Am I a good Dad/ Stepdad?

June 11, 2024

The challenges of being a good Dad are one thing, but the challenges of being a good Stepdad are a bit more complex, but ultimately, one hopes, just as enriching.

Fathering report:

42%. ‘Room for improvement’

My 2-year-old has Croup at the moment which means she coughs like a seal with a pig’s oink. She hasn’t been herself the last few days and is now on steroids. I’d imagine anyone who goes on steroids with an oink just ends up with an even louder oink. But we’ll give it a go.

I was on the morning shift at 4.30am recently after a bad night (I don’t often do the mornings and the shambles that followed proves it). 4.30am!! As a musician I would consider that still yesterday. For her it was tomorrow. So we were in different time zones for starters.

She was distraught at the sight of seeing me instead of her mum. I tried to calm her down as she was also in deep discomfort with a shrinky stingy seal throat but I lost my patience and ended up shouting at her because she threw her blueberries on the floor. I was also trying to restrain her so she wouldn’t go back upstairs and disturb her mum. It’s hard for me to do that in a gentle loving way and I don’t generally do it too well. I’m too lacking in feminine finesse. But we both calmed down eventually and hugged each other while starting to watch Toy Story for the 189th time.

True Story

Thus began a typical comedy classic 60 seconds in a slightly sleep deprived self-pitying Dad’s life. It was my ‘Franz Ferdinand’ moment. Yes that dramatic! A disastrous chain of events, each causing the next; I went out to cook her some cheesy scrambled eggs at about 7am and knocked over and smashed a glass. The glass travelled around the kitchen floor. My daughter, fascinated , charged towards me, so I ninja blocked her with my locked leg to stop her from cutting her bare feet, but she fell and hit her head instead and woke the whole road up with a yowl. She whimpered off as I started to sweep up the glass quickly .

Little did I know she was planning a second, more powerful charge at me to get to the broken glass. I pushed my bum out to block her this time, linebacker style. That stopped her! But she decided to pull the plaster covering an unchecked, possible skin cancer growth off my hairy ‘back knee’ (what is that called?). Not my ‘front bum’ anyway thankfully. The pain was sudden, and I stepped back on some glass and the egg was simultaneously starting to burn. I shouted “Fuck”! Then she said “Fuck” as if to confirm that she has learned the official word that describes this exact situation. I took the plaster with a bit of hairy skin growth from her, which she did not appreciate, and she had another meltdown. The full bin had no room for the glass, so I put the brush and pan up on the counter to deal with the burning eggs and she immediately knocked it off and the glass went everywhere again. I carried her into the tv room over and over again but she kept coming running back to inspect the blood, glass, burning smell and her frazzled Dad. At this stage she was laughing her head off. “Dost though mock me, Iago?” I said to her. But she hasn’t read Othello yet, so she didn’t get it, and my self pity started to balloon.

“What happened? “ asked my partner sympathetically, emerging into the disaster zone.

“She made me burn the eggs” I said, pathetically. “So no treats today”.

“But I was using my whole ass!” Homer Simpson when Bart calls out his “half-assed over-parenting.”

Domestic Imbalance

I have 5 children. 3 Boys (all adults now) and 2 girls. I am Stepdad to 2 of these amazing 5 people. One is a 25 year old ambitious DJ living in Berlin and the other, an artistically talented, big hearted 10 year old girl going through some growing pains at home and in school. I had to recognise that I don’t naturally have an unconditional love for them, but I do of course love them, care about them and want the best for them.

My partner (mum to the girls) has been doing nearly all the heroic work and minding and nurturing these days. I don’t do my fair share. (Are men now as selfish as we ever were historically ?) She has suffered much sleep deprivation recently and we have also had endless different virus’ sweeping through the house. These are enemies in arms.

I don’t tend to get these bugs much luckily but then I don’t have the same volume of snot, puke and nappy diarrhoea pervading my nostrils or rubbed into my skin nearly as much as my partner does. None of them are good sleepers, and we are one loud fart, sleepwalk, or Apnea style man-snore away from a disaster of a night.

