One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me about parenting was that when you have a rare chunk of free time, to plan your day meticulously.
It seems counter-intuitive at first, but if you don’t, the advice goes that you’ll just waste precious time – as soon as your partner and child leave the house, you’ll be running round in circles, working out what to do first: Have a beer? Play video games? Cook a steak? Have a wank? And the risk is that you’ll just panic, do none of the things, and end up in a YouTube wormhole, feeling worthless.
When my son was around five months old, I remember feeling like I hadn’t had a moment to myself in ages. Most days I just went to and from the office, with perhaps a trip to the supermarket in between for occasional excitement. But one week, my wife said she was going with our son to stay with a friend for the night. It was a Tuesday, but I managed to wangle a half day from work, and I’d have it all to myself.
The other side of this is that I’ve always been terrible at spending time on my own and, as a father, often when you get a rare bit of time to yourself, there isn’t time to corral your other mates to do something fun (they’ve got kids too after all), so you need to learn to spend quality time on your own. Or at least I did.
The point is, that when I was faced with time to myself, I’d feel a little nervous of doing what I always did when I was on my own, which was to feel bored and a bit depressed, as soon as the first wave of excitement had passed.
But not this time, because I was going to plan it properly.
I left work at lunchtime, went to the gym, grabbed a bite to eat and a beer, and walked leisurely in the sunshine to Selfridges and swanned around for a bit. Realising fairly quickly that I couldn’t really afford anything in the shop, I asked the shop assistant where the bar was, and went downstairs to get a drink.
On the way, I noticed a walk in back-rub area, so I booked a massage. I had half an hour to kill, which was easily enough time for a martini. In fact, since the barman was so good, and I don’t like my martinis warm, I drank it fast enough to have a second, and by the time I’d had my massage, I was practically floating.
I got home, the cleaner had been and, with no baby in the house, it was still actually noticeable as opposed to looking just as messy as always but with slightly shinier taps.
I ordered a takeaway, rolled a joint in the garden, then came back in and enjoyed watching a film at a normal volume for the first time since my son had been born.
I went to bed later that night seriously considering whether I could be some kind of consultant to new fathers, to help them plan their spare time, such was the success of my day; I was living my best life at an elite level.
As fathers, we’re constantly seeing incredible moments, as our children learn to sit, to stand, to walk, to run, to speak, to love, but that one perfect, entirely selfish day, remains one of my best memories since becoming a dad, and I’m not sorry.
So, I repeat the advice of my friend to you – if you get even a sniff of spare time, plan it properly, and make it count.