Many parents have been there and many have winced and crumbled at the sight of their child wailing as they are carried away from your arms by their wonderful nursery carer. My experience this morning was visceral in every sense. As I handed my son over to his key carer I watched the calmness crash out of his face to be replaced by anguish and an imploring soul sapping cry as he stared at me. I felt the invisible heartstrings straining between us as he was carried away from me and I stumbled further into the room to follow his innocent, vulnerable cries. Reassured by the calm, collected carer, I steeled myself and turned for the door while being bombarded by the continuing sounds of my son’s cries. The lurching, sinking weight in my stomach continued to pull me down as I headed out of the main building and into the courtyard. Few psychological torture techniques could have the emotional power of this experience.
I used the title ‘something dystopian’ to equate the oppressive, crushing experience of my first official nursery drop-off for my son with those often described in dystopian fiction. Of course, I know that my son is being very well looked after as I type these words. I know that I will be picking him up in around 90 minutes time. I know that he will get more familiar with this routine as time passes and he learns to expect our routine every week. In contrast, dystopian fictions often outline the despair and seeming hopelessness of such experiences. Where dystopian fiction does align with my own experiences is the coping strategies that protagonists employ to cope. For me, this blog post is a means of processing and reflecting on my experience. My phone call to my wife was another, and my text to my mum was another. It is the act of sharing and mutual reassurance that subverts the oppressive forces that act upon us. If we suffer in silence, or allow our emotions to be silenced, we become the embodiment of dystopian oppression.
My re-embodied masculinity journey took a step forward today because of this bodily caring experience. I handed over my son in a symbolic act of mutual trust and abandonment of my parental responsibilities as a carer in lieu of my other responsibilities as a provider. This juxtaposition of care and abandonment is an element of masculinity that was previously relatively unfamiliar to me. I have gained a greater sense of the inner conflict that I presume other parents feel when doing the drop off. I have certainly heard about it through general discourse in media discussions, but the real experience brings the emotions into clear focus. I do not presume to suggest that I have somehow had an epiphany today, but I do believe the physical aspect of parenting involves a spectrum of emotions. If you don’t engage in all aspects of physical care, you nullify your sense of self and limiting your growth beyond the hegemonic masculine model. Parenting is not just reading, play and bath time, it is tears, nappies and rocking to sleep too.
Re-embodiment requires that you embrace this collage of emotion and internalise these feelings as a part of who you are. Only through reflection and discourse can men take steps towards a caring masculinity that benefits them, their children and society as a whole.