I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t like it because it used the phrase “it’s not politically correct to say these things” – a phrase I loathe. I didn’t like it because it reinforced a toxic trope around fatherhood: that dad does not count until the child is older. I didn’t like it because it ran contrary to research which shows, increasingly, that dad’s are important from day one in their child’s life. I didn’t like it because it was belittling of the role of dads, this dad included.
Then I decided to think about something I liked. Something I loved, something I remember with fondness and pride. A time of my life that was a crucible of uncontrollable love, a smattering of panic and a kind of contentment that has echoed through the rest of my days.
I thought about that first month of my children’s lives. Both of them, unique and similar at the same time. The “epic and life-changing love-in, and it belongs uniquely to mother and child”, according to MIlli Hill.
With both my children my first moments alone with them came early, and both for the same reason, as a matter of fact, so The Mamanator could take a shower. Yes a shower, that simple luxury that pre-parent Dadinator and Mamanator took for granted, but which simply doesn’t happen every day anymore. Maybe a bassinet would have done, but I think dad is probably better. I held onto The Lad and then The Lass with the same shell-shocked disbelief in the magnitude of what I had just seen and in the fragility of the bundle I was holding.
And I was loath to let go. I learned their faces. They learned mine. They knew my voice – kids know their dad’s voices – but they didn’t know my face, so it was time for them to learn. I held them to my heart. I breathed slowly, let them hear my breath and heart. Later I’d hold them to my bare chest, part of me worried these babies would get hairballs (I am a hairy man). Yes we did skin-to-skin, men can do that too.
And I pitty the fool that tried to pry either of those tiny globules of helplessness from my arms. Except for their mother, she could if she needed to. You see, and maybe this is the key difference between Milli Hill’s experience and mine (and probably the experience of a whole bunch of other dads out there), I liked holding my babies when they were small. I enjoyed it. Hell, I loved it. Every second of it. Even through poo, spew and crying, I loved it. I never felt useless, I never felt detached. I often felt overwhelmed. I often felt scared. I often felt incompetent. Sometimes I panicked. But my god it was an amazing feeling.
So what did I do? Honestly, I can’t remember. It was being awake for days. It was crying. It was secretly willing my nipples to kick into action and produce milk. It was singing songs, whistling and rocking. It was nappy changes, fumbling with swaddles and car seats. It was being a gate-keeper, scheduler and door-bastard. It was being a chair and a bed, a shoulder to cry on and a punching bag for my family.
And a lot of it was just staring at them, my eyes fixed on theirs. I just couldn’t stop.
It was intense. It was joyous and it was amazing. It was more than just supporting The Mamanator. It was getting to know the little guy, and it was him getting to know me. I remember wearing him on my chest as we went out for a coffee together. I remember his eyes. The way he looked at me. I remember when he fell asleep in my arms. I remember the tears. I remember laughter. I remember the eyes. Those deep blue eyes, staring at me as they learned my face.
And that was the first one.
The second one I remember distracting, I remember diverting, I remember helping him feel involved. And I remember her. I remember her needing so much and asking so much of me. Of us, because we were both there for her.
I remember a love. A love that from the big-bang of birth expanded into a universe. A universe that I thought included everything until The Mamanator brought forth another one, and it turns out that there are parallel universes after all.
I wasn’t there to give mum a break. I wasn’t there to support her. Well I was, but it was more than that. I was there for my kids, building and founding my relationship with them. I kept them safe, and feeling safe. I kept them loved, and feeling love. I kept them asleep. Sometimes.
I was there for my kids. Not just because they needed me, but because I needed them.
And I’m proud of those first four weeks. It was hard, it was epic and it was something I’ll miss forever. Thank goodness I was blessed enough get the chance to miss it.