Sometimes… Dads Can Be Right?

The other night, sometime around two am, I awoke to find my eldest boy (2) standing at my side of the bed. He was staring at me, his face smeared so liberally in blood that he resembled some half-mad jungle general who’d just taken a bath in the gore of his fallen enemies, or a demon sprung from the Cenobite’s mattress. His hands, too, were as red as pillar boxes, obvious even in the half-light conjured by the street lamps outside our bedroom window.

The uneasy, tentative ‘Jack?’ that escaped my lips belied the frenzied engine of my thoughts, which were screaming ‘AAARRGGHHHHHH! BLOOD! AAARGGHHH! BLOOD!’ inside my head. As he opened his mouth to speak I was sure he was going to say one of three things:

  • ‘Jack no need to have two legs so me took one off.’
  • ‘Which one of you rat bastards is next?’
  • ‘The cat’s sleeping now…Sleeping forever, Daddy…’

What he actually said was: ‘Hi Daddy,’ giving his biggest, goofiest smile in the process.

Mercifully, there was no sinister explanation for his appearance. He’d had a nose bleed. His mother’s prone to them: enjoy that little gift of genetic inheritance, my young friend. Psoriasis and depression runs on my side of the family, so look forward to an adolescence of scratching and crying as the blood streams as if you were some sort of Vatican-sanctioned miraculous statue.

We whisked him through to the bathroom and perched him on his little stool by the sink. His mum had to scrub him really, really hard. What began as an act of cleaning quickly turned into exfoliation, which in turn became a genuine attempt to scour the very skin from his face. It was late, very late, and Jack was tired. He moaned. He cried. He just wanted this brutal ritual to come to an end so that we all could be snuggled up in the cosy darkness of the parental bed like a family of fairy-tale bears. ‘Let the blood stay,’ his eyes seemed to implore, ‘Maybe I like resembling one of Captain America’s oldest and most significant enemies!’ He wailed and whimpered, simpered and sulked, even as I carried him back through to our bedroom and the warm, imminent promise of sweet dreams.

‘Hang on,’ I said to my partner. ‘I’ll need to take him for a piss; you know what he’s like if he doesn’t go for one through the night. Let’s not tempt fate.’

‘No,’ she said, decisively. ‘He’s really upset; you’ll just traumatise him if you cart him back through there, and then he’ll wake his little brother up.’ His little brother, Christopher, a young lad of not-quite-12-weeks old, sleeps in a stilted extension at his mother’s side of the bed, and is forever having his slumber disturbed by his lumbering big brother.

‘He’ll piss the bed.’ I said.

‘No he won’t,’ she asserted.

‘Jack, do you need to pee?’ I asked him.

‘Nope,’ he said.

For some reason I accepted his reply as definitive proof, even though most days if you ask him, ‘Are you a giant tarantula’, he’ll say yes without a second thought.

I awoke a few hours later feeling very lucky indeed, but only in the sense that while Nostradamus died without seeing any of his prophecies come true, I had woken up tinged with the wet and vindicating piss of a little boy.

I slipped Jack out of his sodden clothes, and carried him through to the bathroom. He stood under the shower, harried and half-asleep, his tears attempting to give the whooshing water a run for its money. He wasn’t happy with the situation, but if happiness is lying in a coating of your own warm piss, then happiness be damned. One quick towel down and change of jammies later, and we were in Jack’s room, crammed together in his tiny single-bed. He burrowed into me like a baby bear, while I lay sprawled and contorted like a giraffe in a toy hammock, desperately trying to stave off deep vein thrombosis.

Have you ever looked into the mirror and said ‘Candyman’ five times? Or crank-called 999? Do you ever just feel like playing chicken with fate? I guess I must’ve been feeling particularly brave or stupid that fateful morning, because I made the ill-advised decision (all decisions are ill-advised when I’m acting as my own advisor) to summon my partner: and when I say ‘summoned’, I can assure you that the context is demonic.

