ready

October 28, 2006

Excitement is somewhat overrated. That’s my conclusion. In my relatively short life, I have seen different countries and societies; some of them are stuck in deep poverty, struggling to breath under the weight of economic burdens, people eking out their lives on a day to day basis. Other times I have faced the occupation army and their guns, checkpoints and total control. I have never feared for my own life, but I have lived with people for whom sudden, bloody death is a part of everyday life. For whom life is a hard, grinding, struggle.

 

I have travelled alone, sleeping in motels, and seen so many bus stations that they fade into a blur of flickering strip lights, junk food cartons and naps stolen in the most uncomfortable of seats.

 

I have stood on railway bridges and street corners, been slumped in bars and cafés, heartbroken and lost.

 

It’s been good, by which I mean I’m glad I have experienced all of this. I wouldn’t be able to write this if I hadn’t.

 

But it’s enough. Now I’m ready to turn around, and see a small child run to their dad. Ready to take out the bins, and change a nappy. Ready for bath time, and keeping the voices down during bedtime. Ready for the fact that when I’m actually in it all, it won’t seem so attractive and will be hard. Today, at least, I feel ready.

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Today I wanted to write something by way of encouragement for those fathers, expectant or otherwise – and realistically, for me too. I was unsure what to say, since there is the ever present risk of descending into schmaltz or cliché. So in what may seem like a bit of an easy way out, I am going to copy out the words to a song by Bird York, called ‘In the Deep’.

 

Thought you had all the answers

to rest your heart upon

but something happens

don’t see it coming, now

you can’t stop yourself

now you’re out there swimming

in the deep

 

Life keeps tumbling you heart in circles

till you let go

till you shed your pride and you climb to heaven

and you throw yourself off

now you’re out there spinning in the deep

a change of perspective

October 23, 2006

Speaking as a young male, I am well aware of my tendency to assume that I am ‘invincible’. I think this could be true of young men in general, and for all I know, young women too. Now, personal circumstances and events might rattle this assurance, but it’s hard to genuinely shake. There have been a fair few moments in my life (not usually in this country it has to be said) where this underlying feeling of “I’ll be fine” has made me linger in places or situations where the risk to life and limb was a bit more unecessary than perhaps it needed to be.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, what I have noticed is that the prospect of fatherhood is chipping away at this sense of invulnerability – and I am feeling a tug on my arm (not literally, yet) when it comes to weighing up decisions in certain situations. At the risk of you laughing at me, but in the name of honesty,  when in town at night time, my desire to fend off potential muggers/drunks/trouble-makers is now slightly undermined by the knowledge that I am no longer living for myself. Of course, I never have been, in the sense that I have always had people who love me, but this time…it’s different.

I suppose one way of looking at it is that fatherhood has probably increased my life expectancy.

getting it right…

October 20, 2006

is pretty much impossible. By which I mean, all the time. Or everything. Just imagine. From the moment that child is in my arms, I am the only father the child will ever have. You only get one. How will I know what to do? How will I know whether to leave the child to cry that little bit more, or to go and run to the cot, and press the little body into my chest and whisper, ‘It’s alright’? How will I know when to draw the line over a particular issue with a petulant adolescent, and when to give lee-way and let my child learn from their own mistakes?

Instinct? My own experiences? Self-help books? Advice?

They all seem inadequate somehow. I guess we never really know one way or another if we are doing a ‘good job’ as parents. Some people look for more obvious indications of dysfunctionality in order to assess the performance of mum and of dad; truancy, mental illness, petty crime, substance abuse. But I have seen kids from the most stable backgrounds sink into the abyss, and others from the most inauspicious of domestic beginnings, rise with their dreams intact.

The thing is, there really isn’t any alternative apart from just getting on with it. Aware that becoming neurotic about how one is doing is a sure-fire way of really screwing up your child. I think we can assume some basics: unconditional love, understanding, communication, discipline, education, fun, time together… (what would your list look like?)

