Why changing nappies in my late 40s has been good for my career

Aviva’s Shaun Fordyce shares his experience of extended parental leave.

In March of this year, I was fortunate enough to become a Father for the first time when my wife Caragh brought our son Noah into the world.

Within 5 minutes of being born, he’d said his first word. As he was passed to his mum, he opened his eyes, lifted his head, looked her in the eyes and said “Oouuch”, which I think is a rather fair summary of the previous few hours.

Even then, in those initial bewildering moments when you’re struggling to comprehend the magnitude of meeting your child for the first time, I distinctly remember thinking how blessed I was to have 4 months of Parental Leave ahead of me to get to know him, to really be there for his first foray into life, and for my wife and I to learn about parenting together.

I probably felt like that because I’m an “Old New Dad”. I’m 48. So I’ve had almost five decades of only thinking about myself to a greater or lesser extent. But suddenly, after so many years of that, I found myself responsible for a tiny human being. A life quite literally in my hands.

Most people only get 2 weeks off work. Not because they don’t care but because it’s all they get given, or all they can afford. But I needed to be there.

So for the first time, I stopped thinking about what was next and realised that I needed to focus on the now and be present for every single day because — as so many people have said to me — you only get this time once. And before you know it, they’re taller than you, hogging the bathroom and listening to shouty music.

Those four months allowed me to build a really strong relationship with my clever, curious and cheeky little boy. And that means he loves me and my wife equally. He knows we’re both there for him. I’m back at work now but every day I go home and he knows who I am when I walk through the door. It’s an indescribable feeling. Every day now builds on that solid 4 month foundation.

As you might have read recently, Aviva — where I have worked for 30 years — is now offering dads six months paternity on full pay (equal maternity/paternity leave). I obviously missed out on that (which my bank account is a little bit sad about!) but I think it’s amazing that all dads will now get to experience what I’ve experienced if they want to. Who doesn’t want to hallucinate from sleep deprivation?!

Being together to support each other and witness this tiny baby turn into a little boy with character and sense of humour has been (and continues to be) the most amazing experience. It has only served to make us stronger as a couple and a family.

There is not a doubt in my mind that one of the main reasons Noah is a very calm and content little boy is that he has had the benefit of us both from Day 1.

Maybe the most surprising outcome of this family time has been my attitude to what is and isn’t important in life. I now find myself caring and worrying less about the things I have no control over. Now I care about things like hearing “daddy” for the first time. What else is life about? What could be more fulfilling or uplifting than that?

The irony is, I feel more focussed at work, more loyal, more grateful. I want to deliver for my family AND my employer. Taking that time off has changed my attitude towards my life in general and if you’re lucky enough to be offered the time off when a little one arrives, then take it. You won’t regret it.

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Read more about Aviva’s equal paid parental leave policy.