Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Daddy Cool Part 2: This Time It's Personal

Dear Friends,

If your memories hark back far enough you might recall Part 1 of Daddy Cool, wherein I charted, rather hastily, the history of children and child rearing. It was an emotionally traumatic piece of research, spurred initially by a desire to comprehend the vastly differing opinions on child rearing.

In Part 2 (of 3 (I Hope)) I will be detailing the effects of preparation for parenthood on myself. I make no apologies if what I write has no particular reference to you, though I hope at least some of it will. I can only write from the perspective of a heterosexual male fathering his own biological offspring, because that is my experience. If you feel that my portrayal of fatherhood is too narrow, please feel free to respond and broaden the topic to include your own experience. After all, it is only through the sharing of experience and discovering commonality that we learn from one another.

Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it. - Mike Myers

In the beginning there was the fear...

When my wife and I decided to try to have children it signalled a change in our relationship that was only partly foreseen. Despite my medical background, I knew little about parenting from conception to birth, beyond the scientific. I naively thought that perhaps that would be enough. When my wife told me she was pregnant, even though I should have been expecting it, I was surprised.

For the preceeding months I had tried my hardest not to dwell on all the worries I had regarding just the conception. I found myself, in my quieter moments, trying to rationalise every possible outcome of our attempts to conceive. When I was younger I had always told myself it wouldn't matter to me if I was infertile, because there are so many options. I had settled on the idea that I would adopt. Simple as that. I would play the hand I was given and rather than lament it. I would give a child the home it deserves. How very altruistic of me.

This was, of course, before I was married. Before it was a potential reality rather than a hypothetical situation. What I had failed to account for was the feelings of the other person. The potential mother of a child. A child she would like to have with me. How about how she felt? Would she be so keen on my altruistic world view? Chances are if there was an infertility problem, it would be on one side of the partnership alone. It would be hard to not feel like you are somehow letting the other person down. That maybe they would be better off being with someone who can give them the family they desire? These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head from time to time.

Once the pregnancy was confirmed though, these thoughts dissipated, as you'd expect. However I do know that there are many people who have to deal with these questions in reality. I wish I could be more comforting, but it seems anything I say would ring hollow.

Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch. - Jon Stewart

The pregnancy from the point of view of a new father to be, brings about ambivalent feelings. It's amazing to see a woman's body change and seemingly out of nowhere produce a baby. Up until the first ultrasound scan at 12 weeks, everything about the pregnancy seemed somewhat tiresome. (I can literally feel the mothers reading this start to hate me, but hear me out.) The joy of learning you have the potential for creation within your capability, is soon tempered with the physical symptoms of the first trimester. To the partner, all the morning sickness, aches, pains and sore breasts, are just a protracted illness. Something that they can do little about, even if they are, as I hope I was, sympathetic to the sufferer. You can learn about it, try to help out as much as possible, but no matter how much you may want to, you cannot travel the same journey as the mother. From the very outset pregnancy excludes the male from the obvious physical and emotional strains of growing another human being. Women can know it, men cannot.

However, the 12 week scan, brought into sharp focus the inescapable reality that was presented before me. In half a years time, I would become a father. Specifically to the little mass of grey pixels on the sonographer's screen. A threshold was crossed at that moment and the door behind you shut and disappeared. Like all nodal points in life, it was both exciting and terrifying. We two were responsible now. We had decided we were, before starting out. Now we would have to prove it. But we two did not have the same role to play. My wife was to be Mother, I was to be Father.

The frustrations of the first trimester made way for earnest preparation and a new found sense of responsibility for the habitat of the new person, soon to enter into existence. Things that had seemed periphery to my reality before, now occupied my thoughts. Economic, environmental, political. All of which centred at my immediate surroundings and extended outwards. It was now my responsibility to craft a space in the world fit for a baby. My baby. It is both selfless and selfish. Selfless on the part of the offspring, selfish in terms of society. I wanted the best for the child first and foremost, I'd get to helping anyone else after, if possible.

I had never experienced such a mixing of feelings. At times I felt uneasy with how my world view was changing. Yet it seemed almost biological. As though some dormant genes were suddenly awakened and a physiological change was happening. My wife's change was obvious, but mine was no less real. I found myself emotionally brittle in situations that hitherto had rendered me apathetic, if that even.

On the one hand, we'll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars. - Bruce Willis

It's hard to express the wonder of watching the woman you are with transforming into a Mother. The girl you once knew, fulfilling a potential power so mundane yet utterly astounding. The rational mind tells you to understand it from a dispassionate perspective, a "Chemical Reaction" as Bill Hicks once put it. Yet to be privy to it, to be watching it first hand, fully in the knowledge that this has happened several billion times over, was almost magical. The plasticity of the human body will never cease to amaze me, neither will its frailty.

The date which seemed an age away rapidly approached. The reckoning was upon us. It will be no surprise to tell you, that for the purposes of story telling, TV and movies have lied to you. (Aside: If you develop your reality from what you see on a screen alone, your life will be an endless series of disappointment and confusion.) Labour is not a fifteen minute job. I had never really considered it, but it's called Labour for a reason. It's not called Idleness, Inactivity or Indolence for similarly appropriate reasons. It was exhausting just being present, I would not like to even imagine what it is like to actually experience. If men were truthful with themselves, once witnessing Labour first hand and considering all the trevails we, as a gender put them through, they still live longer than us. Women really are the stronger sex. Sorry fellas.

Think about it this way: a woman can grow a baby inside her body. Then a woman can deliver the baby through her body. Then, by some miracle, a woman can feed a baby with her body. When you compare that to a male’s contribution to life, it’s kind of embarrassing, really. The father is always like, “Hey, I helped, too. For like five seconds. Doing the one thing I think about twenty-four hours a day." - Jim Gaffigan

Then, after all the waiting, the tears, the worry and excitement, there he was. My son. I learnt in that instant I was to be father to a son. The images of his first moments in this world will forever be etched in my mind. I never thought that my soul could bear such an excess of joy. I thought I had known what love was, but truly I had only seen one facet. All of a sudden, a new dimension of love was exposed to view and was almost overwhelming in its immensity. I cannot overemphasise this, but will stop now before I spill out the countless clich├ęs which I am in danger of spouting.

An unexpected tranquillity fell upon the room. This utterly defenceless, little person, that only an hour ago was merely imaginary, was in my arms. A small bundle of potential energy. His course in life would be eternally entwined with my own, yet the world he will know, would be very different to the one I knew.

I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more,
Than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world. - Louis Armstrong

In those twilight moments, it felt as though the fruits of labour had finally been harvested. Yet I was soon to realise, the truly hard work had not yet begun.

In the next part of Daddy Cool, I will exploring what it really means to be a Cool Daddy.

Yours always,

The Filosofer


I know, I know. You don't need to tell me I've been gone too long. I can feel it. Let's just say, life got in the way. Now life has decided to be cool, I can resume more regular blogging.

You can contact the Filosofer on:
Twitter: @xmphilosophy