****We caught up with TV presenter and actor Jake Quickenden about family life with wife Sophie, stepson Freddie and son Leo, his plans for Father’s Day and his mental health tips for new dads.
I always wanted to be a dad. I've got two nieces and I'm a godparent to my best friend's little boy, so I've always wanted to be a dad. When I met Sophie Freddie was quite young, so I kind of got a taster straightaway as part of a blended family. And then Leo has come along. I think being a dad is the most rewarding special thing you can do. Obviously it changes your life massively, how you look at life and how you navigate life. But for me, being a dad has been the best thing that's ever happened to me. There's nothing I enjoy more than doing stuff with Leo and Freddie. And even though there's some hard days and it can be testing and you're tired, it's just incredible.
I still remember everything my dad taught me
I kind of knew it would be hard because my best friends all had babies before me, and they used to ring me and they’d look like something off The Walking Dead. And then along came Leo, and the sleepless nights and the sleep deprivation, and I was like, actually, yeah, this is a lot harder than I first anticipated. But I expected it to be challenging, because you're raising another human being, and trying to teach them all the good morals that have been taught me by my parents. I lost my dad when I was 20. So I got 20 years with him and I still remember everything that he told me and everything that he kind of instilled in me. So that’s what I'm trying to do for the boys now. Freddie’s got his dad as well so he's got an amazing role model there. So for me, it's just to kind of be a friend for Freddie and try and raise Leo as well as I possibly can as well.
I felt helpless when Leo was a newborn
I think the most challenging thing about being a dad was the sleep loss and figuring out how I could support Sophie as much as I could at the beginning, and maybe not looking after myself as much as I should have. I felt like I was in the way and I think a lot of partners can get that feeling like “what do you want me to do?” because it felt like there's not much I can do. We bottle fed Leo so luckily I could get up and do the night feeds but a lot of the time Leo wanted to be settled by Sophie. So yeah I really struggled with some of the newborn stages. I remember feeling helpless and a bit of a burden and a little bit in the way because I'm there trying to help. I think a lot of partners probably go through that exact same feeling as well. I tried to do the old typical male thing and be as strong as I could and get on with it.
But I did struggle, I had burnout and I did find myself sitting on the bed and letting a few tears out every now and again with Sophie, and admitting like “this is just this is so hard, I'm so tired”. I think it is a sleep deprivation thing and once that goes and you all start sleeping more, it just becomes so much more enjoyable.
We’d love to have another baby, it’ll be hard again, but we’re kind of ready for it this time. We're not putting too much pressure on it. But if it happens, it happens. And we'd be delighted. If we do it a second time round, I think communication is key, like I maybe didn't communicate as much as I should have with how I was feeling. So we'll see what the next few months bring.
I’m willing to embrace every second, even the dirty nappies!
Now Leo’s at the toddler stage, which I absolutely love. Everyone always says ‘What's your favourite stage’ and I can't really pick, like in the baby stage I absolutely adored the fact that they were always there for cuddles. Now I have to pin him down if I want to cuddle, he’s just off, he's running around, he's into everything, he’s in the snack cupboard 24/7, he is a little machine!
Honestly, I can’t pick a favourite thing about being a dad, it’s everything from him learning to speak and the first steps just everything that's happened, all those little milestones. We went into his nursery the other day for a little teacher meeting and I absolutely love listening to how he's interacting with other kids and this little personality is developing. Like I said there are challenges but I'm willing to embrace every little second of it, even the dirty nappies – I'm no good with mess and I've got the worst gag reflex in the world, like if I smell something that's gone off I’m heaving, but for some reason when it's your own kid you just get on with it. Now if he's got a snotty nose I just wipe it with my fingers, there are no boundaries, all my nice clothes have now got some kind of weird stain!
I’m less selfish than before I was a dad
I don't put myself first anymore, with everything that I do now I'm thinking about how it will affect the family. I work away a lot, and even though it's hard I always just think everything that I'm doing is for the future of them. So obviously making money is important, I want to give them a nice life, I want to be able to take them away on holiday. So it's just a selflessness, I'm definitely less selfish than before I was before I was a dad, before you've got any responsibilities.
My dad was a very friendly guy, he used to light up the room. He was six foot three, and he was a big skinhead covered in tattoos, and you'd think he looked quite unapproachable but he was the most approachable person ever. He taught me to treat other people how you want to be treated, and I try and be the same, like flashing someone a smile and just say morning and just being polite. Manners cost nothing, and that's what my parents always instilled in me and what I try and instill in the boys too.
You’ve got to make time for your relationship as a couple
Obviously becoming a parent changes your relationship in the beginning, because you've got to make an effort to put time aside for yourself. And you've got to realise that it's important to not feel bad to take this time to yourself as a couple, give yourself permission to get a babysitter or send them to the grandparents for a few nights. You've got to make more time for your relationship and for yourself, it's very important. If the relationship is strong, then your parenting will be strong. And if everyone's happy, then everything just runs more smoothly. So I think that's how our relationship has changed, communication has become a lot better and we talk things through now rather than just getting moody with each other, and going quiet for a few hours. Because you can't really do that when you've got kids.
Like I opened up to Sophie when I was struggling with my mental health and that’s the best advice I can give to another parent who is struggling, be as open and honest as you possibly can with your partner. And if you are having a down day, then it's absolutely fine. If you are having a bad day, then the next day will be better. And you've just kind of got to look at your baby or toddler, and think to yourself you've made that and you're there to look after them. It’s so important to communicate, to open up. Don't ever be afraid to show your feelings and express them to your partner because it'll just make everything so much easier.
I just want a handmade card and to spend time with my family
This Father's Day I'm actually playing in a charity football match for Ahead of the Game Foundation, in memory of Tom Parker, so it’s going to be like a family day out, I'm going to play and help raise some money and then just enjoy the day out. I think there's some activities on and it'd be nice for Freddie and Leo to watch me play football. Freddie is really into his footie at the minute and I want Leo to get into it too, I keep giving him the football or try to kick him, but he just picks it up and runs off, maybe he’ll be a rugby player instead! Then I'll probably have a glass of wine and have a toast to my dad as well.
Sophie gets the boys to make Father’s Day cards. There's nothing on them, it's just scribble but I love them, it’s that little bit more special when they do it themselves. That's all I want and that's all I need, just a handmade card and just to spend time with them, time is the most valuable currency that we've got. You can lose money, you can make money. But if you lose time, you don't get it back. So you’ve got to embrace every minute.