Then hope for the best.

you were always on my mind

October 18, 2006

You know when you have something on your mind, and suddenly, everything you do seems to remind you of this particular situation? Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately. The other day, for example, I went to help out a friend with a bit of garden work. At lunchtime we all traipsed into his house to grab a bite to eat with his family, and his little five year old girl, who still remembers me from when I used to baby-sit for them, engaged me in conversation from start to finish. And I just loved it. I think I’ve always liked children in this way, or at least, as long as I can remember. Sitting there, having this earnest conversation about something completely crazy, I just couldn’t help thinking about all the future chats I’m going to be having with Little Me. Of course, at this stage, I don’t know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl. But either way, I am anticipating having these heart-to-hearts about how much mayonnaise you can really put in a bread roll while keeping the whole thing edible, or about the logistics of digging a hole so deep, you reach Australia.

 

That wasn’t it though. In the evening of the same day, I went with a couple of friends to the cinema, to see this film called ‘Children of Men’. I won’t bore you with all the plot details, but the dramatic tension largely focuses around a young pregnant refugee girl who is the first woman to successfully conceive a child for decades, the action set in a chaotic future world of violence and social disintegration. The film was ok, sure, but during the birth scene I became incredibly wound up and tense, squirming in my seat, and almost holding my breath, willing for the birth to go without a hitch. And in my mind I was sitting in a maternity hospital room, watching a new life move and cry between my hands, and I thought that, barring any mishaps God forbid, the passage of time was leading me inevitably to this moment. And if that doesn’t sound too light and cheery, that’s because as amazing as it surely is, it’s also really scary.

the ‘real’

October 16, 2006

The problem at the moment is that it just doesn’t seem very, well, real. Here I am, banging away at a keyboard, and several thousand miles away, A is sitting around (looking at the time, I hope she’s asleep), carrying our child. But for me, currently, there isn’t really much discernible difference in my life compared to how it was say five months ago. I suppose this follows on really from yesterday’s thoughts about the female ownership of pregnancy, and subsequent male marginalisation, but with a possibly more whimsical tone.

I’ve heard it said that I am already a father, in the sense that the baby is there, growing, and just biding its time before popping out into the big wide world. That’s not intended as a statement one way or another on the nature of ante-natal ‘rights’ or abortion issues, it’s just something someone said to me. But if true, I feel I should be rather more ‘fatherly’ than I am currently. A is minding her diet, and I, despite my best intentions, regularly ransack the cupboards for an overlooked cake. A’s belly is getting fatter, and mine, despite the evidence of the previous sentence, is staying resolutely the same.

I must confess that I paused after that last paragraph to collect a parcel that just arrived. I ordered a second-hand copy of Frederick Leboyer’s book ‘Birth without violence’, apparently a classic, but one I had never heard of until A recommended I join her in reading it. At least the title is a good start, since I’m not sure who would contest such an idea, though one of my friends noted it sounded like the Scientologists. That rang a distant bell for me, since I recall hearing somewhere how Scientologists demand ‘silent’ births (if you are indeed a Scientologist, or simply a stickler for facts, please don’t be offended if this is a gross misrepresentation). But from what I could gather after a brief internet search, Leboyer seems more concerned with easing the newborn’s transition into a world without womb-like comfort than maintaining monastic silence throughout childbirth. There are plenty of pictures and white spaces in the text, so it shouldn’t take too long to read, and I’ll be sure to note down anything particularly interesting along the way.

But where was I?

