Blog post -
'Being a father means the world to me'
Father’s Day Blog 1 – DCI James Fox, who works in the crime prevention, inclusion and engagement department.
We get shouted at, things thrown at us and the hours we put in can affect our sleep for years. We have to manage huge demands on our time, deal with conflicts every day, patch up injuries, learn about stuff we never thought we’d need to know and if we get told “I love you” it tends to be by an over-wrought person at 3am who's more often than not just been sick. Parenting definitely has a few parallels with policing!
I didn’t think I’d have kids. I came out at a time when being gay meant that being someone’s dad was probably not on the cards for me. However here we are, almost 30 years down the line, times have moved on and I’m married and we have a five year old. He’s an amazing, funny and exhausting bundle of love and germs (the child not the husband) and I’ve come to realise how much I’ve missed out on by not having had the opportunity to do this dad thing while I still had my pre-middle-age body, with limbs that functioned without complaint and energy levels that endured beyond 7.30pm.
We adopted rather than try the surrogate route, so avoided all the challenges of making and growing an actual human being from scratch and our local social services were great, but at times the adoption process felt unreasonably intrusive and quite brutal. We were asked questions that ‘natural’ parents never are, like… How much money do you have? What is your relationship with your parents like? Will you fill your pond in? Will you get your dogs assessed by a canine psychologist? What are the names of your ex-partners; we’ll need to get references from them? Can you undertake hours of childcare experience?
It goes on, and this is all before we were asked to think about what sort of relationship we might want with our son’s birth parents in the future. Once you have spent months being quizzed by social workers and filling in forms, taking part in courses and doing reflective ‘homework’ you get to go to a Panel, where some strangers interrogate you on what you’ve said during the course of the preceding months.
On the whole we were very lucky and the process was handled quite sensitively and surprisingly quickly (10 months beginning to end). That said there were definitely were some very tough days and even weeks and the process tests your relationship and your resolve to be a parent, often to the limits.
Once we got through the panel we were sent a pack by our social worker. In it was a short report with a photo of a chubby, blond kid on the front. We spend the next few days pouring over every detail and pleading with the social worker for a better photo. (The one on the front made him look like an Aryan, pocket-sized Benny Hill). More information and photos were provided and within a few days we were smitten and we told our social worker that we’d like to proceed to the next stage.
They don’t let you engage with the child the first time you see them, (unless they are under a year old). You can understand why. You don’t know how that meeting will go or what you will feel, so it wouldn’t be fair for them to spend a couple of hours hanging out with potential parents only for something to go wrong. That said I was not prepared for how difficult this first contact would be.
We were told to go to a garden centre café, near our son’s foster family home. With stomachs doing somersaults we brought some coffees, which would not be touched, and found a table in the middle of the room. After what felt like a few thousand years (possibly more like eight minutes) we saw the social worker walk in with the foster family. Then a wobbly but determined 15 month old came into view. He shot straight past the café and to a little toy display area, where he proceeded to grab whatever he could get his mitts on. They somehow wrangled him into a kiddie-seat a couple of tables away from us and extracted the pilfered plastic frog he was now sucking on… and he stared straight at us.
I just sat there staring back at this little boy who I had already decided was my son and suddenly none of the bureaucracy, health and safety checks or the utterly invasive and judgemental reviews into every facet of our life mattered. There he was, the little lad I’d spent the last few weeks daydreaming about, picturing how I’d teach him to ride a bike, how I’d read him stories before bedtime and all that Pixar schmaltzy stuff… but because of the process I couldn’t cuddle him or even say hi. So there I sat… and stared at him. It was the most wonderful and bizarrely horrible experience I’ve ever had, being so close to and at the same time cut off from the child that I’d wanted for so long. Afterwards we sat in the car park, a bit shell shocked, and plotted revenge on social services for being so cruel.
After that we had some more writing to do, to try and articulate why we wanted to adopt him specifically. A few weeks after those forms went in there was another panel, where they explored why we felt like it would be a good fit and how we’d be able to cope with our son’s particular issues. Mercifully they then took only 15 minutes to say they were happy for us to proceed. A few days later we got a date when we could meet him properly and start introductions. Introduction periods vary, ours was to be over two weeks but for some people this can last much longer. It depends on the needs of the child as they have all gone through different things.
While we were waiting we got a cuddly dinosaur, Hector. We took pictures of Hector and us around our home and then came up with a story about how much fun we were all having, but how much more fun it would be if we had a son too. We made this into a book and sent it along with Hector to the foster family and they read it to him every night. The day my adoption leave started we went to the foster family’s home and he seemed to recognise us from the book (or maybe as those fellas who stared at him at the garden centre) and he spent the following two hours jumping all over us. Time worked in reverse here, and those hours felt like a few minutes.
Each day of the next two weeks we spent more and more time with him. During the second week we stared to take him on day trips and then to our house but always having to take him back to the foster home. At the end of the second week the foster family brought him to ours, they stopped for a cup of tea and then they went, and he was home.
I had limited ideas on how to keep him entertained in those early days, so for much of the following weeks I marched around the local countryside with him strapped to my back pointing a cows, shouting ‘MOO’, and horses, ‘NEIGH’ and, well, you get the idea. He said ‘MOO’ first… but a few weeks later he called me Daddy.
I’ve been hugely lucky. My husband is amazing. Adoption was my idea initially, he was ok with us having lots of holidays and disposable income, (weirdo) but he’s now the embodiment of a loving, supportive Dad, as I knew he would be… and he barely ever (at least weekly) mentions what our life was like before, the peace and quiet, the nights out, the ability to relax for more than 6 seconds at a time. I’ve also had very supportive and caring line managers and colleagues, some of who had adopted themselves and kindly shared their experiences with me.
I adore the little egomaniac that now runs my life. His laugh (usually at my expense) makes every exhausted, inadequate-feeling moment somehow melt away, but like many parents in the police I've found striking the balance between being a good parent and being good at my job incredibly difficult at times. Thankfully there’s lots of support through the Met families’ team and HR and they helped me set up an Adoption Support Group. We try and help each other navigate the choppy and slightly terrifying voyage to and through adoptive parenthood. Some days are plain sailing but on others there are outright mutinies and scurvy seems an ever present risk (he lives on cheese), but just knowing that there’s another boat nearby, particularly when you’re worried that you’re sinking, helps somehow to keep you afloat. (Warning; adoption may lead to excessively laboured and slightly emotional analogies!)
Being a father means the world to me and it’s a particularly big deal in our house as there’s two of us, so the pressure is on at school for our boy to glue twice the amount of assorted gubbins to random toilet roll carcasses. (Where do they getting them all from? Our house has steadily filled up with the decorated insides of other people’s loo rolls and there’s only so many times you can tell him the dog has got to them before he starts to resent the poor mutt.) To all the other dads out there, however you became one, I hope you have a truly great Father’s Day and I hope you manage a decent game face when presented with whatever random cardboard based ‘art’ you are gifted by your pride and joy.