Dear Rob: Information

I suspect that every now and then and your soon to be every waking moment you’re beginning to wonder: “how the hell do you look after a baby?”

Well don’t worry. Lucky for you there’s almost as much information out there on babies as there are babies.

Unlucky for you much of it is either frightening, mystifying or contradictory and in every other paragraph the baby’s gender changes (you’ll be relived to know that that does not happen in real life). Navigating the stormy seas of books, blogs and advice is fraught with peril. A few thoughts for you then, which according to my own advice you should take or leave entirely at your own will.

There seem to be two general kinds of books: those that tell you what to do and those that tell you what happens as a baby develops. My preference was always for the latter as they don’t tend to set up too much false expectation. Books that tell you what to do take wildly different and occasionally terrifying approaches and seem to be about the kinds of well behaved infant the likes of which I have yet to meet or even hear compelling evidence to prove the existence of; unlike, say, the yeti which I’m far more certain is real.

They are also on the whole directed towards mums. I was lent a book on parenting for dads. On about page two it told me that after the birth I’d be the one counting fingers and toes. I thought that was a bunch of patronising bullshit and stopped reading. In the end I don’t know if anyone actually counted his fingers and toes but it was the last fucking thing on my mind after what we’d just been through.

Books also don’t really tell you the stuff that you absolutely do need to know like how to get the smell of shit out of your nose, what it feels like to really really hit the wall on lack of sleep and how fucking freaked you’re going to be when you realise that baby boys get erections (yeah, no one told me either).

There was one book that we both placed great store in. It’s called Wonder Weeks and it’s about the developmental stages of infants and how their physical and mental development runs in cycles that can create discernible and predictable periods of calm and bloody mayhem. It’s fascinating because it’s about how your baby develops and one of the few products I’m ever going to mention by name.

To be honest most of the ‘how to’ you’ll get from friends, colleagues, other parents, your own parents and God bless it, the Internet. So even though parenting, like getting married, is one topic in which so many have such well informed intentions, the world of blogs and forums gives you the collected and accessible benefit of experience: real world knowledge, on-the-job training. And often many very very very funny stories.

You can do a lot worse than turn to your peers (although when it comes to sickness then asking the experts is still the way to go).

That’s still a lot of very different opinions to choose from. You know what kind of parents you want to be. Follow what makes sense to you. Ignore what doesn’t. To do otherwise will only make you unhappy.

In this respect I really do recommend some kind of ante natal class. Not so much for what they teach you but to make contact with a bunch of folks all going through the same thing at the same time. I remember one of the mums in our group saying that it never mattered what time it was, there was always someone else up on email. It’s company and comfort and learning from each other’s experience. It’s swapping tips and tricks and war stories and bearing your scars with pride; although dads meetings can get a little Quint, Hooper and Brody.

You’ll also learn to sit in a room full of women with their boobs out and not gawp like some hormonal teenager which is a pretty good life skill of its own. I should clarify that new mums don’t all sit around half naked in some Wicker Man style circle, at least not round these parts, but they do breast feed.

One of the other things I love about researching or hearing about current recommended practice in good parenting is how it highlights how wrong most of what our parents did was…

It will all get on top of you eventually, information overload, so take heart my friend, and keep these three simple things in mind at all times:

~ evidence suggests that as a species we’re quite good at reproducing; much of what you need to be able to do will come naturally, improved medical facilities will take care of the rest

~ despite the incredibly long journey to maturity and the world being against them, babies are actually pretty resilient little things. On balance you’re far more likely to fuck them up emotionally than they will come to physical harm

~ and to be honest, we’re all just winging it anyway…

Dear Rob: Becoming

Dear Rob,

A few months ago you asked me what it was like becoming a dad. Not long after you announced your impending fatherhood. There was something about the way you asked that made me think you already knew: a sprinkle of fear, a soupçon of uncertainty, a handful of ‘holy shit’.

