“Can you remember what life was like before?” That’s the curious question I have heard so many times since becoming a dad four months ago. The notion that life would become so unrecognisable because of a baby is not without its merits. I’ve certainly never in my life had this many conversations about sleep patterns or bowel movements. I do however find some fault in the query. Life has changed and is changing, but I don’t believe it will change so much that I cannot enjoy the things I did before, or that I can’t be the same gamer-teacher-geek I’ve always been.
Admittedly, it’s early days. I think part of the reason I’m writing this is so that I can look back at the ‘father of four months’ version of me further down the line. He’s probably going to seem so naïve (and less grey haired). For now, I am that hopeful sole that sees his fatherhood as a life equally nerdy as what came before. How, when and why I enjoy my geekiness – my video games, Dungeons & Dragons, history and teaching – will change, but the last few weeks have taught me that the Geek is a Dad, and the Dad is always going to be a Geek.
What follows are my experiences of when the Geek parts of my life have met the Dad parts, where they have melded together successfully and where they have not. If you are reading this as a new parent or a ‘soon-to-be’, I hope you’ve had similar positive moments. If you are a Geek who wants children in the future, take this as a sign that you can still be that Geek when that new responsibility finds you.
Baby VS Video Games – 4 months in.
If you had told me I would play more video games when my baby was born… well I probably wouldn’t have laughed at you (partly because the geek in me would hope you were right) but I would certainly stare at you with bemusement.
Its true that I hadn’t been playing much in the months leading up to the birth. Days consisted mainly of going to work, coming home from school whenever I could, to look after my very pregnant wife, then marking books and planning lessons after she went to bed. I did have the occasional game of D&D booked but sitting down in front of the PC or PS4 was only happening on rare occasions. Hardly a crisis, but I was aware that one the ways I unwind after a long day wasn’t happening.
Yet after my daughter was born, I did play more video games. It wasn’t my intention. Playing video games didn’t really feel like something a new dad should be doing with a newborn in the house. When we arrived home, my wife was understandably exhausted, and I was all geared up to run around after my ladies and leave the hobbies on the shelf.
After five days in hospital, being told that she wasn’t allowed to walk for more than ten minutes a day and learning how to breastfeed, my wife was totally wiped out. The most challenging time of the day was late in the evening, when my daughter wanted to ‘cluster-feed’. This was something we’d learnt might happen: lots of little feeds at regular intervals. For my daughter, this was from 6pm to 10pm. A long, tiring time for my wife, and if the little one couldn’t get to sleep afterwards and wanted more food a few hours later, things would get a little stressful to say the least.
My solution, to allow mum and baby to sleep properly, was to take the little one into the living room at night. In those first few weeks, getting her to sleep in her Moses basket was wildly hit and miss, but if you cuddled her to your chest, she would tuck her legs up and sleep soundly for a good few hours. So, from 11pm or midnight, we’d cuddle on the sofa until 2 or 3 in the morning. Baby would get a good chunk of sleep and mummy would recharge.
It was in theses moments that I would play video games. Not since my university days had I dreamed of staying up late to game, but there I was. Pinned to the sofa by a snoozing bundle, with a mug of coffee and a Playstation controller within arm’s reach. The light from the TV was enough for me to see that she was okay without waking her, and gaming kept me awake and alert. It almost felt like a reward, stay up late and persevere and you get to play for 3 hours without feeling guilty.
The most curious part of this routine is that the first game I started playing was Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s curious because of how the game begins. The protagonist is introduced in the first scenes as a newborn baby. A ginger baby at that, matching my little lady. I’ve never become invested in a character so fast in my entire life. The combination of tiredness and the emotions of those days only heightened my connection with the protagonist, Aloy. I knew I was in trouble when she turned up as the young girl and I wanted to tell her to brush her hair properly…
That early routine soon improved. My wife recovered nicely, and breastfeeding became easier with practice. My daughter is also (for the time being) absolutely crushing it when it comes to her sleep patterns. She’s usually asleep by 11 at night and often sleeping through until 6, which if you didn’t know is pretty good going and probably not something I should brag about too much around other parents. This of course means that the early morning game sessions have come to an end.
If I game now, it’s after mum and baby have gone to bed. The benefits of this is that if my daughter hasn’t quite settled first time around, I can be there on the double, and its also very humanising. As a new parent, the routine can get a little heavy, so being able to game for an hour before bed keeps me mentally refreshed.
What I haven’t done too much of is playing video games when my daughter is awake and in the room. If she’s having a mid-morning nap at the weekend, I might switch the laptop on with the volume down, but only on a handful of occasions has she been aware of the games on screen. This is partly because we don’t want to get into too much of a pattern of tele watching, and if she’s up a alert I’d rather give her my full attention.
That’s not too say that she hasn’t seen a video game in action. She likes to sit on laps, facing outward watching the world, and more than once on a lazy half term holiday I have had my arms around her holding a controller. She seems to be quite a fan of the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC, Frozen Wilds. She obviously has no idea what’s going down on-screen, but the snowy mountain landscape creates the kind of contrast that young babies find so fascinating.
Either that, or she really wants to try out a bow and arrow.
So, whilst the order in which I do things in a day has altered drastically, and life has certainly shifted gears, being a father has not sapped the things I enjoy from my life. I may not play as often, but when I do, I appreciate that free time greatly. I also find myself more emotionally attached to a games’ compelling characters. Above all else, I am a Dad who has retained his inner Geek, in ways I had not expected.
I’ve just got to wait a little while now until I can introduce my daughter to the wonderful world of video games. Knowing my luck, she’ll probably rebel against me and join a football team. Or play cricket, her mum’s favourite sport. Either way, I’ll have to disown her…
If you’re a gamer and a parent, why not share your experiences below? If you’re a prospective parent, maybe you could share your thoughts on what you are hoping for when it comes to gaming and parenting.
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