Fatherhood; it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Sorry Charles Dickens for stealing your thunder, but it’s true. Being a dad is one of the most wonderful things to ever happen to me, as well as one of the most terrifying.
I’ve been a father for 11 years now, which is long enough to be able to reflect somewhat on the journey so far, and also long enough for me to be able to say that I know absolutely nothing and if you’re reading this, then take everything said with a grain of salt and a large dose of scepticism (believe me, I would).
My journey, as all journeys do, begins at the beginning, or more clearly, when a mummy and a daddy loved each other very much, because my own birth family experience greatly shaped my own journey towards fatherhood.
Born in 1982, my parents separated within a few years of my birth, and my own father didn’t figure much in my upbringing for a number of years. When he did come back on the scene, things weren’t smooth, and, well, that’s a tale for a different time.
Needless to say, by the time I was married and considering children of my own, I had a lot of apprehensions. Would I be a good dad? Would my kids love me? Would my wife throw things at me and call me names for daring to even suggest that “having kids would be a great idea”? Would this all end in tears and a lot of alcohol, and me walking alone into the distance to live out my days as some kind of modern day swaggie?
The wife and I, we talked about adoption, but here in Australia, it’s not really an option. We talked about fostering children in need, but the system is not the best, and we didn’t think we could deal with the heartbreak when we had to give them back. So, kids, the old-fashioned way. Yup. Not that practising for such isn’t fun, but how would I go with the whole pregnancy and childbirth thing? How would she? So many unknowns…
So we decided on getting a dog instead, just for the moment, to give ourselves some time to adjust and grow up a bit.
I bought the first dog I picked up that I wasn’t allergic to. That was New Year’s Eve, 2007.
The wife laughed to herself, and said,
“You know I’ll be pregnant by the end of 2008 now, don’t you?”
She was pregnant by the end of February.
Together we faced the challenges of morning sickness, of tenderness and swelling, of questions from friends and family, scans, needles, birth classes, and all the well-intentioned interference that goes on around pregnancy.
The day finally rolled around, but I had no idea. I was asleep when her waters broke, and I somehow slept through that happening, slept through her cleaning it up, and only woke up when she poked me into consciousness several hours later.
Great start there, dad-to-be, I thought to myself.
Called the Maternity Admissions ward, and at first they wanted to have an argument with me. Could they speak with my wife? No, I told them, she’s in the middle of a contraction and is out of breath. How far apart are the contractions? I told them, and they made disbelieving noises. Can I bring her in? I asked them, and they sort of sighed, first-time parents, what would they know? But sure, sure, bring her in.
So we had a breakfast of cold pizza, and I drove her in while she held my hand and made noises entirely appropriate for trying to push a watermelon out a hole the size of a lemon.
We got into the ward, they gave her an examination room, and a disgruntled nurse goes in to see her, coming out a few moments later looking panicked.
“Get her a bed, now!”
Several hours passed.
If this was a game, I had just unlocked an achievement, a lesser one than my wife to be sure, but an achievement nonetheless; I didn’t freak out during the birth despite the three trainee midwives they had attending us, and the more seasoned ones who came and went during the ordeal.
And so I finally received the fruits of her labour as I held my firstborn son for the first time, and amidst the relief and joy, I felt a chord of panic.
What on earth do I do now?
[Photo by Christian Bowen