Suburban Man: Ferry Tales

Back in a regular job, the lessons about fatherhood continue

Picture by Angela Keoghan Over the past few weeks, I’ve become a commuter. Every morning, I get up at six and a bit and walk the dog and then I shower and get changed and make a coffee and run to the ferry.

I walk up through the city’s towers with all the other people who have real jobs. Some days — when Ira goes to a grandparent or day care and Hannah goes to work and takes the dog — all four of us drive into the city down the carpool lane.

I left my last real job in 2007 — 2007! — and for the better part of a decade I’ve made my way in the world with only my wits and a keyboard and a cellphone and lots of late nights filing to deadlines. It has been exciting and challenging, and I’ve learned a lot.

It was great when I was single and could walk out the door of my flat and fly off somewhere: once I went to the South Island for four days, got stuck in the snow and came back a few weeks later.

It’s harder with a family and a mortgage, and so a while back, I decided it was time to do something else. I’m a trifle surprised that someone is willing to pay me a salary to do so. I work the day in an airy, open-plan office in a former bus shed, all black steel and plywood, and there are people to talk to and bagels for lunch and all the rituals of office life — up to the printer, back to your desk.

There is etiquette: do you say good morning and hello to people who work in the same area as you but are not on your team? Do you say hello to the people you know by sight but not by name? I struggle with toasting bagels in the kitchen for my lunch: preparing food in public is so awkward.

I walk back down the hill and get on the ferry to head home. If it’s fine, I sit upstairs, and on Fridays, I buy a beer from the bar and contemplate the very fine view you get from the water of Birkenhead and Beach Haven, and generally marvel at my luck.

Then I walk to our home and do the things that dads do, like burst in the door and pull funny faces and generally make a ruckus as I hold my son upside down until he burps while the dog races around in circles.

If I’m honest, I sometimes find being a father utterly fucking terrifying.

The strangest part about all of this is that despite being out of the house the whole day, I feel more available than I did before. I worked at home for the first year of Ira’s life and as a result I’ve been there and not there, present and yet not.

When you work at home, work never really leaves you: sometimes I’d find myself overseeing Ira’s bath, staring absent-mindedly into space while he played.

Actually, that’s a lie. I have no model for any of this, you see, and if I’m honest, I sometimes find being a father utterly fucking terrifying, and when that happens, I find myself panicking and then I become a bit distant and in doing so I become everything I said I wouldn’t. At which point Hannah gets very cross indeed, which is fair enough. More men should have partners like her.

I’m learning about all of this, you see, and for this, I can highly recommend Our Boys by Richard Aston and Ruth Kerr, who helpfully advise that really, the best way to be a dad is to stop worrying, "lean in", stop thinking and just be involved and interested.

You can’t be a perfect dad but you can just be Dad. Which is what I’m doing, one ferry trip at a time.

 

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Metro.