“Life With Charlie” chronicles the adventures of Darren Mattock and his boy-wonder, Charlie, as they navigate together the daring and darling world of fathers and sons.
I became dad to my son Charlie at age thirty-three. I always wanted to be a dad; I knew it was my calling. However, I had no idea how much my life would be transformed by becoming dad.
As a heartbroken nine year-old boy I made a pact with myself that I was going to be a different man and dad than my own father was. I carried this promise with me throughout my life as if it were a sacred handwritten note, folded up and always in my top pocket, so I would never forget.
I had made up my mind that Charlie was going to be a girl. Then, finally, I had my becoming dad moment. Holding my newborn son for the first time remains, to this day, one of the greatest moments I have ever lived! Yet, it was also one of the most frightening.
Time slowed down and I was hit by the blinding light of clarity. The gravity of Charlie being a boy was my first hit of a profound insight. I could see so clearly that this was both an opportunity, and a challenge, to face my masculine lineage; to heal, grow and evolve as a man and a dad. I can remember the sheer intensity of that realisation but inside, in my shock, all I could manage was, “Oh, fuck!”
All this is to say that when I go back I knew I had a choice to make to answer the call, or not. Holding Charlie against my chest, my heart exploded. Without thinking, I already knew my answer. I already loved him and the source of this new love was unlike anything I had ever known. I pulled baby boy near, looked right into his eyes and whispered, “Yes. Let’s do this.” And that’s how we began as father and son in this life together.
That was almost eight years ago. What a journey it has been and continues to be.
Life with Charlie now. Firstly, I’m a single dad and have been over three years. Cha is with me half of the time. I have intentionally designed my life such that when Charlie is with me I am completely with him. I have been a part-time stay at home dad all of his life. I do school drop-offs, pick-ups, school holidays, and I don’t work when it’s our time. I am there as much as I possibly can be to create and share life with him.
Charlie’s mum is an amazing co-parent. He truly is at the centre of everything we do and how we do it. Nobody gets Cha like she does (except for me, of course!) and we exchange daily messages with shares and updates about our boy. It feels like a great thing for all of us that we’re able to do that. It not only maintains connection, it strengthens it.
All this is to say that when I go back I see how Charlie thrives having this foundation. He loves his two houses, his life and his people fiercely. And we love him just as fiercely. This has been some of my healing. As a boy, I was in Charlie’s shoes and my experience was very different. In fact, it was deeply traumatic. A little piece of me heals every time I witness Charlie getting caught in the net of love and safety that surrounds him.
Most significantly for me, becoming dad to Charlie inspired me to discover my life’s work and purpose. I’m now an established expectant and new dad specialist, and the Founder of Becoming Dad. I’m a man on a mission to create more opportunities for dads to be the best dads they can and want to be, right from the start, when it really matters and counts.
I love my work-Charlie-life balance. When I’m not being dad to Charlie, I am working on Becoming Dad and helping other dads. It makes our time apart more bearable and purposeful.
To circle back, core to my parenting philosophy is to be there as much as I can. I have managed to maintain my work-Charlie-life balance but not without sacrifice. We live very small and minimalist in comparison to many. We don’t have much ‘stuff’ and I live on the edge financially most of the time. For me, it has been a conscious choice to prioritize being dad to Charlie above everything else.
I’m working to create a balance and flow that is less edgy that it has been at times, which has been one of my personal challenges and a source of anxiety I’ve carried as a solo dad. At times, I’ve deeply questioned what I’m doing. That part of me that desperately doesn’t want to screw this fatherhood gig up has put the spotlight on the dad I am for a reality check.
In those times of doubt, concern and fear, I keep finding my way back to the foundation I have in me and with Charlie. I know how much my constant presence means to both of us. I love how much life and love we pack into our 50%! And I have faith in the importance and purpose of my work. I just keep going, keep persisting and keep showing up to do and give my best.
All this is to say that when I go back I would best describe my parenting style as ‘influence through love and connection’. Having grown up with a violent and abusive dad, one of the different choices and promises I made to my nine year-old self is that I would break that cycle. Whenever I am triggered by Charlie and make the choice to be with him peacefully by influencing him through love and connection, a little part of me is healed.
I’m by no means perfect. I am probably most guilty of over-compensating in my efforts to give Charlie the life I want him to have. I’m aware of this and know it’s a dynamic I need to keep a constant eye on. Ultimately, I figure that I’d rather have the balance tipped more this way than the other. To be more and give more than less.
That essentially sums up life with Charlie. It is infinitely more than I ever imagined it could or would be. Becoming his dad has made me a better human and man. I’m grateful beyond words or measure that I was gifted a son to heal, grow and share life. Now, I can’t imagine life any other way.
Darren Mattock is the Founder of Becoming Dad, an online community for expectant and new fathers helping dads be the best men, partners and dads they can be, right from the start.
Photo credit: Darren Mattock.