The Truth About Fatherhood: Ben Turner, Beyond the Stork

Ben Turner, Beyond the Stork

“It’s really important to have a few dad mates locally, going through the same pressures and challenges, that you can go to the pub with and just let it all out.” Founder of Beyond the Stork, Ben Turner, on fatherhood…

Ben Turner, 36, lives in south east London with his wife Claire and two children: Billy, three, Olivia, 16 months. He works as a civil servant by day and has launched a family outdoor clothing brand – Beyond the Stork – from the kitchen table…

“I definitely planned on having a family, I’m not sure why – it was just something I always knew I wanted. There was never any doubt in my mind. We were incredibly lucky and conceived within a month or two both times… we know so many that have struggled for various reasons and certainly don’t take it for granted.

Other than Claire hogging the gas and air, the birth was fine. Just kidding. But to be honest – I wasn’t 100% sure what I should be doing. I think I felt pretty well informed before we went in; we’d done the NCT course and had a great team of community midwives. I didn’t really have too many questions.

The early days with our firstborn? Panic, sheer panic… I remember vividly being in the hospital and the midwife handing me Billy to do his first nappy. I obviously just looked blankly at her as she took him off me and said: “Shall I do this one?”. I must have just nodded and mumbled then watched on intently trying to remember the steps for when my time came… now I could probably do it blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back!

The other vivid memory I have is of getting home with Billy, that’s when it really started to sink in. Here was this tiny human that we were now responsible for. I think we were both in shock that night and being exhausted didn’t help.

It was difficult, for both of us in different ways, but I think by the time I went back to work after two weeks we had a lot of the routine stuff down. However, every new thing that cropped up seemed to send us into a bit of a panic: Billy being sick in the middle of the night for the first time for example! I don’t think it got any easier; we just got better at dealing with things.

With Olivia, it definitely seemed different, like we were old hands! In lots of ways it was much easier, we knew what we were doing. Mostly. But in other ways it is much harder – there is no respite once you have two, particularly as we have no family nearby. Billy obviously wants our attention and that is difficult while Olivia is so reliant on us. This was easier when Claire was on mat leave, but when she went back to work the evening routine became challenging and Billy is often left to amuse himself while whoever is at home does bath time etc. We need to work on that and to try and synchronise bath time.

I returned to work as a civil servant after paternity leave with Billy. The transition was difficult because I wanted to be able to support Claire through those first few months but didn’t feel I could do so effectively being stuck at my desk. I also took two weeks paternity leave with Olivia, and was lucky to be able to take a month’s Shared Parental Leave when Claire went back to work. It was definitely easier with Olivia because we had a well-established local group of friends who also had kids. The hardest part now is trying to balance work, nursery runs and running Beyond the Stork.

Fatherhood in one sentence? An amazing, exhausting journey through the unknown.

You and your partner have to make time for each other, that’s the biggest change. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in daily life, kids, house, nursery runs, work, that you can forget to make time for each other. This is even harder as we don’t have family around to help with the childcare.

It’s a bit cliché but I have found I can cope on a lot less sleep than I used to. I’m tired and grumpy a lot of the time but for the most part can at least still function! The other thing I didn’t realise would be so important, and it took good 18 months to come, is the importance of having a good ‘dad crew’ around you.

As I’ve got older a lot of my friends have fallen away for various reasons –geography and time being the main ones – and it’s really important to have a few dad mates locally, going through the same pressures and challenges that you can go to the pub with and just let it all out. I have a good group of dads local to me and we go out once or twice a month. It’s nice to know other people are experiencing the same things you are.

Before embarking on parenthood I was told lots of things, one that sticks in my mind is: “You don’t know what tired is until you have number two”, which I kind of brushed off. How right they were, having two has been so much harder than just having one. I do wish someone had told me how much nurseries cost… I might have chosen a different path to parenthood had I known!

But I honestly wouldn’t change any of it. It’s had its ups and downs but that’s all part of the experience. To want to go back and change things suggests regret and I don’t do regret.

My advice to expectant parents? For the first couple of weeks after the arrival limit visitors, even close family… we did this and it makes a difference. The last thing you’ll want to be doing is entertaining guests. The second bit of advice is to fill the freezer with home-cooked stuff that you can reheat easily; it’s amazing how much pressure this takes off you in those early days/weeks.

The greatest challenge I face, as a father, is balancing everything… and this isn’t just about being a father but being a parent. It’s a daily juggling act. Simple tasks seem to take so much longer. But it’s all made worthwhile by the unconditional love you feel.”