 

Ah, yes. So, for me, there is a distinct element of the unreal about all of this. I mean, I talk about it all the time, I read books on it, I pray for the safety of mother and child, I sit down and write things like this, and yet…Shouldn’t I be feeling something stupendous if not all the time, at least for quite a lot of it? Shouldn’t I be using every waking hour to glean nuggets of wisdom from experience hands at this parenting game, or sit in contemplative silence meditating on the identity of fatherhood? But I’m not – for the casual fly-on-the-wall who’s given up trying to escape this hermetically sealed double-glazed house, it all seems to be business as usual for this young father-to-be. Perhaps ‘reality’ will seem more real when we’re out buying things for the new baby, setting up a room with a cot, dangling mobiles, and sympathetic colour schemes. Perhaps I will be suddenly and unexpectedly bowled over by the force of this new life in a surprise epiphany as I receive the 33rd cuddly toy gift. Or perhaps I will only really feel it to be real when I hold the newborn in my arms and look straight into his or her bleary eyes. It’s possible. But I have a sneaky suspicion that actually, it might never feel real, that I might be sitting there, in years to come, balancing a growing toddler on my knee and typing an email with the other hand, yet inside my head I am still a little boy myself – or a student, or a relatively care-free 20-something working out if he has enough beer money for a final pint before closing time.

a trip to the library

October 14, 2006

Well, where to start. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t start with two days ago, when I paid a visit to my local library. I hadn’t been in for the best part of eight years, though reassuringly, everything was almost exactly the same, save for the addition of a new DVD section. My mission was to locate a guide to pregnancy and childbirth. This is a tricky subject. My first foray looking for such a book was done in a well-known chain in New York. I was almost paralysed by the choice on offer. Doctors (of the medical or PhD kind I wondered) abounded, TV-stars proliferated, and the ‘Family’ shelves were divided up into subsections that demanded a few minutes from me simply to get my bearings. I was completely overwhelmed. Being a fairly sceptical sort, I was alert for the charlatan ‘doctor’ who boasted miracle wisdom for pregnant women, but since I had no particularly scientific way of distinguishing the bonafide from the fraud, this merely made me suspicious of every book. I began looking for brands I recognised, in the hope that their stamp of approval would reassure me, but fatigue quickly set in. I left the shop rather dispirited, since it was obvious I would have to read something fairly soon, but I was no nearer to working out what. Perhaps I should have just plucked something off the shelf entirely at random, but somehow, for the importance of the subject, that seemed a rather carefree approach.

And so I found myself walking down the aisles in my local library. Now, the library offered a number of advantages over the bookshop for my purpose. Firstly, and I’m not sure whether you will agree, perhaps your library is fantastically well-stocked, but my local library is somewhat short on variety. It was therefore highly likely that my range of options here would be restricted to a mere handful of books, and that by ruling out those published before I myself was born, my choice would be obvious by process of elimination. I was pleased to find myself almost exactly right, and before long, I was leaving for home with a large hardback copy of a book written by a woman even I had vaguely heard of (but now thinking about it, I’ve realised that’s because she shares a surname with a playwright. Which, I have also just realised, gives you a clue as to which book I loaned out, a fact I was intending to hide). I started reading it almost as soon as I got home, jumping through the pages to different sections, and getting a feel for what I might be about to learn. I’m afraid, however, that I am going to read a lot of useful information, and promptly forget it all, which tempts me to actually sit down with a piece of paper, noting down various titbits. All of which seems to be too much like school or university, and is a bit off-putting, though when you’re talking about ‘what to do if your partner goes into early labour’ is probably a small price to pay.

One thing I’ve noticed about these books is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are all women-focussed. Now, of course, that makes perfect sense – the woman is incubating the baby (can I put that? Incubating? That’s more like a year 9 egg experiment surely). And the woman has to deal with all the physical changes, and be careful about her diet, and, at the end of it all, go through what is an excruciatingly painful procedure in order that this little life can burst onto the scene. But when all is said and done, I have to be honest, and confess to feeling a little bit out of it. I remember sitting at the obstetrician with A, and (again, naturally) the doctor was directing everything he was saying at her. But the problem was, I was left feeling like somewhat of a spectator, an interested observer, who was given permission to sit in on the meeting, but almost grudgingly, as if a great favour was being granted. Of course, none of that was intended to be the message, but I’m dealing with impressions here, and impressions are what give us our feelings. I don’t want this journal – because it’s written by a man – to take a tone of ‘aren’t fathers hard done by’, and I don’t want to appear like I’m only one more negative obstetrician experience away from donning a superman cape and performing a publicity-grabbing death-defying bungee jump. But nonetheless, given that my main aim is simply to honestly report all of my thoughts and feelings, this sense of being sidelined must be included.