What I said to my son, loudly and clearly, to ensure that my voice carried to the next room, was: ‘Oh, son, don’t you worry about having a little accident. It’s easily fixed, Daddy doesn’t mind. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have done anything about it… (at this point I sucked my teeth) IF ONLY THERE HAD BEEN SOME WAY WE COULD HAVE STOPPED THIS… IF ONLY… IF ONLY SOMEHOW, SOMEONE, SOME FORWARD-THINKING SOUL, HAD BEEN BOLD ENOUGH TO RECOMMEND STEPS THAT COULD’VE PREVENTED THIS; LIKE, I DON’T KNOW, TAKING YOU FOR A PEE WHEN YOU WOKE UP EARLIER, BUT, YOU KNOW, SON, HINDSIGHT’S TWENTY-TWEN…’

At this point a megaton bomb of thunder detonated in the skies above us, and a thousand jagged forks of lightning drove themselves into the ground, scorching and immolating trees, birds and even people, whose screams filled the air like air-raid sirens. Blood seeped through the walls. Ghosts appeared in a flash-flood of light, and swirled around the room like tornadoes. A raven smashed through the window, squawking its message of hell and damnation, each frantic beat of its wings shooting blood-covered shards of glass across the room towards us. I held my son to shield him from the rising chaos, when, before us, she emerged into the doorway through a pillar of foul-scented smoke, the hair dancing on her head like nests of snakes. Her body jerked and spasmed like a stop-motion animation demon jammed on fast-forward; an inhuman blur of boobs, limbs and underwear. We heard the bites and snaps of a mouth that in its fury was more shark, or Beelzebub, than human.

”WE’ DECIDED NOT TO TAKE HIM FOR A PEE BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE MADE HIM UPSET, WHICH IT WOULD HAVE, SO EVEN THOUGH THIS HAS HAPPENED, WHICH WE COULDN’T HAVE KNOWN WOULD HAPPEN, IT WAS THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME! AND THAT’S THE END OF IT JAMIE! SO ENOUGH OF YOUR BLOODY SARCASM!’

And with that, she was gone.

As I lay stroking Jack’s hair, a large smile barged its way across my face.

‘Totally worth it,’ I said to him, planting a kiss on his forehead.

I slept the sleep of the just. A dad may only get to experience one moment of pure, undiluted rightness like this once in a lifetime. It’s best to savour it.

Admit it: you prefer one child over the other

birthy1When my son Jack was born, I was filled with an almost cosmic feeling. I took to the keyboard and rattled off an effusive essay that encapsulated my feelings of fatherly pride and love, factoring in a rejection of God and religion along the way. I saw myself in Jack. He was me, I was him. I understood something of the universe, and my place within it. I poured all of my hopes and dreams into the tiny vessel of his wailing, reddened body. He was my world. He was the world. He was everything.

We were a family.

The problem I now find myself facing, following the birth of my second son, Christopher, is how can I write such a thing twice? How can I feel all of that twice? Look at it this way, through the prism of another variety of human love: if you write a book of poetry for your first wife, what the hell do you give your second wife? Two books of poetry? A Ferrari? A dismembered ear? And given how passionately you articulated your undying love the first time around, how can you convince your second wife that your present feelings are to be believed without cheapening the memory of the just-as-genuine feelings you experienced with your first wife?

It goes without saying that I felt a great rush of relief and happiness when Christopher emerged alive and intact from his maternal cocoon; an explosion of love and affection and an urge to safeguard and protect that was only amplified when I held his fluttering, mewling, helpless little body against my skin for the first time. But I also have this guilty, soul-curdling feeling that, this time around, I didn’t feel as much, or as strongly.

