I’m obviously not the first climber to have children and I certainly won’t be the last; but I am another one. I’m sure my story isn’t even that different: started climbing in my late teens, fell in love with it, got obsessed, climbed six sessions a week, got strong, got good, found my niche. Met a girl, climbed less, other things started coming into life, other commitments. Got pregnant (her, not me) and was told that was it, climbing was over.
The thing with climbers, though, is they are a tenacious bunch. They don’t like being told they can’t do something; it spurs them on. So many great climbers have been told they’ll never climb again and maybe that’s what makes them great? What it does do is remind you how much passion you have for it.
No, I thought. Fuck that. I’m not letting parenthood stop me from doing what I want, from being who I am. I’ll change, sure, I have no choice in that, but it’s not going to suddenly make me a different person. I don’t want to spend my time resenting my daughter for stopping me from doing what I love. I don’t want the photos of her as a child be accompanied by a sullen looking father, petulant and moody, desperate to find those few spare hours to get to the crag or the wall. No, I’m going to gel these two huge and wonderful aspects of my new life together; I’m going to be a climbing parent, to go with being a climbing person.
She came along and fitted in instantly—like she’d always meant to be part of our lives. Instantly things changed in our lives, only we’d been preparing for this since the previous summer so it wasn’t really that much of a surprise. Social activities had already calmed down as my other half got larger and larger, wall sessions being more and more solo activities and never without a phone close nearby.
Within a fortnight of her birth and we were back at the wall, baby sprawled out on the pads. But even then everything was different. Now we dipped in and out of a session, with other responsibilities to think about. Stopping to have a tea was replaced by stopping to feed Rosie a bottle, or taking a break to change a nappy.
People say it's luck, but they’re wrong. I’m in this situation because of the choices I made, because of the support I’ve gathered from a wonderful partner who I knew from the very start would be there to encourage me and help me, because of the choices we made together. I knew what I wanted and I was striving to make it happen.
Oscar Wilde said, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, the other is getting it”. But he’s not always right. I’d spent years waiting and pining for this partner, for this child to come into my life. Now she’s here, I’m not going to forget that. I’m a father now, I have dependents, someone relying on me. Is it a tragedy having what I want? Not in the slightest and with every passing day, every time I see her smile again or she learns something new, it makes me love her even more.
I wanted to be with her, spend time with her, teach her and learn about who she was. I wanted to see her develop just as much as he mother did and we both wanted her to spend time with me too. We wanted a child who learnt from both her parents, for her own benefit.
Parental leave in the UK, on the face of it, is very one sided; a year off for mum, a fortnight for dad—only the system is more complex than that. Two weeks is your paternity leave as a father, but that doesn’t have to be it. There’s Shared Parental Leave where you can split that time more evenly, if you both want to. We did, as we wanted our daughter to have more time with both her parents. I did as I wanted to go climbing.
Her mum took the first six months and then it was my turn. Then I was off, we were getting out, we were making the most of this! The new local guide had just been released and I was itching to explore new places, new crags, new lines. First though, slow it down, stick with the familiar, go with the places you know.
I packed the pad, the climbing bag, shoes and brushes and added nappies, muslin and bottles. Throw in the child as well and it weighed a tonne but once at the crag, it was totally worth it. Baby on the play mat, me on the boulders, repeating old familiar lines and playing with my daughter on the breaks. It was bliss.
Sat there, in the shadow of the mountains, chalk on my hands, a little smiling face looking happily at me and my smiling face looking back. We did it, we were out, we defied the odds and ignored the naysayers. You can still be a climber and a parent and you can do it on your own terms. Yes there’s compromise but if you want it enough, you can make it work. And when it does, it’s like a bonus tick every time you stop to rest.
North Wales based boulderer and dad