Award-winning author, screenwriter, lecturer and father-of-one, Joe Stretch, talks taxis to work after a sleepless night and his new-found love of relaxing…
Joe Stretch on writing, teaching and fatherhood
“I work at Manchester Metropolitan University. Although when my daughter was born I was at Keele University. But I also work from home a lot, particularly out of term time. My daughter was born in summer, so I was around quite a bit, although I had a film script to work on. Officially, I took two weeks off.
I remember wishing I could take more time off, like six months. But I also remember resenting having to take any time off at all. Work was sometimes surreal because of sleeplessness, but really it was much the same – colleagues were great. And there were certainly days, after sleepless nights, where work felt like a real bonus, and I felt bad leaving my partner and daughter behind.
“I drink moderately from 7pm. I’ve become recklessly keen on relaxation. I’m reliant, existentially, on Premiership Football, which depresses me, but keeps me going”
I used to have a horror commute, from Manchester to Staffordshire, which meant I was leaving at seven and getting home at 7/8pm. I’d never minded the commute until I had a child, but overnight I realised it wasn’t great. I started getting taxis instead of buses and it was costing me a fortune. Then I was lucky – a job came up nearer to where I live.
These days, and from about six months, we split putting our daughter to bed 50/50. I cook. I drink moderately from 7pm. I’ve become recklessly keen on relaxation. I’m reliant, existentially, on Premiership Football, which depresses me, but keeps me going.
I work in my office at home or in my office in Manchester. I write novels and screenplays. For a while, after my daughter was born, I tried to be quite disciplined – staying at my desk etc. But sometimes in that line of work you have to walk around a shopping centre or a park for a few hours. So, I do that sometimes.
My trick throughout the last year has been ‘go to bed early’. In the very early months, I was shocked by how much my daughter slept. I’d often get up at 4am and go and work in my office for a few hours because I’d been in bed since 8pm. Then she stopped sleeping and there’s a good two or three months I don’t really remember.
For me the hardest thing is, if you’re married or have a partner, making sure that the work in the house (cleaning, cooking) and the work involved in looking after the baby, is divided fairly
My partner went back to work part-time after a year and we now use the nursery three days a week. It’s not like I imagined. I imagined it to be pretty bleak – babies chained to radiators manufacturing iPhones etc. But actually it’s great.
The things they do, unless the ‘aunties’ are lying, are mind-blowing. The types of play that would be trickier/exhausting in a one-on-one scenario. Financially it’s difficult but at the same time I wish we paid more, as wages in the sector seem really unfair.
I guess I just want balance between the two worlds. Too much of either wouldn’t be great, unless I didn’t have to make money, then I’d like to hang around with my daughter much more. I love it when she’s ill, in a way, when I can take a day off and we can go for a fry up in Debenhams.
For me the hardest thing is, if you’re married or have a partner, making sure that the work in the house (cleaning, cooking) and the work involved in looking after the baby, is divided fairly. It’s easy for both of you to feel, simultaneously, like you’re doing the most, because there’s so much to do. I appreciate more these days how demanding it is to be a single parent. They deserve all the help and respect they get. In fact they deserve much more of both.
Since about four months I’ve taken my daughter swimming every Saturday morning. I’ve maybe missed about three weeks in that time. It feels like the keystone of our relationship. In the early days it was a way of learning to take care of her for longer periods, and outside, which used to terrify me.
But it just worked. She was often pretty sleepy after a long swim, so then I could push her around for an hour or so, then when she woke I’d give her food or milk. And somehow we got better at hanging out. I don’t know. For me, swimming was great. But I guess my advice is: find something that you can do, just the two of you, that you both enjoy, and then do it routinely if possible.”
Have you read The Adult by Joe Stretch? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below…