Dadvice: Brain stuff - don't rub dirt on it

It's a Mental Health Awareness Week Special Edition of Dadvice this week from our Plunket parenting columnist, all-round good guy and "average dad", Jay.

The other day, Miss Thirteen and I were discussing her day at school. She mentioned that she was learning about photosynthesis. “Pho-to-syn-the-sis”. I nodded meaningfully and smiled.

Meanwhile, in my brain a miniature chimpanzee clashed cymbals while driving a toy car around in circles. “Pho-to-syn-the-sis”.

My point for this seemingly pointless intro, is simple. I’m no scientist.

With Mental Health Awareness Week in full flight, it’s a time for amazing science to be showcased. Science that explains, science that detects, science that prevents, science that cures. Science I know photosynthesis about.

This week though, is also an amazing platform for sharing and supporting. A platform to seek and give aroha. A platform to do some hella brave storytelling, get vulnerable and “lean in” as they say.

Certainly not my natural place of comfort.

But kia ora everyone. This is me leaning in, by way of reflecting on the early years of my Dad journey with each of my young snotnoses, and some of the most challenging headspace moments that have accompanied it.

Honestly, it’s never something I’ve deeply thought on, until this little bit of writing was asked of me. So this could prove to be totally underwhelming, or insanely confronting. Lowkey terrified.

“JAY” | CIRCA 2006-08

Miss Thirteen, Age 0-2.

If I were to associate emotions or mind state to this time of my life, the front runners would be anger and selfishness.

I was a garbage son to both of my parents. I’d abuse their generosity, without giving the smallest in return, like a phone call, or the courtesy of an invite to see Miss Thirteen. I was highly combative with Miss Thirteen’s mother. I’d cross the line with the words that I’d say. I was dishonest. I broke the law. I compromised my ability to provide for my family.

I created the life of a recluse for myself. Someone that wanted nothing to do with the outside world. Except maybe when I needed something from it.

I loved Miss Thirteen. From the moment she came into the world. I remember spending nearly two weeks by her side in NICU, reading her “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “The Giving Tree” for hours on end. Loving your kid isn’t being a parent though, it’s just the easy unconscious part of it. I wasn’t mature enough to ‘adult’, let alone parent.

When Miss Thirteen was spritely enough to come home, I resorted back to my angry and selfish ways. I would internally blame Miss Thirteen for my tiredness. I would internally blame her for my mood, for all the things that sucked about my life that weren’t her fault, but my responsibility to take ownership of.

I was basically, a d*ickhead.

“JAY” | CIRCA 2015-17

Mr Four, Age 0-2.

Life was very different when Mr Four came into the world. I had settled down with an amazing wahine, built a sweet little career for myself and learnt a lot about parenting through my adventures with Miss Thirteen. I had surrounded myself with better influences.

I was significantly better at adulting and had taken strides to rebuild the relationships I’d murked in The Selfish Days, in particular with the woman that brought me into this world. While life is never perfect and various challenges were ever-present, when Mr Four came into the world… life was good. And I’d actually panned out into an okay human.

I loved Mr Four. From the moment he came into the world. I also felt I had earned the right to call myself ‘a parent’ and felt like that this time, “I got this”.

But while I understood how much transformation I had undergone as a person, a father, a son and a partner… some of that classic Circa 2006-08 Jay resurfaced. The internal blame game started back up. My mood-swings were volatile. My tolerance was minimal. Again, I said things and carried myself in a way I’m not proud of.

Additionally, my own self-care depreciated and I would over immerse myself in my work… the stuff I had total control over, to escape from the stuff I felt I had no control over.

I was basically, kinda still kinda a d*ickhead.

Why am I even sharing this with you?

What does this even have to do with Mental Health Awareness Week?

These are legit questions.

Truth is, I don’t know conclusively whether I’ve ever experienced any challenges with my own mental health. Because historically, I’m the anti-role model for looking after yourself.

Sprained ankle, rub dirt on it. Open wound, rub dirt on it. Brain stuff, rub dirt on it.

Over time, I’ve evolved into a pretty introspective and self- aware brother. And as I put deliberate thought into the times when things felt off… where I felt off, there was clear correlation between being a new dad – either for the first time, or again – and being in a dark place. A place that I wasn’t proud of. “Ashamed” is probably more apt.

Could it have been tiredness? The fatigue that comes with living your life like an extra from the “Thriller” video, for months on end? Maybe. Could it have been just dumb immaturity? Possibly. Could it have been postnatal depression? An alternate form of depression? Some other kind of invader to my mental wellbeing? Oh.

And THAT is why I’m sharing this with you. In those two “Circa” moments… I don’t know, and I never will. Because in those moments, I couldn’t locate that I was in that dark place. As a result, I compromised both joy in parenting and in life. Twice.

The wild thing is, this has only truly become apparent to me, through writing to you today.

So to my Dad Gang out there: I want you all to live your best Dad Life. If even 1% of my early dad experience resonates with you either now or in the future, you gotta listen to that.

Be brave and lean in my boys.

Don’t rub dirt on it like I did.

by Jay 27 September 2019

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