Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer. This is his column for Esquire.
IT WAS NEW YEAR’S EVE when my wife and I had a big Come To Jesus moment. We’d planned to go to a friend’s house with a daughter of similar age to ours, feed them an early dinner and then put them to bed before spending the rest of the night drinking and eating with our mates in the backyard. Instead, our two-year-old daughter got high off sugar, completely lost her mind and ran around screaming like she was on Molly many hours after she was meant to be asleep. Eventually it all got so out of hand that we had to cut our losses and bundle her home—in the opposite direction to revellers just starting their night—where we sat alone in our house, hungry and sober. We fell asleep before midnight.
There was a lesson in this and we both knew it. My wife, who had spent at least half the party in the darkness of our friends’ spare bedroom trying vainly to get our kid down, voiced it best: “We need to stop pretending like we’re not parents.” At the time, I was stuck listening to my terrible neighbours blast house remixes of Kings Of Leon as the countdown approached, and I found this all a bit unfair. But she was right. We had temporarily forgotten the very real fact that we were adults with a young child, yet we thought if we were blasé and casual enough about it, we could somehow be responsible and irresponsible simultaneously.
To be clear: we are not bad or negligent parents. We are just in the subcategory of young people with kids who refuse on principle to give up their entire social lives because of said kid. There are variations on this theme, including parents that still party way too hard and make it the babysitter’s problem, as well as couples where one is an introvert and happy to stay home while the other goes out to socialise.
Indeed, this is the standard operating procedure for most parents of my generation; you save hired help for special occasions and you are otherwise ships in the night, heading out alone without your partner. This makes sense from a resourcing perspective but also economically. (Babysitters in my LGA make more per hour these days than I do.)
But it’s not ideal when you want to go out together after bath time more than once a quarter.
That’s how you end up in situations like our friends and I have found ourselves in, where we try to combine both and guarantee some semblance of a nice evening with each other. My fellow dad friend Felix and I have coined a term for this: Dad denial. It’s when you perform all the duties of being a father, while suspending the belief that you actually are one. You go to gigs and then have to deal with toddler wake up times. You buy a new surfboard when you don’t even have time for a 15-minute run. You fill your diary with plans but forget how tired you are. Part of this is existential: you don’t want to feel old, so you try to slightly modify the things you love that made you feel young. But the majority of it is delusional, a notion that you can somehow crack the code of being up for anything while also being up at 1 a.m. changing nappies without either version of yourself suffering.
Because they are adorable masters of manipulation, our toddlers lull us into a false sense of security that enhances Dad Denial, wherein we believe they won’t smoosh avocado on our linen trousers, scare the nice babysitter looking after them for a few hours or pull every single book off the shelf just because they can. Us parents think we’ve mastered something more complex than a Rubik’s cube and the original Tetris combined, but forget that it’s also rapidly developing, AI-style, every single minute. Also, we love them unconditionally. Gross.
Maybe it’s a developmental step for men, Dad Denial. Halfway between getting a stick and poke tattoo and buying a Ferrari, around the same time you realise skinny jeans are no longer your friend. But as I waltz around in my straight-leg Levis era, I’m starting to feel more OK with it. It’s a privilege to be a Dad, even when it means giving up some of the stuff you used to love.
But most importantly, you can’t really wedge a car seat into a Ferrari, so by the time I get there, that one will be all mine.
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see every one of Jonno’s columns for Esquire here.