I met old friends at a funeral recently and they had a funny story underlining the difference between mums and dads when it comes to putting time in with the kids. Charlie was a fine marathon runner but admitted that when he and his wife were younger he picked the sport that would take him out the house for the longest amount of time. His wife Gillian said that she used to get in the car with the kids and drive up alongside him while he was out jogging with the windows down so he would also have to deal with their pre bed dramas.

“Well, it’s 1 AM. Better go home and spend some quality time with the kids.“ Homer

Back in the days when men were men (insensitive).

I was always off touring when my 3 boys were growing up, circa 1999-2007, with The Frames and later with Josh Ritter. I missed first birthdays and first baby steps and lots of nappy changing. They had a survival system without me and when I got home I was keen to help and make up for lost time but sometimes felt like I was just disrupting the domestic pattern and getting in the way.

I remember once on a tour with Josh Ritter, I had a day off in New York. Myself and my good friend and inspirational photographer Daragh MacDonagh were being treated to a private helicopter journey with some rich friends of his and we flew down over the New York skyline to Paradise Beach in New Jersey for lunch and I phoned home to tell the boy’s mum how incredible the trip was. She told me that in contrast she was trapped at home with 3 very sick kids with vomit everywhere and had no-one to help and was distraught. We finished the call, and my first instinct was…’God, she wasn’t very happy for me, was she?’ What a selfish unsympathetic git I was.

My Stepson

Me and Morgster a good few years back. I miss him.

Me and Morgster a good few years back. I miss him.

I met Morgan when he was 1 and have been his Dad since. His biological father seemed to be destroying himself slowly and was never around. I used to encourage Morgan to boast to other kids that he had 2 Dad’s in order to avoid any teasing or awkwardness around the subject, but the truth was, his other dad was never around. Being new to fatherhood, I learned a lot from being his new Dad.

Looking back, I think I failed him at times and was tough on him in many ways. It’s true that the eldest gets the toughest gig anyway, and parents haven’t fully relaxed into being confident astute parents yet. We were strict with him, and he occasionally got put in the bathroom (not locked) until he cooled down. That was a mistake in hindsight, and I take responsibility for it. I’m sorry Morgan. Nobody learns how to be a perfect father or mother in school. And I’m not even sure if it’s teachable. But it’s more important than Maths or Geography for sure.

I do remember so many fun-loving times with him. There was the time we went out and played football until dusk in the local park and his nappy was so heavy with pee that it ended up being wrapped around his ankle, and the absorption beads were falling out of his tracksuit bottom as we trudged off home full of goals and dreams. What a player he became by the way, earning a rave review from Ray Houghton once at a FAI regional training session!

There was also the time when we had a great day out together but I left him upstairs on the bus by accident and had to sprint to the next bus stop, get back on in a panic, and go back upstairs to grab him. He hadn’t a clue. He was on his way to Kimmage on his own. He was 2.

On the other hand, I also remember a time years later when I was teasing him when he ate some spicy food while on holidays. He was in tears because of the spiciness , and I thought it was hilarious. That was mean of me. I also remember slapping him on the bum when he was bold, something I did to all 3 boys once or twice each, no more, as they grew up. The problem was he was at the top of the stairs on this occasion, and he nearly fell down the stairs as a result. I got the fright of my life. I feel so much shame for this and feel lucky it didn’t turn out so much worse. It could have been life changing for both of us.

Morgan tended to be very needy and dependant on his Mum in the very early years, understandably so, and I struggled with this as much as he struggled with me being more tactile and affectionate with my other sons as they arrived into our world. Stepdads notoriously get a bad rap, and often deserve it. There can be no excuses. You must understand the heightened dependency on their mum and the resulting neediness. You also need to understand and accept the unconditional love dynamic they have with their mother that you don’t necessarily have with them. But you can still be a strong role model; protective and loving.

Morgan has, I’m so proud to say, been the only one to seemingly follow in my footsteps and has had the courage to try to pursue a career in music. We hit a cold spell in our relationship in the last few years, but he came home at one stage recently and said he was going to find it easier to embrace my new life when the divorce was finalised. It has not been easy for him in some ways, forging a new life abroad, literally escaping through foreign border patrols in the undercover of the dark nights of Covid. Bold and daring! Way to go, Morgan! He fills rooms with charm and personality. He’s one of my heroes.

