My man jokingly refers to himself as ‘The Benign Stranger’ and is brutally honest about his experiences as a dad. He tells other men who are expecting, ‘The first three months you may as well not even be there. All they want is their mummy and the boob… But once they are toddlers, that’s when you get to actually enjoy being a dad.’
He doesn’t mean to sound like he didn’t/doesn’t enjoy being a dad pre-toddler (because he has enjoyed ‘the whole fathering thing’ a lot) but there is a lot of truth in what he says. Playing Dad can feel like being ‘The Benign Stranger’ until the little person/little people begin to gain some independence and are more able to interact with figures ‘other’ than their mother.
Why ‘The Benign Stranger’?
Let’s analyse it. Grammar hats on now.
The (definite article)
He is the one and only. There is only one of him. He is ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’ but one of our children cannot yet call him that – so he is an ‘It’ or a ‘Thing’ and thus a ‘The’. He is not ‘a’ or one of many. He is ‘the’ person (other to mum) and he is ‘the’ man that comes home from work and leaves for work but always returns home. ‘The’ is capitalised because it is his title. Even though he is less familiar than Mummy, he is THE other mummy (as it were). He is ‘THE’ other provider of cuddles and companionship, of rough-housing and fun and, and, and…
The Stranger is benign because he can be described by all of the following synonyms: kind, warm-hearted, good-natured, friendly, warm, affectionate, agreeable, tender, tender-hearted, soft-hearted, sympathetic, compassionate, considerate, thoughtful, helpful, obliging, accommodating, benevolent and caring.
He is the arms that are there when Mummy’s are busy. He is even the preferred arms sometimes. He is the strong-hold that lifts a little spirit higher than Mummy can reach. He is the mountain upon which little feet climb. He is the rock. He is the foundation. He is the heart of our family.
He is benign in another sense (which I think he refers to) in that he does ‘invade’ the family when he comes home. Sometimes it takes him a while to comfortably change out of his work-hat into his home-hat (one definitely needs a man cave…). Sometimes he can feel benign because he doesn’t know the home routines as well as mummy, he can’t read the baby signs as well as mummy, he doesn’t know how to fold the washing as well as mummy – but he is there and he tries and it counts.
I think he might also mean benign as feeling ‘ineffectual’ because he cannot take control of all parenting responsibilities. Deep down, men like to be in control or at least feel like they can take control let’s face it. The ineffectual feeling comes about because he has felt helpless watching a zombified mummy dragging her feet to yet another night feed, felt bad leaving armloads of crying at the door, felt worse when work has meant that he has come home too late to kiss the children goodnight. But if that sense of the word has crept into his conscience, it is dead wrong (for the record).
The first definition of ‘stranger’ is “a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.”
The reality of having children is that one parent needs to stay home to look after them, at least for the first few months (or in our case ongoing…) A ‘normal’ working day often requires the working parent to leave before the children are up and to come home after they are in bed. The reality of being that parent is that you are less familiar to your children even if you might be the second most familiar person to them in the grand scheme of things.
The second definition of ‘stranger’ is “a person who does not know, or is not known in, a particular place or community.” Dads can feel like ‘a stranger in these parts’ when they come home purely because the nest has been taken over by another little life form’s needs.
Thirdly ‘stranger’ can mean “a person entirely unaccustomed to (a feeling, experience, or situation).” And it is this definition that might stick with more dad-figures than just our one. Women have nine months to adjust to the idea of a new life form growing and by nature, feel more ready to meet the new life than their male counterparts. Even the most ‘hands on’ dad during maternity couldn’t know the love-links that grow during pregnancy. Men can take longer to bond with babies and the conceptual adjustment of ‘becoming a dad’ has begotten screeds of literature because it is indeed a STRANGE feeling to get used to.
Fast forward two years and The Benign Stranger is not really so strange. In fact he is the favourite in our house. Him leaving for work results in mega-meltdowns. Him coming home from work causes faces to light up and a scurry of feet to the door.
Though the role of father is tricksy terrain and he may still refer to himself (tongue in cheek now) as ‘The Benign Stranger’; to us he is Daddy – the devoted and dependable big person we look forward to seeing every day, even if he is a bit strange.
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