You have to believe me: I never planned to write anything about becoming a father. I’ve written the obligatory Facebook post, in which I efficiently announced my son’s arrival and immediate retirement from social media, but I didn’t want to dribble on about it too much. It was my brother-in-law’s recent admission that he can’t remember anything about the very early months of his sons’ lives that prompted me to scribble down some thoughts. Both he and my sister claimed that these first few gruelling weeks of fatherhood will eventually be purged from my mind to make the thought of having a second child seem like a good idea. So I’m writing this now before the last few weeks of my life disappear down the memory hole.
So here’s the abridged version from the beginning.
The hospital stage of my wife’s labour was so fleeting, my memory of it plays at double speed to the soundtrack of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. She was amazing. The moment she crushed my hand, with hydraulic force, emitting a final animalistic growl as my son was pulled into the world and hoicked onto her chest, simply reinforced the fact that I had married a truly phenomenal woman. She’s a superwoman capable of enduring unimaginable pain and discomfort one minute, then lighting up the room with a beautiful and disarming smile the next. I simply couldn’t do what she did. I knocked my elbow on a shelf the other day and thought I was going to be sick with the sudden rush of pain. I also remember a difficult trip to the toilet a few years ago, when I nearly lost consciousness trying to pass what felt like a quad bike. Christ, that was scary.
As for my son, Jasper, his arrival made me gasp and cry at the bizarre wonderfulness of childbirth. Let’s face it, aside from maybe Chris Grayling and possibly David Van Day, who wouldn’t cry at such a mind-blowing, life-changing moment? I was so emotionally wobbly I even did things that I was extremely dubious about beforehand. I cut his umbilical cord, like a cack-handed local dignitary at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. And later on, I even grabbed the opportunity to gawp at the placenta before they took it away. I sometimes have to avert my eyes from a deep paper cut, so standing there like Paul Hollywood inspecting a disastrous ‘showstopper’ offering on The Great British Bake Off was like pressing the pause button on my squeamishness.
The three of us have been back home for nearly six weeks now, which is both challenging and rewarding…but mainly exhausting. On a recommendation from a friend, we bought something called ‘Ewan the Dream Sheep’ because we were told that it essentially made use of sorcery to ease restless babies into a “peaceful slumber”. To work its magic it plays real heartbeat and womb sound combinations that mimic the noises babies hear inside the womb (which also includes rain and a vacuum cleaner, presumably to prepare the baby for a lifetime of dismal British summers and the unending misery of housework). Lying next to my wife in the dead of night tormented by weird, repetitive ‘pink noise’ – while sleep-deprived and soaked in urine (some of it the baby’s) – our bedroom sometimes feels like the crèche at Abu Ghraib.
Inexperienced as we are at parenthood, I’m convinced that our son can sometimes smell our fear – especially mine. So far I’ve failed miserably to project a fake air of confidence to fool him. The second week we were home I almost cried during a midnight nappy and clothing change because I couldn’t get the vest over his head. Dressing a baby should be a challenge on The Cube. Sure, you can throw a ping-pong ball into a bin from distance and step over a low wall with a blindfold on, but can you wrestle this baby’s arm into the sleeve of its sleepsuit and dodge the arc of piss that could temporarily blind you at any given moment?
NO, I FUCKING CAN’T! OK! HAPPY NOW, PHIL?!
But the bits I treasure with my son are those moments of wide-eyed calm and unbearable cuteness. There’s a brief period in the morning before I leave for work – when my wife makes the most of not having a baby clamped on her breast and has a shower – where I just talk to him in a variety of ridiculous voices and kiss his little face off. I adore that time with him. You don’t get those moments back. And now I’ve written all of this down, it will escape the inevitable memory purge when we start thinking seriously about trying for a second child. But we’ll see how we get on with the Young Master first.