We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
My name is Steve, I am 34. I have been with my wife Jessica for 14 years, married for 11.
We have three boys, Jack 16, Freddie 10, and George who is 8. You may have noticed from the difference in their ages that Jack is my stepson. Well, technically he is, but in my eyes he’s no different to the other two – they’re all my sons.
You see, at the age of 21 I became an instant father to a two-year-old boy. I was not under any pressure to be a father to him, but the woman I fell for had a son and I was more than happy to become part of the family unit.
It was scary. I won’t lie about that. I wasn’t far removed from being a child myself, and being brutally honest, I was still very much a child, emotionally speaking. Thinking of what was best for Jack and Jessica, took time, because I’d only ever had to think of what was best for myself.
Becoming a dad was amazing though. Jessica was doing a fantastic job of raising Jack and I wanted to contribute to the excellent work she was already doing. I was very lucky, I think, that Jack was a genuinely lovely boy, which made my learning process a lot smoother.
Nursery pick-ups, play dates, sleepless nights when he was poorly – I helped with all these things. I felt like his dad, I was being his dad. That’s what dads do. It’s what parents do. Sure, my DNA may not be there, but my influence and love certainly are.
My wife and I decided in 2007 we wanted another child, but after a year of negative results we had the heartbreak of an ectopic pregnancy, which, if you don’t know what that is, is when the egg gets stuck in the fallopian tube. This could have been fatal if not caught early, or my wife could have lost her tubes, preventing her from having any more children.
Luckily, my wife was physically ok, but emotionally, we were both obviously devastated.
Despite being told it might be difficult to get pregnant again, we miraculously did so about three months later. We seemingly suffered further heartbreak when the day after we had our twelve-week scan my wife bled heavily, whilst I was at work. We rushed to the hospital on a Friday night, and we were told we had 99.9% miscarried and should come back Monday morning for a scan to confirm this.
We had the worst weekend, as I’m sure you can imagine.
I had to pretend I was fine as my wife was devastated that she’d lost our baby.
Monday morning came and we went for the scan.
What felt like a miracle appeared on the screen: our baby’s heart was beating – Freddie’s heart was beating!
I remember just breaking down in tears, in disbelief and relief. We went through the rest of the pregnancy on egg shells, but thankfully with no further problems Freddie was born in 2008, in perfect health.
I had been a dad for three years already, but now I was going through things for the first time. Pregnancy as a concept, for starters.
The sleepless nights, for instance, should come with a more serious health warning. The lack of sleep, the feeling like you’ll never sleep again, feels like it’s lasting for ever. But don’t worry, they don’t last forever. It’s only a tiny part of your life in the grand scheme of things.
The pressure on your relationship will be huge but remember you’re both going through it together. Talk to each other. Support each other. You’re a team.
So, now you’re a dad of a new-born.
It’s scary. It’s intimidating. You have this tiny, delicate baby, and you are just expected to know what to do. I was incredibly lucky that my wife had been through this before, but remember that I hadn’t, and it was incredibly daunting.
Jack still needed taking to school. I still had to go to work. Nappies needed changing – I got peed on quite a lot, until I found my technique! You question if you can do it. Am I good enough? I didn’t have a lot of friends who were dads, so I felt quite alone. Looking back, I should probably have sought out other dads for support – if I could go back and do it again, I would.
Luckily, when having our third – George – three years later, I felt more prepared, but again those worries and doubts still crept in. How can I love another child as much as I love my other children? How was Freddie going to react to a new baby coming along, potentially getting all the attention? Will Jack feel as if he is slipping down the pecking order? These are all natural worries, but thing are in your control.
I used to pick Jack up from school, and take him to the Cinema, then dinner, just me and him. Or I would take Freddie to the park, again just the two of us. Time. Giving them your time is the most important thing. It means everything to a child. Don’t get me wrong, we did, and still do so much together as a five. However, one on one time is massively important.
One of the biggest misconceptions about children is that they don’t understand. They are often dismissed as not important and that their thoughts and opinions are irrelevant. Well, they do understand.
