Back in July 2008, I warned men about the hazards of becoming a father and advised that any sane man avoid doing it. To some extent circumstances have led me to go against my precept, but the outcome has simply reinforced my feelings on this issue. There may be some men out there who can be a father, though I think they are fewer in number than those men who think they can be a father, hence why so many men leave relationships when their children have not yet become adults. Regular readers of this blog know my domestic set up: there is me; a woman acts as kind of housekeeper whilst running her business from the property and there is her 7-year old son. Despite no legal grounds the boy often perceives me as a father figure. Despite the multiplicity of shapes of families these days it is incredible how children still expect some 1950s-style family. He goes to a Christian school so perhaps they teach that that is how families 'should' be (they teach Creationism too) and he has latched on to me as the missing piece to complete the jigsaw puzzle of a 'proper' family.
Despite having lived as a single parent for over three years the woman seems to totally underestimate the difficulties of raising a child alone. I do not think this is an exclusively female perspective nor than all women are good at raising children, some clearly are not. However, it is a very difficult job filled with constant stress even when the child is safely packed off to school. The woman has gone to the USA for about 17 days and convinced me that I could look after her child while she was away. These days schools are very strict about taking children out in term time and the school just pointed out that a child away for 10 days, i.e. two school weeks, would only attain an attendance level of 95.6% whereas the target for the school is 96.4%! For fear of losing a contributor to the mortgage at a time of such housing depression I complied. That was the worst mistake I have made in a long time and regular readers of this blog will know I am very good at making bad mistakes. She left on Thursday and we are now at Tuesday and the stress is causing real health issues. I have pain down my left side, my head feels like it is in a clamp, my breathing is laboured and there is so much acid in my stomach that I have retched close to vomiting already this morning.
Children of 7 have set patterns that they are unwilling to break even when circumstances have changed. You cannot get them to understand that they cannot continue behaving the way they do when Mummy is around when she is not around. If I could have done I should have taken leave for this whole period as holding down a job 30-46 miles (depending on which office I am in that day) from where the child is schooled makes things difficult. I pleaded with my employer (which is supposedly family-friendly) to not have things scheduled to clash with school times and they simply did the opposite. In addition, one department has kept setting meetings at short notice and moving them around as if we are all entirely flexible. To cope with the situation I have been compelled to use a childminder but it is very difficult if I have to keep ringing her up to say, do not collect the child this afternoon as the meeting is off, but could she do it on Thursday and then ringing back the next day to say, now Thursday is off, it is back to Wednesday. I know single parents cope with this kind of stuff all the time, but I imagine most do not work full-time in the next city along.
I lack the authority of a genuine parent, I accept that, so I am left with cajoling, bribing, threatening withholding of treats and simply begging to get the child to comply. I am effectively sharing a house with a 65-year old Classics professor, he is so pedantic and insistent that everything is done 'just so'. There is no room for variation. I imagine I would be a bad candidate for someone caring for an elderly person too. I have not even begun to explore that type of caring. I suppose I could just let the child do what it wants, stay up all night and live on crisps for 17 days, but I worry the school will then get upset and complain. His school is unwilling to act in loco parentis on any occasion (e.g. when the child is vomiting they simply stick him/her in the corridor and shriek down the telephone for the parent to come and collect the child no matter what they might be doing), but is happy to police what it feels is wrong at home. The lack of compliance with what seems even a sensible suggestion got me to such a state last night that I was tempted to telephone social services and get the child taken into foster care saying his mother had skipped off across the Atlantic, which, in fact is the truth. Selfishly, though doing that would mean the end of the mortgage payments from her and me having to move for the fifth time in four years. Of course if this stressful situation leads me to a heart attack then that will have to occur anyway, so it might be just a matter of time. There are 11 days still to go and a lot could happen in that time.
Anyway, men, learn from me. Do not let yourself be tricked into looking after a child for more than a few hours. It is a near impossible task especially as you are having to start from scratch with the child and they will fight tooth and nail to adhere to their normal day-to-day pattern as well as trying to see how far they can push you. If you find yourself in such a situation and are not trapped by financial arrangements, blame the mother for desertion and hand the child over to social services, they are trained for dealing with these things, you are not.
P.P. 22/01/2009, my health was deteriorating as a result of my blood pressure rocketing due to looking after the child. My head felt like it was in a vice, my breathing was laboured and I had pain all down my left side. My emailed demand to the woman to return from the USA led her to send her sister immediately to collect the child and he has gone away to stay with her. The woman is furious that I have failed in my duty and is trying to fly back early though this is proving difficult due to the Obama effect. Naturally she is equally angry that I have wrecked her holiday. I was in an impossible situation from the start, if I had tried to stop her going there would have been complaints (there are anyway now that I have asked her to come back) that I was restricting her life. Equally I am not physically or emotionally able to raised a child on my own, and I had said this all along.