Some of it’s the novelty factor (but imagine that I’ve used a word other than ‘novelty’, which usually conjures up images of an electronic singing fish you’re given for Christmas, laugh at once and then throw in the bin). What I mean is, the whole event and its after-shocks the first time around were unmapped, mysterious and terrifying. Now we know what we’re doing, and we know what to expect. For instance, during the first two weeks of Jack’s existence there wasn’t a single moment where both my partner and I were asleep at the same time. We took it in shifts to sit awake with him, all through the day, all through the night, in a bid to ward off surprise attacks from all manner of unwelcome scenarios. A watched kettle never boils, we reasoned: a watched child never dies.

It’s a gruelling time, as all first-time parents know. Each and every sound Jack made acted upon our nervous systems like a fire alarm. Dangers lurked around every corner, and between each of his miniscule breaths. That fear, which can never fully be exorcised, has now been dampened, and with it, I’m sure, some of the spikes of over-powering relief and devotion that follow in fear’s wake. Christopher can now enjoy a set of new, improved and fully desensitised parents. He could scream like a banshee as a giant mutant hawk splintered in through the living room window, and our response would most likely be some species of Parisian shrug.

I guess some of my more subdued feelings can be attributed to my partner’s style of mothering. She breast-feeds and co-sleeps, meaning that my part in proceedings is necessarily limited. Yes, it’s important that I form a bond with Christopher; it’s important that he knows who I am and comes to recognise me as one of the core people sworn to love and protect him, but nothing is more vital – in these early stages at least – than his bond with his mother. If he’s hungry, she feeds him. If he’s frightened, she soothes him. If he soils himself, she… well, okay, I should probably be doing that, too.

birthy3My partner and I decided that the best use of my time during my absence from work would be to concentrate my attentions on Jack; help out the team by occupying its most vocal and demanding member. Take him places and busy him to soften the blow of his mother’s attention being refocused on his little brother. There’s an element of strategy at play, but it’s certainly not an imposition. Jack, at his present stage of development, is endlessly fascinating: his capacity for joy, jokes and affection grows visibly each day; likewise his intelligence, vocabulary and curiosity, the outer-limits of which are increasing exponentially, like a universe expanding. I love being around him, seeing what he does, seeing how he thinks, watching him laugh, coo, cry and dash about, all the while helping to give his critical and emotional faculties a leg-up. He’s fully-formed and ready made, and I can see the difference I make to his life in real-time.

Of course we’ve also been careful to ensure that Jack spends as much time as possible with his mother, both within the wider family and one-on-one; to remind him that although his little brother requires the lion’s share of his mother’s time, he’s not any less important, loved or valued. It’s important for my partner, too, who dearly misses the closeness of the bond she once shared with Jack. In some sense, the baton’s been passed to me. I’ve been privileged these past few weeks to share the bulk of my time with him, and for a long time now I’ve been the one who’s there with him at bed-and-bath times; the one he crawls next to in bed when he toddles through from his bedroom in the dead of night, wrapping his arms around my neck, burrowing into my chest as his body resigns peacefully to sleep.

birthy2You’re not allowed to prefer one child over the other. But how can you avoid it? At least initially. How can I feel equal affection for a living toddler and a cluster of cells in my partner’s womb? (Should I feel love for my nutsack, being as it is a site of potential future Jamie and Jemima Juniors?) Or even a living toddler and a screaming, half-blind purple baby who does nothing but gurn, yelp and poo? Imagine you had two mates: one you could sit and watch Ghostbusters with, and then take on an imaginary ghost hunt around your house; and one who just sat there saying nothing and shitting himself all day? Be honest with yourself.

Who you gonna call?

