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.

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By the clipping of his thumbs…

I ain’t afraid o’ no nappy but the thought of clipping baby’s nails fills me with a mortal dread.

I’ve only seen my son’s blood twice. Proper blood mind, not the grazed knee smears that are a staple of the summer toddler’s battles with tarmac, no I mean the really red stuff. The second time was when they had to take bloods in the hospital which was a whole other barrel of trauma. The first when I sliced his tiny thumb, cutting his nails for the first time when he was three weeks old.

Of all the things you worry about as a prospective parent, finger and toenails weren’t even on our list. On learning that our tiny baby, mere hours old, had fingernails I was stupefied. I had simply not come close to wondering where and when the nails started.

Mum was asleep, drained by two days of induced labour on the journey to a Cesarean we didn’t want but had to have and all the drugs you have to have to get there. I was on duty, watching, wondering what had just happened to us all and coming to terms with the reality of this new life before me that I was now very very not in class anymore this is real this is not a drill responsible for.

This new life with scratches all over his face. Which were not there before. They were not there before. I would have noticed. Surely. I check the photos from earlier. No scratches. They were not there before. I check the photos again. No scratches.

WHERE DID THEY COME FROM???????

I have only been watching him for an hour asleep in a hospital cot. It’s not like he climbed out and got in a fight with the newborn next door. I cannot let his mum wake up and see that I’ve failed in my first task as a protective father.

I marched to the midwifes’ station holding the baby with both hands at arm’s length directly out in front of me. I raised a finger to gesture at the red marks all over his face. I knew I looked severely panicked. The midwife smiled at me. I am not the first dad to do this I realised… Midwives have a special smile they give to new dads to let you know just how much of a shameful miscreant unworthy cretin you really are. I got that smile.

Baby’s new skin is so soft and sensitive and is reacting to the new air around him. But he’s also scratching his face. Because babies are born with fingernails. Fully grown. Baby rubs his face, baby scratches his skin so delicate even the impurities in the air can raise a rash. I make it through day one a wiser and more humble man.

We bought some child nail clippers. They’re basically adult nail clippers with giant handles to make you feel you’re in control. You’re not of course. The ratio of clipper to wriggling finger is about five to one. The nail was hardly bigger than the edge of the blade.

It was the tiniest of cuts but thumbs bleed. For an eternity. Long enough for mum to come down from a rest to see me gaze pleadingly at her, ashen faced, in a please don’t lose it on me because your son is bleeding as a result of my ineptitude kind of way.

I was devastated, just ripped apart inside. It was horrible, his blood dripping out of the tiny slice I had made. Did he have enough blood to lose? Seriously, I was asking myself that. His arrival had been so traumatic we didn’t have the emotional room for another trip to the hospital.

I had hurt my baby; who apparently hardly felt a thing and didn’t make a squawk. It was the worst feeling and I thought my wife was going to go ballistic on me.

Baby stopped bleeding . Mum shrugged it off.

And that’s what I did on my day off

Today the wife was at work and baby was at the childminder. This happens three days a week so not exactly a major news piece. Except that today,well today had the Halley’s factor.

Today I had a day off.

I have not had this much time to myself for almost twenty months.

So I have put the glass in the cupboard doors, put up coat hooks, hung some pictures, moved the wife’s electric piano, put up some more coat hooks, raised the side on baby’s cot bed, and got myself all sorted to hang the new curtain rail first thing tomorrow morning (when the wife’s job, baby’s three day stint with the childminder and my last day off before my last day in* align for the final time). I started at 8 and I finished at 5 and the longest I stopped was to make a cup of tea. I don’t work that hard when I’m being paid.

You might wonder whether such precious moments might have been better spent asleep, or overdosing on Netflix or indeed anything involving not having to put on proper clothes and not smelling funny all day.

Are you nuts???

Do you know how long it takes to hang a simple picture frame when you become a dad? Twenty months. Yes, you heard me, twenty fucking months. And our baby’s only just about to turn a year.

