Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be introducing you to contributors to The Spinoff Parents, our new parenting blog edited by Emily Writes and made possible by Flick Electric Co. Today music writer Simon Sweetman describes why being a stay at home father is the hardest thing he’s ever done.
I met Simon almost a decade ago. As a wannabe music writer I contacted him for advice on interviewing famous folks. He was generous and kind and patient with me. Since then we have developed a strong friendship – many hours spent chatting over coffee, interrupted occasionally by random people yelling FUCK YOU SIMON as they walk past. I begged Simon to be a columnist because he doesn’t really write much about being a parent, and I wanted him to. Here he explains what he does exactly… – Emily
People tell you not to read the comments – but you can really learn a lot about yourself. For example: Did you know that I used to earn enough to pay my mortgage by trolling music fans on Stuff? Neither did I. I must have been stuck in that dreary non-music-related day-job for no reason whatsoever. All those years of punching a clock and thinking about punching a boss or workmate and then home to my parents’ basement to write a blog (no idea why I continued to blog from there, but I learned this too from the comments section; I paid the mortgage for someone else to live in my house, presumably, and stoked the fires of anger as a basement-dwelling bottom-feeder on a mythically impressive income with a hobby day-job) when really I should have just been flaunting all the cash that writing provides.
Writing about music never pays. Never enough anyway. And so I had always worked a “proper” job – up until three years ago. You let slip more of yourself than you ever mean to when blogging daily, but I never really talked about my actual job. I never kept it secret, but didn’t mention what I did or any locations. I was quick to correct anyone convinced that semi-regular music-related missives were paying my bills, but you know how it works: People read what they want to read, and in the way they want to read it.
When my son was born I was working as hard as I ever had. It wasn’t even because of a fear of the extra mouth to feed and the pile-up of costs; it’s just the way it ended up. Due to bad planning, if anything, I had a book to write, a blog to keep up, a full-time job, an arts festival to cover, a radio spot, a TV slot and quite a bit of other freelance work. It was my version of an impossible schedule (everyone has one after all) and I kept it up for a year or so after my son was born. Then a few of the projects dropped off, some occasional other work drifted in, and by his first birthday I had cut down to part-time hours. My wife and I were going to have a couple of days at home with him each.
Like most first-time parents, and particularly I think if you’ve been the youngest child in your own family (as I was), I had no idea what I was doing when it came to raising a kid. Fortunately, all those years of reading the comments meant I already knew I had no idea. Bonus.
Slowly but surely a new routine was created. I’d get up extra early to write rather than staying up late. I’d only have to punch the clock for someone else every other day. And my son became my new best friend. We had dance parties and zoo visits and play dates with friends who had children. And it all felt like a great privilege – who else but the stay-at-home parent gets to look at the majestic (albeit glum looking) cheetah-in-captivity at 11am on a Tuesday?
One Friday morning, a guy swam over to me in the public pool and reminded me how lucky I was to not be at work. I wanted to tell this eager stranger that I’d never worked so hard since not working. But then I saw a trail of children behind him; his four trumped my one.
Since I started Not Working I’ve had the best success at a job ever. There’s been one measurable: keep someone else alive. Since I’d managed to keep myself alive all these years largely by fluke it wasn’t a given I would succeed in this role. But it’s going… okay.
My wife felt the pull of work the way I never did. There were of course other factors, and I might write more about those some other time. But for me, it was the pull of home I felt.
So I started writing blogs and reviews with my big toe pushing a bouncer. I started getting up at 4am to write, back to bed at 6am, and back up to start the day proper at 8am. A bit more writing during nap times for the child – it was always a case of dashed hopes if he fell asleep in the car. But I’d take a book – “research” – and park up outside the house reading for as long as his slumber might allow. That might be the only work on a particular day. Other times he’d have a massive afternoon sleep and I’d suddenly become more productive, writing-wise, than I ever had previously.
I didn’t even know if I’d be a good dad – let alone a good stay-at-home dad – but it seemed to fall into place. I was constantly asked if I missed work. My parents were particularly keen to know when I’d get back on my feet and get back to earning a crust, as if I’d been struck down by some affliction. The birth of a son was clearly the death of hard work in their eyes. But let’s not actually ever talk about it because, hey, Grandson cuddles!
But here, three years later, I’m still working-from-home/barely working. And it’s both a breeze and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
There are fresh brain-teasers and patience-testers every day now. I know the words to more songs by animated characters than I ever thought would be possible. My “workmate” – he’s four years old now, nearly five – is also my job. And my boss. I’m the teacher, but I’ve done more learning across the last four years than at any time in my life beyond my own first four years.
I’m still writing about music. Must be addicted to the crummy pay and positive energies it inspires. I’m still writing about books and movies and art. Just cramming it in during long sleeps and day-care windows and, well, who are we kidding, it doesn’t take that long to tell Devilskin fans to go fuck themselves… or whatever it is I actually do.
But I’ve got this new gig too – I’m going to write a bit about being a parent, being a dad – a really good one and a fucking hopeless one, often within the same day. I’m going to tell you all, with as much honesty as I’ve ever offered, about my failings. And about some good times too. I’m going to try to make sense of this through writing. Because, that’s how I’ve always tried to make sense of things. That, not the crummy pay, has always been the pull.
The wee boy that rules our roost is funny and passionate and bright and, like anyone else’s kid, he’s the best in the world. Obviously. I’ve muttered words behind his back, yelled directly at him until he’s almost whimpering, thought – briefly – back to what must have been the good old days of lining kids up for a spanking. And then thought, almost instantly, at how I could never do that, much less live with the self-loathing after.
It’s questionable whether he’s made me a better person. But I’ve definitely kept him alive. We’re tight. And most days we laugh and cuddle and talk nonsense and play music and dance and occasionally he does what he’s told. A trait he gets from his parents I’m afraid. Yes, I’m often still very afraid…
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.