties that if left unattended have the power to destroy you from the inside.
I created space with the support of my wife to stay ahead and manage it. The important message is that it doesn’t leave it, but it doesn’t define the core of you in your role as a man or father.
I didn’t seek professional help; I chose to adopt a new approach to life. I made sacrifices, and at times, I’ve toughed it out, more out of habit than anything else! I chose a different approach because I feared numbing the senses and dulling the beauty that is being a dad. There have been days when it would have been easier to slip back. But doing so meant sacrificing a greater bond with my boys. I guess what I’m saying is that your route back is one that you control, but it starts with a series of choices. You can choose to open up or choose to continue to conceal the pain hiding under the surface. But in a world where you’re responsible for creating a legacy for your children, why would you continue down a path that can lead to the destruction of everything you’ve come to love? I headed the warning before it was too late, and I urge you to do the same.
In my recent article on PND, it’s clear to me that I contributed to the storm of emotion I experienced in the early days after Max arrived. Henry’s arrival stirred something in me, but failing to reflect and take responsibility for the challenges I faced at the time combined with the behaviour and habits learned and relied upon led me to struggle later.
As a new dad facing up to the challenges of fatherhood can be overwhelming. That’s why we must take proactive steps before the baby arrives to understand the enormity of what’s about to happen and how it changes you and your relationship. I suspect if you’re reading this, then you’ll have prepared in a way most of us did… Read a few books, attended a class, or took the whole journey in your stride. We’ve always said that nothing prepares you for Fatherhood, and whilst I don’t entirely disagree with the statement, I believe better education and buy-in from all parties about the changes we go through, and the identity shift we experience can better equip us to perform close to or even at our best.
Take it from me, my behaviour and habits before having kids had to be erased. They were no longer suitable when faced with the onslaught of challenges that came my way. You might feel like many men do…. “I don’t need to invest in my own health and well-being! I’ve survived up to this point, and I can’t make the space to work on taking a chance on me.” But before you dismiss it and fall into line, what if you changed direction and made meaningful changes designed to help your children see the power that comes from resilience and persistence?
I had to make the changes to become a better father, and I had to trust and respect myself. On a journey back from the brink, I had to take greater pride in who I’d become to ensure I could deliver when it matters most. I’m still me, but I’m more confident in my role as a parent and sure-footed on this journey because I’ve taken steps to reduce negative influence and encourage positive reflection. If you're reading this and feel the world has closed in around you, I urge you to take a step back and gain perspective.
Our greatest motivation to change is right in front of us. We created life, but too often we're too scared to live! Our willingness to shy away from the light stops our children from seeing us at our very best. Because of our choices, they may fail to see that their talent, joy, and happiness all start and end with them.
Embracing vulnerability and seeking a better future, shining bright as fathers for our children's sake, is not only a choice but are responsibility. It's a journey that requires us to confront our own limitations, reflect on our struggles, and make meaningful changes to become the fathers our children deserve.
It starts with accepting our frailties, communicating with our partners, seeking support, and reshaping our own masculinity. By prioritising our mental well-being, navigating the challenges of fatherhood, and embracing the potential of fatherhood, we can create a positive impact on our families and teach our children the power of resilience and persistence. It's time to break free from the confines of societal expectations and embrace the transformative journey of fatherhood with open hearts and open minds. Together, we can rewrite the narrative and redefine what it means to be a father.
I hope this story resonated. If it did then the New Dad Recharge can help you get back on track.
It’s all to easy to put yourself last and focus all your energy on your family. You’ve read my story - This approach will leave you feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and struggling to catch your breath. That’s a position you cannot be in as a new or even experienced dad and that’s where the New Dad Recharge comes in. It's a chance to invest in yourself, to prioritise your own wellbeing, and to develop the skills and strategies you need to thrive as a father.
If you're ready to make a real change in your life and the lives of those you love, sign up for the New Dad Recharge today.
Aidan, Founder of TMFC
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