It’s a year since we had our first baby – a boy. I’ve used this time to take a break from developing my Doctoral thesis. This was welcome after a series of challenging assignments over the first two years of the programme. It’s not easy doing this on top of a full-time job.
I had no idea how fatherhood would change me. Preparation, I felt, was sufficient: bought the right stuff, read widely, did the classes, etc. Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the actual experience. Walking out of the hospital with our defenceless new-born was the happiest and scariest moment of my life. Eight hours of unbroken sleep and weekend lie-ins are now history. Maintaining a clean & tidy house is a constant battle. One or both of us is always attending to our baby. The second I’m in the door from work, the evening shift begins – nappies, feeding, playing, washing, cooking, etc. Studying evenings and weekends in the library now seems like a luxury. There is no free time. I wouldn’t change one second of it, though!
It’s difficult to put into words the immense joy our baby has brought. Watching him grow and develop every day is intriguing; it’s beautiful; he’s beautiful! Before he arrived, I felt that my life had meaning – that I was content, and I was. It’s at a much deeper level now; deeper than I’d ever imagined it could be.
It’s the ordinariness of it all that I now love! Like waking to the mellow babble of baby in the morning; observing him defiantly clawing his way up the leg of a chair ‘til he can stand; excitedly splashing the water with his arms & legs at bath-time; the bond between him & mammy; coming home from work to them both smiling; the relief of him eating, excreting and sleeping appropriately; observing his first few words; the three of us dancing in the kitchen to some random song on the radio; the delight that a day in the zoo brings us all; the peace of mind derived from feeling that we are doing our very best every day with and for our own little family.
Poet, Seamus Heaney, once noted that people have a desire to be lifted out of the mundane and into the marvellous. Heaney described life as like walking along a ridge, with reality to your left and the imagined world to your right; without imagination and passion, reality can be too much to bear. Such escapism is no more evident to me than on the side-lines and stands of sports grounds on match-days. Supporters respond in so many emotive ways – ways that would be considered bizarre elsewhere. At an objective level, players chasing a piece of leather (e.g., football) around the pitch means nothing. At a subjective level – that of the heart & soul – it means everything! For that hour players and supporters are imbued with marvel.
Week-to-week, I, like many, sought marvel in activities such as a good movie, a few beers or a Friday night takeaway. Most I perceived as harmless in moderation. I felt that I deserved to ‘switch-off’ by switching on some screen and mindlessly staring at it while sitting for hours – especially after, what I once considered to be, a hard week of work & study. I saw such pursuits as a distraction from the mundanity of life. But, for me, these are not marvellous anymore. I only see them as low-quality activities. I don’t find them relaxing. It’s not that I think any less of others that do these things; as long as you’re not harming yourself or others, I’d encourage you to work out an exit-strategy from the humdrum in any number of ways. It’s just that such activities don’t contribute to my development or that of my family in any way. And, in hindsight, I’m increasingly certain they never really did.
It’s not because of our baby that I don’t have the time for such pursuits these days. It’s that I choose not to engage in them any longer. Allocating 15 hours per week to my thesis is one thing. The quality of that time is another. For it be high, I must be at my best. More importantly, I must be at my best for family and work. I see it like a three-legged stool: family, work and study. If one leg is not functioning, everything suffers. I’m more determined than ever now to be & become the best person I can be every day. I only engage in high-quality activities now. No more avoiding the effort and responsibility life now demands – not for one minute.
I feel a little nervous as I begin to get my head back into my thesis. Not so much around my motivation to do the work, but making the time to do it regularly at a high-quality level. At the same time, however, I’ve never felt so invigorated as I do these days. I have never had such little free time, yet I’ve never felt so free. Slowly, I’m developing the confidence to stand on the border of chaos and order and deal with the inevitable shifting between both. Fatherhood didn’t do this to me. It’s how I am responding to fatherhood. It’s not that I’m in constantly in the fast lane. It’s that while I am, the quality of the experience is better. Consequently, my time in the slow lane – those precious, uninterrupted few slots in the week with and for family and friends – is better. My imagined world is, largely, at peace with my real world. I have redefined how I perceive life’s mundanity. I’m not just finding marvel in the mundane; I’m forging it. And that will see me through my thesis, one way or another…
This article is part of an ongoing series of resources developed by Pat Culhane, Lesley Martin, and Eileen O’Neil – all current Professional Doctoral candidates at Glasgow Caledonian University – who have started a movement called the Professional Doctorate Society. #ProfDockers is the golden thread linking all published support material – articles, podcasts and videos. The Prof. Doc. Society is based on the premise that a wider conversation is needed between Doctoral students (past, present, and future) on their experiences of pursuing this rewarding, and very challenging, degree. It is intended to bring more students together from any part of the world, initially, through a variety of online media, in an attempt to tackle the isolation often experienced by them. By doing so, it is hoped to inspire [in some small way] people to start, continue with, and finish their Doctoral studies. For more, see:
Lesley Martin: lesleymartinprofdoc.com
Eileen O’Neil: balanceandrisk.com
Images compliments of pixabay.com