My Stepdaughter

Beautiful and Talented and full of Wonder!

Beautiful and Talented and full of Wonder!

I first met this beautiful kooky kid about 5 years ago. She loves fun. She seemed to be quite fearful at the time though. I tried to reverse the psychology on that occasion when we first met and put the focus on a ball game instead of any weight of expectation on her. It was a fun introduction but it emerged she had developed a fear of adult male figures in earlier days. It’s no wonder. Her father was a tyrant, a narcissistic bully, and someone who now is a Disney Dad, more interested in spoiling her from a distance, damaging her further, possibly out of some guilt complex. He doesn’t seem to have the intelligence to help her to be well balanced and regularly lets her down and rarely sees her. She is well able for him though and speaks honestly to, and about, him and grows in confidence by the day. We don’t influence her about him. She’ll make her own mind up about him in time. He needs to realise that. And whatever it is that she decides, that’s fine.

I must admit, I am struggling to understand some of the arrested development that she shows, and I get frustrated with how slow she can be in learning from us. But that might say more about me then it does about her. Of course kids go through these spells. I do find myself grumpy with her more often than I want to, and it’s a battle to stay bright and fun and helpful to her all the time. And I also find myself being hypocritical at times, whatever I might be giving out about. The snot on the remote. “Yes, I suppose it’s possible it could have been mine, your honour”.

I was such a troublemaker and messer in school. And the irony now of being so strict! What happened to me? This stuff we talk to her about is only important and worth bringing up if it’s going to help her later with relationships, friendships, flat sharing, teamwork, life negotiating and all that stuff. We don’t do it for any self-benefit, despite her probably thinking so at times. I am looking forward to helping her (if and when she wants help) to find a peace of mind, and indeed a flexibility of mind, so she doesn’t go too far down the wrong roads. She’ll be fine, she’s a great kid!

“The key to parenting is don’t overthink it. Because overthinking leads to … what were we talking about?” (Homer again)

The Psychology of it all

We can’t really blame kids for being bold. Sometimes it’s just a call for help. "Notice me, I can’t deal with big emotions”. So instead of focussing on why they put the banger in the cat’s ass and lit it, focus on what the cat did wrong .”

Joking. No seriously, I don’t believe in the hyper- ‘pc’ ‘kid gloves’ shit. We, as a patriarchal society over the decades, used to get it wrong in general with the heavy discipline stuff, then we changed to the other extreme and it is still wrong, excusing our kids for everything. Think of what kind of adults they will become if they feel like they can do whatever they want to whoever they want, always having excuses and their parents ‘pardon’ in the back of their minds.

We must surely come back to a moderate middle. Do we let them do anything they want? No. Do we ‘punish’ them on occasion? Well, no, ‘we don’t reward them’ is the more humane version of that, and that works well. We must mark an extreme behaviour, not mark them obviously, ever, but mark their cards, by discussing the rights and wrongs and explaining the reasons for the yellows and reds.

“You’re the one who should get a yellow card, ref! “

“You’re the one who should get a yellow card, ref! “

They want boundaries for sure and naturally want to push at them. And that’s good. Ironically, we should celebrate that and what it shows. ..a fearlessness, an emerging personality, a quest for a shape for their life, for their voice to be heard. Adults can be the same; if they aren’t heard or understood, even sympathised with, they can often turn to all sorts of protest or serious misdemeanour.

Someone’s not listening

Someone’s not listening

All in all, I’d worry if we weren’t worried about our kids. I’d worry if I didn’t wonder if I was doing a good job. But the thing is, we must stop them from getting too ‘heavy’ and analytical at a young age. It’s the time to have lots of laughs. Keep it fun and light whenever possible. We’ll try to be there for these bright young explorers, and we can meet them back at the crossroads now and then and show them another path if needs be. Preferably not a path full of broken glass, burnt eggs and self-pitying Dad types!

* Some of my Blogs are more personal and psychological, and some are more about music and drumming. There are dozens here to read if you scroll through the pages and you can see the themes. Some are to help with some taboo subjects and help with Mental Health. Some funny stories and some about famous people. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for taking the time to read them.

© Dave Hingerty 2024