I gave you some spiel on how wonderful it is to be a dad and I didn’t lie. But I didn’t tell you everything and I kept it sweet.

In return you’ve given me an idea on how to look back on my own experience of becoming a dad; all the bits I missed writing about first time round. Of course, it’s not really a letter directly to you, I may not even send this to you. You’re  a cypher, an avatar, a convenient excuse to direct some energy back into my writing and bring some life back to this blog through an occasional series of ‘Dear Rob’posts. Thanks for that.

Becoming a dad. Well, first off it’s a matter of linguistics. So let’s be clear, to me, dadness is the emotional journey; fatherhood the physical one. So becoming a father is easy, it’s point and shoot. You make your scrunchy Oooh face and nature and good timing does the rest. It’s a whole heck of a lot easier than becoming a mother but more of that another time.

Becoming a dad. That’s a whole different trip my friend.

Becoming a dad…

…is about letting go of how you once lived, of the freedoms you once had, of the thought and movement and time and people you saw and when, and of replacing that with the responsibility of bringing up a sentient human being.

…is about shouldering the responsibility for forging this life; for influencing an understanding, an attitude, a belief, a set of values, a way that will one day go out into the world and wreak the results of the impact you have made (some of which was imperceptible to you, soaked up in those first few years and stored away for later without telling). Fair enough, you’re not the only thing to influence how your kid feels or what they do but you’re building a bedrock that can support or crush them when it counts.

…is about coming to terms with how your needs and their needs are totally incompatible.

…is about being broken (sometimes): deprived of sleep, of reason, of sanity, of quiet – of being taken to the edge and over day after day after day, relentlessly pursued by your own flesh and blood terminator.

…is about the terrifying anger that can at the worst times rise inside, boiling on a tide of frustration and lack of understanding or ability. And it’s about biting down on that.

…is about knowing that this little person your partner grew and that you helped create is going to have their own thoughts and feelings and experiences, just like you. That they will hurt and love and you will know only the fragments of that life, like your parents have with yours.

…is about the sadness of hoping you will never know the end of their life .

…is about being obliterated by a love for someone for whom every little thing you do is to prepare them for leaving you.

…is about first putting yourself second, then third and dealing with it because no matter how fucking shit you feel sometimes or how put upon or how rejected – and you will feel rejected – your needs come last even though you absolutely do matter so much. Even when you don’t feel it.  Yet, no matter how much you want to piss and moan you still have it easiest physically and emotionally so shove a thousand years of patriarchy up your arse and be a man and take it!

…is about understanding yourself and your own childhood; being given the opportunity to watch what you don’t remember, the process of growing up: learning how to speak, how to walk, run, move, grip, understand, how to eat, how to get dressed in the morning.

…is about being afraid for your kid, afraid of the world out there waiting for them, afraid of the myriad of harms that will likely never fall upon them and afraid to take the chance. Afraid that you won’t or can’t be there when they need you the most. Afraid that you’re going to miss so much which you will. Afraid of leaving them alone in this world.

…is about somehow overcoming the difficulties of bringing up a child in a world that has not made the raising of new generations its overwhelming priority.

…is about filling your home with unfamiliar objects, primary colours, high-pitched ear worms and evil smells.

…is about getting covered in shit, and piss, and vomit, and worse and not batting an eyelid.

…is about finding the joy in all of the above

…is about bursting with pride at their every thought, word and deed.

…is the best job satisfaction ever with the worst hours and the shittiest salary.

…is about wondering where the time went. All of it.

…is about so much more but I don’t want to go over 1000 words and I need to stop the boy from climbing up the radiator.

Or maybe it’s none of that. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, layering something that’s being going on since the first cells split with too much meaning, issues where there aren’t any, too much touchy freely bullshit. Just fucking get on with it you whinging dick, how hard can it be?

To be honest mate, the only thing I do know is your experience of becoming a dad will be all and only yours, as unique and special and beautiful and frustrating as your child.

It’s the best thing in the world.