I was discussing Father’s Day a few weeks ago and my brain completely failed to make the connection between me, the occasion and the smiling little entity who shares fifty per cent of my DNA. Even after ten months, it still hasn’t properly sunk in. Obviously I feel being a father every day, in a thousand different ways, but I still occasionally have to stop and pause as the thought taps me on the inside of the skull: ‘Hey, mate. You’re a Dad. You’re his Dad.’
Existing parents tend to talk up the stressful elements of parenthood: the shitty nappies, the lack of sleep, the subordination of social life to the needs of the child. And, yes, these elements form a large part of the process, but surely nobody enters into the parenthood pact believing otherwise (unless they’ve got a fleet of nannies or happen to be the sort of old-school father who congratulates the mother of his child and then says, ‘Cool, good luck with it all, gimme a shout when he’s ten.’). Parents won’t usually tell you how absolutely amazing it is to have a baby, and if they do you’ll be left thinking either that they’re dull blowhards who’ve lost all perspective on life and should be eliminated forthwith or else you’ll only appreciate their words in an unemotional, abstract way, like you would if someone told you how great it was to be the world fencing champion. I hate to fall back on the favoured cliché of parents everywhere, but I’m going to: unless you’re a parent, you can’t possibly understand how it feels.
Christ, I hated people who said that to me before I was a parent, especially those who thought they could use it as a Top Trumps card to win any argument.
“I think you’re wrong, actually, it’s faster taking the B-road to the back end of the town, and then turning left at the quarry and following the bypass all the way to the promenade.”
“Well, maybe you’ll think differently once you’ve got kids of your own.”
Beware all new parents hoping to use that specious reasoning to defeat their childless friends: parents of multiple children can use it on you just as easily, making you feel like you’re in Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch. “One child? Luxury!” If you really want to win every argument on earth, best get pumping, Genghis Khan style.
Being a Dad is wonderful. One little smile from my son can melt my curmudgeonly heart. I could watch him sleeping on my chest – the rise and fall of his own little chest, the puffing of his cheeks – for hours on end. His laughter is the most intoxicating drug ever devised or discovered. Watching him grow and change and learn over the past ten months has been the most gratifying, enriching experience of my life. I can’t wait to meet the person he’s going to become. (I’ll revisit this web-page once he’s turned sixteen and I want to knock his jaw out)
Being a Dad is also terrifying. Every day welcomes a new cycle of nightmarish scenarios into my thoughts, perils I have to protect him from, everything from skint knees to terrorist insurrections. Seemingly benign everyday objects that were previously absorbed into the background of my perceptions have now been given starring roles as villains in the most terrifying real-life movie ever produced. Things like Blu-tac and cushions are now potential sources of death and injury, making each day feel a little like the first five minutes of an episode of Casualty. I can’t stand on a balcony without imagining him tumbling to his death. I can’t take a trip in the car without shivering at the thought of an eight-car pile-up. Everything is terrifying. “Oh great, a bouncy castle! Or, as I like to call it, THE INFLATABLE THEATRE OF DEATH! You’re giving him a plastic spoon, ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY, HE’LL USE IT TO RIP OUT HIS OWN EYES!!!”
I understand completely why people want to show off their kids: why there are so many people on Facebook with their children’s smiling faces set as their profile pictures; why there are so many parents who feel compelled to chronicle their kids’ every fart, burp and blurble on-line. That love, that pride, that fierce and overwhelming dragon of emotions, is born in you the moment your child arrives naked and screaming into the world. A child is a boundless miracle, a perfect and perfected distillation of mother and father; the link between the ancient past and the infinite reaches of our human future made flesh. In the hospital, looking down at the helpless, innocent creature swaddled in your arms, you can’t help but imagine that all of the answers to the great mysteries of existence – of your life, of all life – lie somewhere in those tiny eyes.
For the first few weeks of my son’s life I had to restrain the impulse to lift him up into strangers’ faces and yell: ‘LOOK AT MY SON AND STAND PROSTRATE IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS FUCKING PERFECTION, YOU NOTHING!’ I’d walk past a line of other people’s babies and mentally judge them, one by one: “Shite, shite, shite, shite, shite.” I wanted to pay for his immaculate face to be put on a billboard in every country of the world, and force every radio station to suspend their worthless chatter and music in favour of an unbroken soundtrack of him sleeping and breathing. On a planet where millions of species are birthing infants by the metric tonne every fraction of a second, my child is the only one who matters.
I’m not a religious person, or a believer in God, but I now think I understand something of the impulses behind religion. My partner and I have brought our son into the world to die. That’s a certainty. Perhaps that guilt is what propels thoughts of the afterlife. I’m a good person. I wouldn’t knowingly bring down a death sentence upon my son, the person I love most in the world. There must be something else. Some after-earth paradise to which he holds the admission ticket. And if this is really all that there is, then what is the point of this endless cycle of birth and death, where the only aim is to stay alive long enough to perpetuate your genes?
This is the hand we’ve been dealt, creatures on a rock spinning in space, defined and enriched by our mortality. Better to experience existence and its many joys even with the promise of extinction than never to have the chance to exist at all. If we’ve only got one world and one life, then I want my son to have a happier, better, richer life than I did, in a vastly upgraded world (Microsoft World 15), and I will move heaven and earth to make that happen. That’s the point of existence for me, and if it’s the only point, then it’s a bloody good one. If God exists at all, in whatever form, then he doesn’t make you: you make God. Because God isn’t in your children. He is your children.
Yeah, that was blasphemous, and corny as hell, but in my defence, I’d just like to say fuck you, fuck you all in the face.
Thankfully, I became a Dad at just the right time. For most of my life I’ve been a bumbling, feckless, rudderless arsehole, perpetually dragging myself full-circle through the wake of my latest calamity: an emotional suicide-bomber; a clueless, selfish mess of a man. I was content to drift between places, people and ambitions in the vain hope that the jigsaw of my existence would one day solve itself. But I changed, evolved. I overcame my arrested development. My brain was at last able to outpace my adrenal gland. I finally realised who I wanted to be, what I needed to do and where I wanted to go. It helps that I met the perfect person at the perfect time. I wish I could take back all of the many mistakes I’ve made, and undo all of the hurt I’ve caused, but then if everything in my life hadn’t happened exactly as it did then my son – my beautiful, precious little boy – would never have been born. In a macrocosmic sense, the same goes for the wars and genocides that have been characteristic of our species since we first teetered on two legs. I’m thankful for them, and wouldn’t travel back in time to kill Hitler or save a billion people if it meant losing my son in the future. So, I guess what I’m saying is, to use urban gang parlance, fuck all y’all, and PS: cheers for dying, guys.
These days, I’m settled, driven and focused (still a grumpy fucker, and prone to the odd brain-fart, but otherwise a new man) in a way I never would’ve thought was possible ten years ago, and ready to keep being the thing I never thought I’d be, never ever ever: a good Dad. Of course, I only get to be a good dad because my partner is such an amazing mother, the most nurturing, kind, patient, loving, self-sacrificing person I’ve ever met. I’m perpetually humbled by the way in which she makes the life-enhancing but often gruelling responsibility of bringing up our son 24/7 look so easy, when – despite what clueless sexists will tell you – I know it’s the hardest, and most important, job in the world.
Plus, she got me lounge pants for Fathers’ Day. That alone wins her the gold medal. Now I just need a flat cap.