What on earth do I do now?
That’s the thought that went through my head. I held my newborn son in my arms, I looked down into his eyes, and in him I saw someone who would be completely reliant on my wife and me for his every need, someone who I could build up or break down by my words and actions, and someone who would love me regardless of how good a father I was.
Because, you know, no pressure or anything.
And it was only then, only then, that I understood the love that a father can have for his son.
I knew that I would do anything I could for him.
In the whirlwind that followed over the next ten hours we welcomed family to our room in the post-natal ward, we saw friends, I saw my wife consume a crazy amount of food (who knew that giving birth was hard work?), and I went home overnight when visitor’s hours ended.
I’d like to say that I stayed up and wrote a poem or painted a picture, or that maybe I constructed a cot with nothing but some deconstructed pallets and a handful of nails I pulled out of the back fence with my teeth, but the truth is that I played a videogame to calm my head, and went to bed, getting the best night of sleep I’d had in ages (pregnant women are often restless; if you didn’t know this, you do now).
My wife, on the other hand, did not sleep so well, due to the large number of machines that go PING!, and the fact that the nurses kept coming in every few hours to “make sure everything was okay”. Whilst well-intentioned, this remains ironic as it was probably the only night that Son 1 was able to sleep easily for the first six months of his life (more on that another time).
I returned in the morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to someone in the opposite frame of mind, and a small squiggly baby who did not want to be swaddled up, thank-you-very-much. Kid thought he was auditioning for a part in “Jail Break: The Movie”, and his escape skills showed that very well.
Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle.
Nope. We had an escapee.
The nurse grumpily said, “Here, you’re doing it wrong, let me show you,” which is how he ended up double-wrapped.
Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle.
Nope. He would not be contained!
He’d already done nine months on the inside, and freedom would be his, gosh darn it all!
“How about a bath then?” she asked in exasperation.
A bath. A bath?
My panicked expression must have been clear to her, just as it was to my wife, because one of them was trying to reassure me, the other seemed in disbelief that a fully-grown man would be worried about washing a baby. You can guess which was which.
So the nurse ran the water. Showed me how to check the temperature (with your elbow). Showed me the right depth (not very deep at all). Showed me how to cradle Son 1 in the water, and wash him gently.
“There, see? It’s okay,” she said.
Son 1 disagreed, and he let us know with much volume and pitch.
“I’ve broken him!” I wailed.
“You haven’t broken him, he’s just not sure what is going on. He’s just as confused and unsure as you are, probably more, because all he’s known for nine months is the safety of the womb, and now he’s out here where everything is bright and loud and utterly alien and terrifying.”
Is that what it is?
Is that how he feels?
I had already decided that I would do anything I could for him, but realising what that meant was another thing entirely.
To my son I would be the one who had gone before him. The one who would mark the path so that he could follow, the one who would journey with him and help him know right from wrong and weak from strong.
The one who would hold him while he cried.
Just as he was doing right then.
Am I up to this?
Then I remembered my own childhood, and I steeled myself.
For him, I will find a way to be who he needs me to be.
[Photo by Tim Bish