When I found out I was going to become a father I was 21 and halfway through my final year of university. I lived with my girlfriend in a cramped north London flat, cramming in coursework, dissertations and all-night partying. The notion of a baby wasn’t something we had considered!
I had lots of ideas about what to do after graduation, and suddenly my life was turned upside down. It meant I now had to approach my plan to become a film-maker differently, but it wasn’t impossible. But I hadn’t prepared for the reactions of my friends and family.
1. ‘We can work this out. It’ll be ok in the end.’
My parents’ response, although they’ve been a fantastic support all along. Their response perhaps epitomises everything wrong with society’s view on young fathers.
Becoming a dad should be something that’s celebrated, it’s a great thing and the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life. There should be a greater expectation for dads to step up and embrace parenthood and a greater support to enable them to do this. Reacting as though young parenthood is a problem makes the whole experience even more difficult.
Naturally there are countless challenges facing any young parent and it helps to be prepared and supported, but focusing only on the negatives made the pregnancy a struggle for myself and my partner.
Although parents will always worry about their children, it was hard being on the receiving end of what felt like constant negativity when my brain was already working overtime coping with the challenges we were facing!
2. ‘Don’t worry, because I can teach them to swim I’ll be their cool uncle!’
This was my best friend’s initial response when I shared the news.
He was the first person I told and while the statement seemed so wildly off-topic and low on my current list of priorities, in many ways he was genuinely excited and offering help and support in the best way he felt able, taking on some of the burden of responsibility he knew I must have been feeling.
3. ‘I thought you were better than this.’
This one came from one of my oldest friends and was the main reason I decided to make a film about my experiences. To him, you became a father when you were ‘ready’ ie not until your thirties, unless it happened accidentally to useless wasters, as he saw it.
Unfortunately this view is shared by many, they just didn’t see that there are fantastic young parents out there. It is such a narrow viewpoint not just of young parents but of parenting in general. Anyone with kids knows that there are pros and cons to having kids at any age and let’s face it, whenever it happens it’s hard!
Although friends offered support, it often felt like they were trying to help me ‘get away from it all’. I didn’t want this and of course at times it caused a rift between me and my girlfriend!
4. ‘We need to go out and celebrate!’
This well-meaning stock response came from many friends who didn’t seem to know how to react; or rather, they reacted in the only way they were used to when faced with big news: alcohol and partying!
They all wanted to be supportive but didn’t seem to want things to change. Our priorities were already beginning to shift and it was difficult to explain this new reality, but being pregnant limits your ability to engage in the usual twenty-something activities. For my girlfriend, physically and emotionally, things were very different now!
We were lucky enough to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe that summer and while we were excited to enjoy ourselves, we had to sometimes take things at a slower pace than our friends, and they sometimes struggled to get their heads round that.
How I dealt with negative comments as a young dad
These were just a few statements I regularly heard throughout the pregnancy and after the birth, and everyone genuinely believed they were being helpful. In fact they often made me feel like I was doing the wrong thing; their determination to share their personal opinions often added to the pressure and fear.
I found the best thing for me was to take time to myself and trust my gut because only I knew what it felt like to be me becoming a young father.
I’m glad we were able to make our situation work because being a dad has been life-changing. My daughter is a wonderful little person now with her own personality; she’s funny, clever and watching her grow up is such a privilege.
Parenting can be extremely challenging at times and each new chapter brings with it new obstacles but, with the right approach, they can be overcome and something positive created from it.
Dan is making a short film about his experience as a young dad, called Waiting. Learn more about the film in the crowdfunding video below: