The Distracted Dad


It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything, and this is why…

When you’re about to become a parent, friends and relatives offer well-meaning thoughts and advice. Stuff about the amount of sleep you can expect (“None! AHAHAHAHAHA,” was a common cackle), the time you’ll have together as a couple (“None! AHAHAHAHAHA), the help with nappies they might offer (“None! AHAHA-” you get the idea).

Now, some of those predictions came to pass when Kitty arrived, and some didn’t. But the thing I’ve been grappling with for the last few weeks is one that no-one mentioned, yet it’s something that everyone I speak to seems to recognise, and it’s this:

When a baby enters your life, you enter a permanent state of distraction.

Before Kitty arrived, at any given point my brain could be relied upon to be thinking about one of these things:

  • Should I drink one more coffee?

  • How ace would it be if I was Batman?

  • What would I do if I met Bruce Springsteen?

It didn’t matter that I’ve known the answers for years. (They go: of course, I don’t feel nearly worriedconfident enough; really ace; cry and cry and cry.) The mulling of them was part of my circadian rhythm. That, and a lingering regret about the ad-libs I made in the school play in 1987 (thanks, brain).

Post-Kitty, it goes like this:

  • Should I drink one more laundry?

  • How ace would it be if horsey horsey don’t you stop?

  • What would I do if I met Bruce Wayne? No, wait, Banner. No, Dickinson. Ah, crap.

Remember when you used to play Lemmings / Worms back in the day, and occasionally you’d forget to stop one of them tunnelling, and when you looked back the screen was a mess of tumbling, stumbling critters and gaps? That’s the inside of my head. I flit from half-completed thought to the next one, barely alighting on them as I go. My accounts are a hilarious shambles (lucky I’m not self-empl…dammit). I keep shifting our as-yet unpacked boxes from the house move round and round and round in a vain attempt to impose order.

That’s just internally. Externally, in group conversations I’m only ever partly there. If Kitty is within earshot, or just the same building, I’m focusing about nine percent of my attention on other people, and that’s when I’m really, really trying. My sentences sometimes grind to a halt because the thing I was aiming for at the end of them got lost somewhere along the way when I heard her cry, or when the dog tried to lick her face for the 873rd time. If she’s not there, I still barely get above 50 percent.

It’s not that I don’t want to be present. I do. I want to talk about the state of the world, keep the house and my business affairs in order, have discussions. Do some work. I really, really want to think about meeting Springsteen. But thoughts just get shunted aside with no chance for completion. Actually thinking about, planning and getting the shopping done online felt like a Herculean achievement.

It’s not tiredness, because we do OK with that side of things. It’s bandwidth. My boy brain simply can’t process the added baby info, so it gives up on other stuff in order to accommodate it. That’s why Kitty is clean, fed, has sweet-smelling laundry and sterilised dummies, and why I can tell you about eight month milestones, yet I can barely finish conversations, have emails left unanswered from the Spring and keep looking at the thing in the box in the fridge and never do anything about it. There’s no mental processing capacity left since so much of it is running the ‘Holy shit we need to keep this tiny human alive’ program.

Of course, I have solution to this distraction, and it’s to simply