Just before my son came home, I began a sabbatical from my day job – the rather essential one that pays all the bills. My first job was at the less-than-tender age of 16, when I was a Saturday boy at Waitrose. I worked on the tills, pushed trolleys around the car park, and occasionally helped out in the frozen food and wine departments. Half my family have worked at Waitrose over the years, which certainly helped me get a job there, and I spent a fairly lively two years there whilst I studied for my A-Levels.
I never had a desire to work in the retail trade – I wasn’t ever very good at it, to tell the truth – so went onto a range of other jobs over the years. Some I enjoyed, others I loathed with the intensity of a thousand suns. I’ve never earned enough from my writing career to just do that, but I have a skill set that enables me to work in other sectors as well. I’m quite grateful for that; it’s meant I’ve been able to meet some incredibly interesting people, work in areas I’ve been very proud of, and learnt so much about the world because I’ve come into contact with people I agree with and – perhaps more profoundly – disagree with.
But when I began the adoption journey, I was conscious this might need to change. I was willing to change my lifestyle in order to welcome a child into my child – and be welcomed into theirs as well – so my work life would end up being very different to how it had been.
In March, as I was getting ready to collect my son, I began my adoption leave. It felt very strange, leaving the office that Friday afternoon, knowing that I wouldn’t be back for quite some time. Work had always been a huge, defining part of my life that to not be there was odd. I am under no illusions, let me say; I do not believe that I am indispensable. The job was going to carry on without me; someone else had got the job whilst I was away, and I trusted him implicitly to do the job.
So to become a full-time dad for a large number of months was a new experience; I’d never been a father before, and now here I was doing it full-time. This child was looking to me as a responsible adult, and it was scary; I’ve coordinated projects, supervised staff, and dealt with complex and sensitive information for people in dire need of help. But looking after a single child with a diverse past was the most intense experience I was ever going to experience.
I soon settled into it, I like to think; it was tough, but we bonded and my love for him occurred almost instantaneously. The changes to my lifestyle were absolutely worth it, and I regret not a single moment.
Fast forward eight months, and I am due to work very soon. Over the time I’ve been off, I’ve been into the office every now and then to keep in touch with what’s going on; I’ve been able to contribute in different ways, and see what my colleagues have been working on – as well as getting to know new members of staff.
It’s also enabled me to decide what I want my career to look like for a while. Do I want to continue working full-time whilst my son is young? I thought long and hard about it, and the answer is no. I had left work on my adoption leave with the full intention of returning full-time, albeit with the plan to work a couple of days at home. But over the intervening months, my opinion began to change; I wanted to be a connected dad, and didn’t want to only see my son for five minutes before bed and just be responsible for the morning routine and nothing else. I wanted to continue enjoying his company in every way I could, and not just rushing around to earn a higher wage.
I knew I could afford part-time work, so could I negotiate that? Thankfully, I’ve got a good team at work, and my bosses were open to the suggestion; after some careful discussions around the different possibilities, it was signed, sealed, and delivered pretty quickly.
So now our family has to adjust to a new dynamic; the past eight months have, in a way, been a false positive. I’ve not been working, so I’ve been there to pick my son up from school every day – hearing the stories about his day, sharing my stories with him, and being the first one to filter the news into a cohesive whole to help him formulate a narrative about his own life.
But that had to come to an end, and I’m not surprised to realise to miss that every day – and why I’ve made the right decision to only go back to work three days a week. It’s an adjustment for my son as well, to change his routine; he’s been able to get to school early and play with his friends before the day starts, and leave school every day to go straight to his own home. He’ll still be able to do this two days a week, but on Mondays through Wednesdays, we’ll have a new routine that he needs to deal with.
I’m confident he’ll adjust; he’s adjusted to moving half-way across the country well enough, so this is a minor change by comparison. That said, I need to deal with it delicately; this is the first time his primary caregiver has gone out to work and had to leave him in the care of his wider support network. It’ll be novel and fun to start with, undoubtedly, but then the routine will kick in, and it’ll be interesting to see how well he adjusts to that.
In all honestly, he’ll probably adjust to it better than me; every time I’ve gone into work for a keeping in touch day, I’ve felt rather odd about leaving my son with other people – even though those people are ones he cares for very deeply and feels completely safe with. It’s entirely my issue to deal with, not his, and I need to reflect my own good behaviour. Easier said than done, of course.
So come November, I’ll be negotiating a new set of roles and responsibilities – that, in fact, I’ve experienced for a long time. Now, however, I’m fusing them together into some kind of new combined unit that’s never existed before, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.