It’s a taboo thought. You’re not supposed to express a preference for one child over the other, under any circumstances. Before I was a parent, I’d hear people talk about sibling rivalries and jealousies, and the parental imbalances that fuelled them, and I’d say, ‘That’s horrendous. A parent should love their kids equally, no matter how many they have, or how different they are. I think it goes without saying.’ And now, as I get older, and especially since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself thinking… hmmmmmm. I’m looking at other people’s families, at their brothers and sisters, and aunties and uncles, and mums and dads, and I’m thinking, ‘Actually, I can see why they might prefer the other one…’

What worries me most is what will happen in a year or two when Jack is much more self-reliant, and his little brother is hitting the same bench-marks that he’s hitting now; when Jack begins his long, slow journey to becoming a responsible and free-thinking boy, shedding his adorableness along the way as the air rings out with a chorus of ‘nos’, ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’, all accompanied by the percussive beat of stamping, tantrum-tapping feet? Will I find myself secretly, perhaps even subconsciously, preferring Christopher? How do I stop myself from feeling this stuff, and if I can’t stop myself from feeling it, then how do I counter the effects of these feelings – how they manifest in my behaviour – to ensure that I screw my kids up as little as humanly possible? Because some element of screwing them up is inevitable. Over to Philip Larkin, who can offer us some concise, brutal and eloquent words on the subject:

This Be The Verse

   By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
                            ~
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
                            ~
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
                            ~

familyAll of this has got me to thinking about my grandparents, who came from broods ten and twelve strong. If we accept the proposition that the continuation of our genes is the only real point of existence – biologically-speaking of course – then it figures that the bigger the family, the more perfect the expression of this point. But how are we to square this in-built desire to sire with our modern Western notion of parenthood? A notion that holds at its core the idea that we should be able and willing to devote not just time but ‘quality time’ to our children; to be able to guide them and closely oversee their development as loved and loving, free-thinking individuals? After all, smaller class sizes are better, right? Or, in the context of the family unit, will having multiple siblings actually help promote intelligence and language skills? Anyway, never mind the question ‘How can you love twelve children equally?’: how can you even remember their bloody names?

I genuinely believe that much of Osama bin Laden’s thirst for chaos, death and domination was a direct result of having to share his parents’ presence and affections with literally scores of siblings. Forget ‘middle-child syndrome’. What the hell would you have to do to get noticed in that family? I wonder if young Osama began his mission for attention in the traditional manner, perhaps by riding his bike up the street shouting, ‘Look, papa, look at me, no hands!’ (Although that’s probably a phrase you’d be more likely to hear from a Saudi kid after they’ve stolen a bike) Look, Papa, look, I’ve got an ear-ring! I’ve got a tattoo! I’m living in a cave, a real-ass cave, Dad, look, look at me, look at my beard, it’s so long, and my minions, I’ve got minions, Dad, thousands of minions!!! Do any of my other brothers have minions, hmmmm? Hmmmm? I’m even on TV. Dad!! Dad!!!?? Dad!!!!!? Won’t you look at me? Can’t you see what… Oh, fuck it. [launches terrorist attack on the US mainland]. NOW YOU’LL NOTICE ME, DAD!

Osama’s Dad: [sighs] Why couldn’t you have just been a painter and decorator like your brother, Barry bin Laden?

birthy4

It seems that I’m so loathe to engage with my feelings on this subject that I’ve taken us down a highway of distraction to 9/11 itself. Sorry about that. Here’s both an update and a coda, though. While I’ve been writing this article, Christopher has been changing and growing. Yes, he still lists his favourite hobbies as pooing and drinking milk, but the more he’s in my life, and the more times I hold him in my arms and see my reflection in the milky black of his tiny feral eyes, the greater the power he exerts over my heart. I was cradling him in my arms a few days ago, and caught sight of us both in the mirror. I know he’s tiny, and helplessly delicate, but something about that moment, about seeing it and feeling it, caused a sharp surge, like a shock of electricity, to zap down my spine. My little boy.

Yesterday, as I lay Christopher down to change his nappy, he looked up at me, little limbs flailing like a penguin who’s really bad at dancing, and his face contorted into a smile. I know he’s too young for real smiles, and this was just a wind-sponsored facsimile. Try telling that to my heart. He made a wee cooing noise too. We’re a bit far from ‘Daddy’ at this stage of his linguistic development, but never-the-less: I heard Daddy anyway.