They might not be able to communicate it properly, but they do understand. They are like little sponges, soaking up everything around them, both positive and negative. If they ask for something, and the answer is “no”, then explain why it’s a no.
My children would always ask for food just before dinner. I’d explain to them that dinner wouldn’t be long, and if they ate something now, then they wouldn’t eat their dinner. If I had just said no, they would understandably have been upset or angry – frustrated – because they hadn’t been given a reason for my answer.
It might not stop a tantrum every time, but it certainly could lessen the velocity and length.
Raising them to be good people... should be easy. Should be obvious. But it isn’t.
How our parents bring us up shapes the adults we become, whether good or bad. I want to bring my boys up ensuring they know right from wrong, but that is a huge challenge. I want them to treat everybody with respect – black, white, gay, straight, male or female. Those details are irrelevant. I’m teaching my children that there are nice people and there are mean people, and this is because of their actions and behaviour, not because of a specific characteristic.
This is challenging in an era of social media.
I think social media is a fantastic thing in so many ways. But also full of so many dangers. For me, as a parent, this is the biggest challenge: I can’t ask my parents for advice, or even draw on my own experience, because of course it’s still such a relatively new platform.
Trying to keep up with apps and sites is hard, and even then, I have to understand how they work. I’m trying to ensure my boys use the internet and social media responsibly and safely. After all, there are a lot of adults I know who don’t use it correctly, so it’s a huge ask for children to be able to know all of the dangers.
I regularly remind them that once you’ve posted something online, it’s out there forever. You can never take it back! I’m making them aware and accountable for their behaviour. Telling them that they will see hatred, discrimination and they must not accept it. They must Report it and challenge it. It will be hard. But it must be done. (I would like to say, briefly, that only my 16-year-old has social media at this time, because my other 2 boys are too young!)
Another factor in raising them to be respectful people is how to ignore stereotypes.
In my house, we all do the chores. Cooking, cleaning, washing.
These have been seen, and by many are still seen, as “women’s jobs,” but not in my house. They are family jobs. I want my boys to be strong and independent. Knowing that they could leave home and cook themselves dinner, keep their flat clean and tidy, fills me with great pride.
If ever we have to do flat pack/DIY, then it’s my wife who excels at this! I’m useless at it! Some people see DIY as a manly pursuit – and that I’m less manly for not doing it – but it’s just another family job in my house. We are a team, and we want to help each other, to make everybody’s lives easier.
It’s hard teaching them to be respectful when they go to school for a large part of their lives, because of course there will be children there that aren’t behaving in a respectful way to them, other children or teachers.
Children want to mimic other behaviours, or find it unfair that their friends get away with something they have been told not to do. It’s tough, but you have to be strong, knowing you are doing the right thing, that you are encouraging positive behaviour.
If they get hit at school, we have told them not to hit back. Sure, we have told them to defend themselves if necessary, by blocking if needed, but ultimately hope that they can talk the situation down. We have told them to tell the person hitting them to stop. To say no.
Again, this is hard, but think about it – as an adult you cannot just fight each other. I know some people think this makes them “weak”, but I disagree. I think they are showing greater strength by saying no; by challenging someone else’s unacceptable behaviour. Where would we end up, if everyone just fought?
I haven’t mentioned yet that I am a prison officer.
I meet people every day who have used their anger to try and settle their issues and it’s put them in prison.
I try to take my principles into my job. I try making a difference by teaching the prisoners I work with closely how to manage their emotions.
As people we struggle with our emotions. We are never really told how to manage them. Anger, sadness, anxiety – any of them to be honest.
As an adult it’s hard to manage your emotions, let alone if you’re a child. So if I can encourage my boys to talk, to show them that talking and understanding both their own and other people’s feelings can change the way they behave and react in the future, I feel like I will have made a difference.
I want my boys to go through life being happy and confident with who they are. If they can do that, and I’ve helped, I’ll be a very happy dad.