The reality of being a stay-at-home dad? Couldn’t wait for them to go to school – now I can’t wait for them to come home

In between the habitual routines of parenting there is to be found both a joy that is unmatched and its downside 

Mark Piggott
Sunday 28 May 2017 15:38 BST
Nappy days: being a papa is packed with contradictions but is it ultimately worth it? Think so
Nappy days: being a papa is packed with contradictions but is it ultimately worth it? Think so (Getty)

Daughter, 13, insists on being woken at 6.30am so she can watch Gumball from under blankets for 75 minutes before frantically dressing, filling her schoolbag (which weighs the same as a Stella 18-pack), and finding her phone, ID and Oyster cards as I peer furtively through the blind in search of her three friends, who every morning on the dot of eight stand on the corner, waiting: punctual, punctilious. Often they’re early – but then, they are only Year Eights.

Rising at 6.30am is problematic as the previous night I’ve been drinking wine while watching the latest box set or, three nights a week, working till 12 for a news website. Which is why it’s wife who tends to rise at 6.30. I come upstairs (due to an architectural peculiarity, our bedroom is in the basement) a tad after 7am, groaning. Son, 10, rises even later than I do, so mornings are pretty frenetic until wife drives off to Walthamstow, daughter vanishes round the corner and son and I leave for school.

After trekking down Junction Road, we walk through a park beside a reservoir perched high on a hill with incredible views of London. Wild parakeets in the trees and King Crow, who stomps across the wormy slopes each morning like a baronet. Every Tuesday, a man who dangles gymnast hoops from the swings and manoeuvres like an Olympian. (Also dangling: little bags of poo-pourri on every bush. Why, dog-owners, why?)

As son hunts for moles and groundhogs I walk in a daze, praying I don’t bump into another parent and end up having to make small talk. After almost 10 years (apart from that ill-advised nine-month escape to the country influenced by property-porn shows), I have nothing more to say: nothing to declare but my paralysis, as I put it in a book that didn’t sell.

Son, 10, doesn’t do small talk: he talks of antimatter and galaxy clusters, clean energy inventions and our forthcoming Great American Road Trip. One morning we meet one of his little friends, whose father regales me thus: “Your boy is pretty smart, ain’t he? Knows about space and that. So can I ask you a question? Is the world really round? Cos I’ve been watching this documentary on YouTube and it says the world is flat. Cos if you go up in a plane it’s all, like, flat –”

I assure the parent that having circumnavigated the earth, I have never yet fallen off. But incidents like this are the reason I wear sunglasses rain, wind or shine – none of which are happening. What has happened to the weather? When did it stop? I like telling son, 10, how when I was a lad on the Yorkshire Moors we had snowdrifts to the roof and often missed school for weeks. Only when we reach the school gate do I realise this might be a bit tactless.

Son, 10, vanishes through the gate. I feel that daily guilt, abrogating my responsibility, allowing others to fill my children’s heads with all the stuff I don’t know so I can do – what? Write my Great British Novel. Empty the lazy dishwasher. It’s funny. When the kids were small – so recently I can still smell ripe nappies – I used to dream of this: time to myself, an empty house. Now I find myself counting the hours till 3.30pm because life without them is so boring, rational, utilitarian. The nest’s not yet empty but they’re feathering up for flight.

On the walk home I make a detour past the home of the Great Author: he sometimes stands in the window, probably because his detached home is so stuffed with Bookers and Nobels he can’t move. He often describes his dread of death: he is childless. Once you have children, watch them thrive and grow, you know they are going to make things better and, though you’ll miss them when you leave and you know (hope) they’ll also miss you. They’re going to appreciate the time and space of your absence, when you no longer walk them to the school gate and they emerge fully equipped for the journey to come.

I always walk home slowly after the school drop: the house is big when it’s empty, and these days that’s a lot. Sometimes, instead of using the Sainsbury’s self-service, I get my milk from the Turkish office. It’s slightly more expensive, and there are three other two-litre bottles in the fridge, but it’s the only time between 9am and 3.30pm I’ll hear another human voice, see someone smile. Yep: if it wasn’t for the fatigue, crushing boredom, frustration and loneliness, mine would be an enviable life.

Mark Piggott is an author and journalist

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