I think we’re going to be okay.

[But, just to be clear, Jack’s still in the lead so far!]

[PS: Hi, Christopher-of-the-future. Thanks for reading this. This is the reason you’re a heroin addict today. Love you!]

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Parent and child parking spaces: the dos and don’ts of not being a dick

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

The (not-so) hidden horror of your children’s fairy tales

Reflections on school days, bullying and the bad bus

When people take pictures of your kids

Quiver, Mortals, for I am the Hero of Edinburgh Zoo

100_3490We took our son to the zoo as a birthday treat last week. As I was holding him in my arms above the red river hog enclosure (African piggy things that look like the warthog from The Lion King), his Captain America cap tumbled from his head and fell twenty feet to the ground below. One of the pigs was snouting and snuffling its way across the enclosure, on a direct course to intercept the cap with its hungry jaws. It had already half-devoured a large paper packet that contained the remnants of its latest meal, and we had no reason to doubt, as it drew closer and closer to my son’s favoured headwear, that we’d be saying bye bye to the Cap cap once and for all. The pig nudged and drooled at the cap with its wet snout, before pushing it aside like a hockey puck and continuing on its slobbery way. We breathed a sigh of relief. There was still hope.

I took the wee guy down the steps at the side of the enclosure, handed him to his momma and strolled down the hill, a strong sense of purpose propelling my limbs. I stood with the palms of my hands pressed against the top of the first of the two fences that marked the perimeter of the pigs’ domain. What sort of a father would leave his son’s favourite cap – a superhero cap, no less – to rot in a piggy prison when it was within his power to put things right? What sort of a father would leave an injustice-shaped hole in the fabric of his son’s burgeoning universe, and turn a blind eye to the hot tears of frustration coursing down his cherubic little cheeks? Not on my watch, universe. Not for this pot-bellied father!

“Jamie, it’s okay, he doesn’t really care. Look, he’s happy, let’s just go see the flamingos, he’s perfectly fine.”

But I could tell that he was dying inside, the poor little bastard. We all knew what was about to happen…

“Don’t you even think about it,” she said, as my fingers started twitching, and my arms started flexing. “Don’t you bloody embarrass me, Jamie.”

Huh! And I guess Iron Man was embarrassing, was he? When he was SAVING THE WORLD? Oooh, don’t save the world, Iron Man, you’ll give me a red neck. I’ll never be able to show my face at the lunch club for ladies, let’s just forget this silly baddy fighting malarkey and go out for some tapas?!

“Honestly, we’ll find a zoo keeper and they can fetch the hat later. It’s okay: you don’t need to do this.”

Huh! And come back to the remnants of a half-devoured hero’s hat, and see the sickening smiles of satisfaction under the snouts of those wicked beasts? Tell you what, why don’t we just throw our son over the fence and be done with it. No, that hat is coming back to us, by God, or I’ll be gored to death trying. AVENGER ASSEMBLE!!

hogWith all of my might, I hurtled myself over the imposing three-foot fence, bounded forward two feet and then mustered all of my remaining reserves of strength – both physical and mental – to clear the hellish bulk of the second three-foot fence barring my way. I may even have beat my chest like a gorilla, I can’t honestly recall, the adrenaline was running too high.

I trailed a gaggle of pigs behind me like the Pied Piper of Ham-lin (I just high-fived myself) as I strode across the enclosure. I bent down and heroically scooped up the cap and held it aloft in my fingers of justice. Snuffle, snuffle, gobble, ruffle, snort. The pigs advanced on me like a rash of hairy asthmatic tumours, their tusks trained on me like spears. I could almost hear the Indiana Jones music playing in my ears as I vaulted the two fences to the safety of the main thoroughfare.

“Well,” I said with a Ferris Buellerian smirk as I handed the cap back to my adoring son. “What do you think about that?”

