Things You Learn When You Become a Dad for the First Time
When you're part of a generation of questionably-dressed, overdraft-plundering adult babies, it's hard to believe you'll ever be able to grow up enough to be a dad. But you can, even when it's really shit.
Artwork by Dan Evans
Becoming a dad is like having a chubby, drooling dwarf march in and steal your life. You know, that carefree life you had before, where you could go out drinking, see a film in the evening or go to a restaurant on a whim. Now you get excited if you manage to catch ten minutes of Film 2015 on the iPlayer before the Linda Blair-ish screaming begins from the other room.
No one really tells you how much everything changes when you have a baby. Or maybe they do, but you're too bored to really take it in because, you know, new parents, bore off. "Shut up about buggies, farts and gag reflexes already," you might say, because you've got that ongoing, super-relevant Twitter disagreement to keep up with. You've got an American Hot that needs ordering.
Personally, I'm still reeling at the shock of it and it's been seven months. Because, when you've ingested the life lessons of The Replacements and Holden Caulfield, the concept of fatherhood seems utterly alien. You've built your world around adolescent concerns, not responsibility and The Future. I thought that my experience as an uncle and knowing all the lyrics to "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics would help, but it didn't.
The first jolt of fatherhood is the realisation that you are completely irrelevant, because, for the first few months, the baby doesn't really interact with you. It's all about the relationship with his or her mum – you are there to support them while they do the dance of mother and child. This means cooking, cleaning and generally being the dependable one. There's no time to sulk, indulge in any type of hedonism or make dumb jokes about boobs. I found this leap from comic-collecting "sperm donor" to stand up "father" quite a challenge.
So, here are a few things that will happen to you when you become a father. Warning: life pretty much revolves around shit now.
FEELING "READY" IS IMPOSSIBLE
When you come from a dysfunctional family, the rose-tinted glasses of parenthood are more like Mr Magoo's enormous bottle bottoms: you see everything a bit too clearly. The first issue for me surrounding parenthood was how my mother reminded me and my sister throughout childhood that having kids was a bloody waste of time. "Having children is a DEAD LOSS," she'd parrot repeatedly, often around our birthdays. It's these things you remember as you embark on the journey yourself.
The second and most important issue was how severely immature my generation is. I am. We're all adult babies without any real nous in the way of, you know, actually being adults. We're freelance renters who can't commit to either driving lessons or gym membership. We teeter constantly on the edge of our overdrafts. We don't know how to feed ourselves properly. Some of us go out far too much, clinging to the idea that we're in our second year of university for much, much longer than we should.
The lack of security month to month was enough to make me balk at the idea of bringing a child into the world. But it happened. We decided to have a baby. And then, two months before his birth, I got made redundant. Bastards. Which made me feel even more Peter Pan-ish and unready.
TRY TO DRESS LIKE A GROWN UP FOR GROWN UP APPOINTMENTS
I've dressed like a tinpot Interpol roadie for ten sad years. The New Rock Revolution is my purview. As a father to be, this suddenly felt significant, like a demarcation of my immaturity. Perhaps it began at our first birth class, where I turned up wearing a leather jacket, a Black Lips T-shirt and ripped jeans. I cannot begin to tell you how compromised you feel practicing various active birth positions when you're scared your nutsack has fallen out of your ripped crotch.
I had one reoccurring thought that day: if the clothes maketh the man, I am very much a eunuch. A eunuch who looks like they shop at Topman. Suddenly, clothes that had previously made me feel cool made me feel wafer-thin and desperate. Obviously not as ridiculous as the olde tyme Victorian goth couple who turned up in full bowler hat-wearing splendour, though.
Later on, I wore a Breeders T-shirt around the post-natal unit and experienced all manner of withering looks from nurses. So yeah, if you want to be taken seriously as a dad-to-be, maybe don't turn up to important appointments dressed like you're going to a gig that happened in 2002.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO PRETEND TO NOT BE MISERABLE AND TERRIFIED
My default mode in life is cynical and pessimistic. Attempting to parlay that with the "PARENTHOOD IS MAGICAL" mafia who apparently run the whole having-a-kid experience is difficult. Navigating your way through the vast expanse of mushy Cath Kidston brain food that is dribbled your way both pre- and post-birth is a hard task. Everyone is pretending that everything is great and fine when, actually, they're choking up inside and losing themselves. If you're anything like me, you'll be the lone voice in the cooing cacophony that says, "Aaaaaahhhaaa fucksake, this is so fucking intense, why didn't anyone tell me?"