Which brings me back to the newly-acquired book. I was pleased to discover that the book, which is several hundred pages in size, includes a chapter (number three, if you’re interested) on ‘Fatherhood’. I eagerly surveyed the half dozen pages or so allotted, it felt, solely to me, and indeed, there was some good advice. But I can’t shake the impression of tokenism, almost as if the fact we have our own chapter merely reinforces our marginalisation. To draw a (potentially unhelpful) parallel, it’s like how the ‘Day’ or ‘Month’ given (by who?) to ethnic minorities, such as ‘Black History Month’, might appear inclusive, but in fact, is a reminder that they are not considered an integral part of the national story, but rather an exotic appendage. In other words, the gesture masks a more fundamental injustice or problem. Well, I think I have successfully wandered off track with that analogy, since fathers-to-be are certainly not suffering from any structural injustices, but I trust I have explained myself sufficiently. If I try and rationalise the feelings, however, I can’t escape from the fact that this is simply an unavoidable part of being an expectant father. Whichever way you look at it, the woman is doing most of the work here, and it’s her body. And even though, as I sometimes think, ‘But hey! That kid’s half me!’ pregnancy is pretty much woman-owned territory. So better make the best of it.

the beginning

October 12, 2006

First of all, let me confess that this is not my idea at all. A friend of mine recently suggested that I keep a journal of everything I am thinking and feeling about being a prospective father, and who knows, maybe other people might like to read it too. So I am. And strictly speaking, I am going to have to back track a little, because the pregnancy is already over three months gone as I start to write this, and so at some points, this journal will be about the past, before moving on to the present, and then the future. But there’s no guarantee that this will be a linear progression, by any means, and in fact, I might end up darting all around the timeline, back and forth, perhaps even looking back into my own childhood.

I guess I want to try and keep it relatively focussed, to avoid irrelevancies and potential rambling, so the common theme uniting everything I will write will be fatherhood. Within that, however, it’s wide open. Maybe I will even see about including something from famous fathers, a kind of words of wisdom along the way, but there’s a risk that this would then become something akin to a compilation of Christmas cracker style proverbs. I will also, as previously mentioned, look back at my own experiences of being ‘fathered’, and perhaps the experiences of my friends as well. Of course, I am not an expert, and nor really can there be such a thing as ‘an expert’. We men (and I must confess that it is both strange and exhilarating to write that) might become fathers several times over, and gain experience along the way about how to do it better next time, but let’s face it, even the most prolific of us only get a few throws of the dice. And what’s more, each child is so marvellously, frustratingly, scarily unique, that what morsels of lessons are picked up along the way will not amount to very much when you’re faced with a particularised dilemma of some sort.

This doesn’t seem to be a very grand introduction, but then, this is not a very grand enterprise. It is simply one man, who is expecting to become a father in six months time, writing down some of his thoughts and feelings about everything. Anyone could do it; this just happens to be me. As I write, I’m not sure whether this will be anonymous or not. Of course, by the time you read this, you will know the answer, and whether there’s an accompanying tasteful publicity shot of my face (I hope not). Anonymity might be advantageous for A and it might also be better for our future child, since I’m not sure what I would have felt if I grew up realising that my father shared his feelings with the world prior to my birth. But, you’re not the world, you’re probably a few thousand (at best) fellow fathers (and maybe mothers) who fancied reading something by someone who is going through a similar experience.

That’s it for now.

expecting…

October 12, 2006

sometime, quite soon, i will become a father. here’s what i think.