“Oh, Jamie,” my partner said, as she struggled not to faint with relief and admiration. “I really, really, really want to check our boy into a crèche and have you sex the fuck out of me right here against the very fence that was the site of your greatest act of raw, almost over-powering machismo. Give me that noble, selfless penis, give me it right here and now, you bloody warrior.”

Well, perhaps I’m paraphrasing ever-so-slightly. What she actually said was:

“You fucking idiot.”

292457_421261067939971_1651654860_nI just smiled. Because that’s when you know you’re a real hero. When you’re not hero-ing for the praise. You’re just hero-ing because… well, because you don’t know how to be anything God damned else. It was at that precise moment I realised that Nickelback had probably penned their song with me in mind.

“Now let’s go,” I said, puffing out my chest, “before a zoo keeper comes along and gives me a telling off.”

We hot-footed it out of there.

Just as Captain America himself would have done.

My good lady was still shaking her head. “You do realise those pigs are about as dangerous as the ones at Muiravonside Country park?”

I scoffed. “That’s the sort of talk that got Steve Irwin killed.”

Hero status: intact.

PS: If he’d dropped his hat in the chimp or tiger enclosure, I’d’ve taken the £8 hit.


MORE ZOO-RELATED TOMFOOLERY IN MY NEXT PIECE ON PANDAS AND POKEMON

Additional animal mayhem from the archives

The time I killed a snake in Turkey…

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 1

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 2

Dealing with grief:the death of three rats and a dog

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

cosleep1A benchmark is looming in our lives, one I’d guess most parents have already reached by this stage in their children’s development. My little boy is nearly two, and since birth he’s shared our bedroom with us. For the first couple of months he slept in a Moses basket by our bed. After that, he graduated to a special stilted extension that clamps on to our double-bed on his mother’s side. Most nights he’s to be found spread-eagled across three-quarters of the total available area, forsaking his own little jutted corner and pushing his mum and me to the outer fringes of bed-space and beyond. Often my knees dangle over the spongy precipice of my side of the mattress, a faint sliver of duvet tugged sparingly to my body, an arrangement that brings warmth to a mere one shoulder and half a leg.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Except now we have to.

Baby number two is arriving this November, and the bright torch of cosy snuggledom will have to be passed down from the eldest sibling to the newest. This makes it sound like a noble act in which my son is a willing participant. My language masks the fact that our son will probably interpret his relocation to his actual bedroom – or ‘the toy room’ as he surely thinks of it – as banishment; his position at the maternal breast usurped by a shrieking, snivelling little upstart with nothing in the way of special skills beyond the amazing ability to shit, sneeze, piss and cry all at the same time.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

My son no longer breastfeeds. I guess his mum’s pregnancy hormones and a concomitant change in the composition of her milk convinced his taste buds that it was time to move on. He still stares at his mum’s breasts from time to time, with the same look on his face that you or I would wear if we spotted someone in the street with whom we were positive we’d once passed an evening, many years ago. Sometimes, when we’re all lying in bed for story time, he slips a hand down his mum’s top, buries it in her cleavage and says, ‘Comfy in there.’ (That’s my boy!) Then he’ll fall asleep, a fond look written across his tender little features somewhere between peace and triumph.

Breastfeeding was the main reason we decided to co-sleep, to make night feeds easier for mother and child (and, let’s face it, for Daddy too). I say ‘we’ decided. That’s not strictly accurate. My partner outlined the kind of mother she wanted to be, and I gladly and wholeheartedly supported it. I’m thankful every day that I was blessed to have children with a woman whose methods, which I’m sure will earn her the label of ‘new age mother’ or ‘hippy chick’ in some people’s eyes, hark back to a more mother-centric time. Had she decided to bottle feed and move our baby to his own room within a few months, I’m sure I would’ve supported that, too, but I’m grateful that she was able to open my eyes to the alternative; an alternative that I fast accepted as the definitive. That being said, I recognise that all mothers and couples have different stresses, commitments and priorities in their lives that don’t always easily accommodate the ways in which we’ve chosen to approach parenthood. I’m just glad we were able to find a way that works for us, and makes us all happy.