You get a moment when you can drill a hole in a wall and not worry about baby being there to chow down on brick dust and rawlplugs and that’s gold, that’s sprinkly magic faerie dust on the end of a frog-kissed rainbow and you do not waste that time on nothing. You know full well that if you do not act like Leon without hesitation it’s going to be another twenty months before you get to hang that picture without fear of having to explain to the wife/Dr/Facebook how baby swallowed three screws and ate a cable tie.

Babies take up all your waking hours. And sometimes they do that even when they’re still inside. This can be a source of frustration for dads who want to get on and fix this or build that and spruce up the cave like a good male-of-the-species should. But it’s not going to happen my friend, not in these first couple of years and you need to get over that. If you have anything major planned you want to get that finished sometime between the third and sixth month of pregnancy and then give it up and wait. Your baby’s going to be demanding 100% of you 24/7 and you need to answer that call.

Your time will come and when it does you will, like me, be rewarded with the full feeling flushness of jobs finished and tasks fulfilled. Tomorrow I will put up our curtain rail and then I will let go once again.

Anyway, if I really wanted to sleep that badly I’d go to bed early.

This evening baby brung on the shouty and dealt Mummy’s pillow a merciless punishment with his pyjama trousers which was as funny and beautiful as it sounds.

 

* I leave my job on Wednesday, and start a new on just after Easter. I might at some point cover the joys of being made redundant when you’re a new dad.

Scatalogical nomenclature

So before we get too far in, a word on why stickyyellowpoo is called stickyyellowpoo; if you’re already a parent you know this.

Your child’s excretal behaviour is a sign of their health and well being. After baby’s birth we were given a chart with which to map and describe his movements over the first couple of weeks. Those first poos are really important in indicating everything’s ok. In those early days baby’s poo is a sticky, tarry, greeny-black gloop called meconium. That’s the last time green poo will be a good thing in your life.

I was pretty shit scared of dealing with the poo before he arrived. But the fear vanished like a problem that never was the moment he was there and you just switch into the latest upgrade of you with an embedded Dad app. Suddenly you’re like the only good bits in the Matrix: “I can change nappies!”. But I would never want to do one for any other baby than mine, that’s a thought that makes me queasy.

As the milk takes hold baby’s poo becomes a wonderful mustard yellow splurge. That’s a good sign. Bottle milk gives a slightly brownier tinge I think and a different smell. You know what I don’t even remember the smell anymore, I never thought it was that bad. There’s some good shit on good shit as always at the babycentre. And don’t forget to study the pics. If you go to ante-natal classes you’ll likely get a handout which is worth reading on the commute into work just to see if anyone’s reading over your shoulder.

So our rule of thumb was browny-yellow and splodgy good, anything else was checked out pretty quickly.

A hands on parent is going to get sticky fingers at some point. Hell, everyone’s got a poonami story; your baby’s digestive system is a force of nature. The smell, the stains, the squelching oozing up the back, the stains on the far wall, the superglue properties that defy chemistry, the catastrophic poomageddon wrought when Pampers’ finest fails to hold back the tide – when volume exceeds capacity and you’re cutting baby our of their clothes like Dr Ross in a series finale pile up.

And I say to you my fellow fella fathers to be: “EMBRACE THESE TIMES OF STICKY YELLOW POO!” Because these are halcyon days indeed. Whatever you thought might be nasty, toxic and smelly before is like heaven’s nectar once baby starts on real food. That’s when the Mr Hyde of your baby’s bowels starts to make his appearance and he stinks in ways that defy your understanding of the human condition. You won’t need to see a poo face to know baby’s filled their shorts oh no, you’ll just need to be in the same room. Sometimes even next door will do.

Oh, and one day you’ll find yourself sifting nasty nappies for days on end waiting for the evidence of the beads or bits or whatever non-edible items they’ve managed to consume in the space of a blink to reappear. This I guarantee you.

So love your baby, love their poo my friends; it’s a bonding experience in every possible way.