But it's fine to be that person. Everyone feels the same – it's just about who is the best at pretending. The white-hot fear does pass, eventually. Drinking helps. As does a refusal to acknowledge anyone wearing polka dots as a real live human.
Your head will roll when you recall your halcyon days, as your energy drops lower than you've ever known and your body feels like a dirty, creaky shed. You were not tired then, my friend. You'd never been properly introduced to "tired".
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON THIS EARTH CAN PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR BABY'S ENTRANCE
We all have an idea of what having a baby is like, right? Maybe a bit like that scene in Knocked Up or something off One Born Every Minute. But what becomes apparent, very quickly, is that each birth experience is unique and that you don't know anything at all. No birth scene in any movie will give you even a sliver of insight. Ours, it turned out, was a bit shitty. After nine months of a sickness-free pregnancy, when it came time for the baby to say "HIYA!" things took a turn for the worse. It was like a plot-line from Casualty. After spending days "labouring" on the birth ward (where I learned that your new best friends go by the names "TENS Machine" and "Pethidine"), our baby began to lose oxygen at a rapid rate.
The emergency alarm went off, a red light was flashing and my wife was rushed into the emergency room. It was all, suddenly, too real. Too loud. She lay on the operating table under a harsh light with about eight doctors around her. I was speechless, utterly terrified and convinced that they'd both die. A nurse took my hand and led me to a tiny cupboard and told me to put on some scrubs. I grabbed the first thing that I could get my hands on: an XXL set of bright blue scrubs. I looked like a child in a man's scrubs – a fitting visual metaphor, really. Before my wife was put under the anaesthetic, she was comforting me. 'There is,' I thought to myself, 'something wrong with this picture.'
YOU WILL FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE THE WORST HANGOVER ALL THE TIME
Remember that time you pulled the all-nighter, had to get up at 7AM to go to work for that training day that involved It's A Knockout-style team bonding challenges? By god, how you'll laugh now. Your head will roll when you recall your halcyon days, as your energy drops lower than you've ever known and your body feels like a dirty, creaky shed. You were not tired then, my friend. You'd never been properly introduced to "tired".
Once you become a dad, you start saying things like, "It was great, I got three hours last night," to other walking zombies. You end up acting like someone in Requiem For A Dream – slurring, staggering and hallucinating. You find yourself using lots of malaprops (one day, I literally forgot the word for, um, cheese), which are not as bad as the endless, half-finished conversations that trail off into the ether. You talk about dreams that, for some reason, you think everyone is privy to (they're not, hun). Everything that comes out of your trap sounds like a bizarre haiku. And let's not even begin on the paranoia...
YOU GET USED TO LOOKING LIKE A WALKING COMPOST HEAP
Sounding deranged is one thing, but new parenthood also makes you look terrible very quickly. Sartorial standards stoop somewhere between felon-on-day-release and weird-uncle-who-lives-in-a-caravan-and-always-smells-like-damp-and-Wotsits. You become the Normcore Bob of your suburban nightmares who genuinely looks forward to escaping to B&Q at the weekend. You're constantly covered in ominous stains and, probably, smelling like milky gastric juices. Every day, you edge ever closer to dressing head-to-toe in SuperDry.
YOU HAVE SHIT ON YOUR MIND CONSTANTLY
If you didn't talk much about excrement before, your life is about to take a seismic shit, I mean, shift. You will obsess over the texture of shit, the colour of it (my mental cache of shit hues is like a Farrow & Ball catalogue), how frequently it comes and how it smells. You might even start to enjoy the smell. This is your life now. The very idea of squeamishness is a far, forgotten memory, like the time when you didn't want to go to bed at 7PM every night. Remember when you used to talk about the heteronormative conspiracy in Michael Bay films? REMEMBER? Nah, you probably don't, because you can't even remember what was said five minutes ago.
IT'S ALL OK THOUGH, REALLY
Because, in the middle of this tornado of shit and tears, there is your baby. Someone who may steal your sanity and sleep, but whose cuteness does, by quite sickening Darwinism, make it OK, somehow. Even in the depths of 3.57AM madness, his beauty transcends the situation. Fatherhood is the weirdest, most psychedelic trip you will ever take. It's like being hit by lightning, every day.
The one baby cliché that actually rings true is that you will have previously never known a capacity for love like you do now – a pure, terrifying kind of love that actually makes your bones hurt. A love that makes everything you've ever done in your life feel insignificant when you look at the tiny eyes staring up at you that you actually made. Eyes that were once just sex. Even in the mundane moments of routines, like changing a heavy, hot nappy or doing the car seat, there's a purity in the situation that just makes it... alright. Even when you are being pissed on, like I am, right now.
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