Even though my son’s suckling days – for both sustenance and comfort – are over, his continued presence in our room is about so much more than nurturing or convenience. It’s a gift. Each morning I wake up to find a little face smiling at me across his mother’s tummy. He’ll shout ‘Morning time’ and clamber over her legs to nuzzle in between us, cradling my face and giving me a big wet kiss on the lips. More and more frequently, as my fear of rolling over in my sleep and crushing him to death has subsided, I’ve woken to find him nestled in to the crook of my arm, and get to watch his tiny, delicate chest rising and falling, a series of soft little susurrations issuing from his lips. When I wake up, he wakes up, grabbing my hand and telling me, ‘Mon, Daddy, mon, morning time’, before sliding himself off the bed and demanding I follow him. The thought of not seeing his face in the fresh seconds of each new day, of not knowing he’s safe and with us – I mean with us, right with us – fills me with a suffocating sense of dread. I know he’ll only be a few feet away in another room, just along the smallest hallway in the world. I know we’ll all adapt and adjust as a family and nothing will be lost or broken. But still. My boy. My team. We should be together. Always. Even when we’re all snoring and farting in bed.

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always 'Please don't let me kill the baby.'

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always ‘Please don’t let me kill the baby.’

Because the vast majority of people in the Western world don’t co-sleep with their children – having the luxury of space and surplus bedrooms – our decision to do so is often greeted as if it were some weird new-age aberration. It amuses me when baby boomers and their elders scoff at co-sleeping, or somehow think it’s an unhealthy form of coddling, given that most of them grew up in one-bedroom tenements where they had to share a bed with eighty members of their extended family.

I know what you’re thinking, though. Conjugals, right? I guess there are a lot of husbands and partners who would baulk at the idea of co-sleeping with their kids for that very reason. Isn’t sharing your bed with a tiny human an impediment to sex with your partner? Well of course it is. But so is having kids in the first place. Besides, not having a bed to rely on forces you to make better use of things like walls, tables and washing machines. I’m conscious that the previous sentence makes it sound as though my life is an uninterrupted cavalcade of adventurous humping, when that may be over-egging the pudding somewhat. A child is a living reminder of death: your actual death, and the steady death of your recreational sex life. A lot of the time we’re too tired after long hours absorbing and deflecting the time-hungry hyperactivity of our unbowedly kinetic little human. Or else find that our supplies of sexiness and reservoirs of randiness have been depleted by the wiping up of one too many jobbies, or the fifty-sixth recitation in a row of Jack and the Beanstalk. Now that’s a passion killer. Especially when you later find yourself shouting out ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ at the point of ejaculation.

The next few months are going to tough for the three (soon to be four) of us, but we have to do what’s best for Jack and the new baby. We can’t risk the safety of our newest arrival if Jack decides to  object to the sharing of his domain, and we can’t subject Jack to a screaming wake-up call every two to three hours when his little brother or sister wakes up to feed. We’re going to have to help Jack adjust to the new reality in stages; make it seem like the bold, empowering and exciting journey towards independence that I guess, in many ways, it is.

Perhaps I’m worrying in the wrong direction here. For me, the only thing worse than the thought of my son being upset by his impending move is the thought that he won’t really give a shit about it one way or the other. And it’ll be me waking up at four in the morning with a heavy heart and a halted tear, creeping through to his room with a blanket and a pillow, begging to be close to him.

MORE ARTICLES ON PARENTHOOD

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

 

How to fucking win at being a Dad

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Prepare yourself, Dads. I’m about to tell you how you can get the most out of fatherhood, be an excellent role-model to your child and wring as much money as possible out of the experience. Pay attention.

1)

You want to take your baby to interesting places. You want their developing brain to be exposed to as many stimulating sights, sounds and smells as possible. The trouble is, places like that are mega expensive. The zoo, the safari park, Deep Sea World, science centres. Jesus. Wave your wages goodbye. Worse still, your kid is never going to remember you taking them there, which means you’ll only have to take them again in a few years’ time. A double juicing.

Luckily, I’m here to help. Don’t worry. You won’t have to print counterfeit money, stage a break in at the dead of night, or pretend to be a family of safety inspectors. The solution is simpler than that. Just make the first trips to these places sufficiently memorable that you won’t ever have to take your kid back there again. You really need to go for it though. No half-measures. Trauma is the order of the day. Those memories need to stick, and stick hard. For instance, you could walk around the safari park wielding an axe while dressed as a blood-soaked clown, occasionally shrieking animal noises into the pram. Or holler bomb threats in the science centre as you kick over exhibits and topple giant models of ears. Or better yet, smuggle speakers into Deep Sea World and blast out the sounds of machine-gun fire and glass shattering as you stroll through the Underwater Safari. The accompanying screams of terror should ensure that your baby will never EVER forget their first hippo/giant ear/shark/police station. Job done. Plus, if you get sent to prison for any of this you won’t have to pay towards the child’s upkeep while you’re away. Brilliant.

2)

Speak to your child in English but with a French accent. Ceaselessly. Never let up. By the time your child is two they’ll be – unsurprisingly – speaking English with a French accent. The reasons for doing this are twofold. One, it’s funny as fuck. Two, if your baby grows into a deeply ugly or stupid child, you can always tell people they were adopted.

3)

If your partner asks you to change a nappy, do it without hesitation. However, instead of using a boring old nappy, try selotaping wet bits of cardboard you’ve ripped from an old Weetabix box to your child’s arse. I wonder if you’ll ever be invited to change nappies again. You’re welcome, my friend. (PS: You might end up being sectioned, but mental people aren’t expected to contribute to childcare, so if that happens then get your feet up, surround yourself with your favourite blunt items and bloody enjoy yourself, you deserve it)

4)

Encourage your partner to breastfeed, but not because it will save you fucking around with plastic bottles and having to get up through the night for eighteen months or so, or because it’s good for your child’s health or some namby-pampy, new-age shit like that. Do it because occasionally your child will detach itself from the boob and let milk dribble from their mouth like Ash the android from Alien after his fight with Ripley. Trust me, it looks really cool. You can then take pictures of it and send them to Sigourney Weaver, along with hundreds of begging letters. It’s win/win. She gives you money or arranges for you to be in Alien 5, you’re on easy street. She instructs her lawyer to obtain a restraining order (“Get away from her, you BITCH”, Kind Regards, Sigourney Weaver’s legal team), then you sell your story to The Sun. Cha-ching.

5)

Act early to disavow your child of supernatural lies and nonsense, while at the same time ensuring a whopping future pay-day. Here’s what you do. Before your child is old enough to speak, erect a gravestone in the back garden that reads: ‘SANTA CLAUS.’ Take your child to visit it every day, and remind them that Santa died of a massive heart attack in 1978. Add to the fun by hanging a crucified tooth fairy to your living room wall. Wherever there is myth or childhood flim flam, expose it in the most brutal way you possibly can: a snuff video of the Easter Bunny’s last agonising moments on earth, perhaps, or a book that proves Jesus was a time-travelling paedophile from New Jersey in the year 2786. Crush those dreams. Crush them hard. It may seem cruel, but it will benefit your child in the long-run. Here comes the great bit: once they’re at school, get them to send letters to the parents of their little friends threatening to publicly expose their bullshit in the playground unless a regular tribute is paid into your bank account. “GIFF MY DADDEE TEN POUNS A WEEK OR I TELL TOMAS THAT THEIR NO SANTA, OK?” Watch the cash roll in, which you can then spend on Weetabix boxes and selotape.

Happy Father’s Day to Me?

father2I 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!!!”

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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.

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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.