When I First Held My Son All I Felt Was Hunger

I had hoped that once I had children a primal dad instinct would kick in, furnishing me with all the skills and knowledge needed to fulfil the dad brief. I thought there might be a higher dad gear that I might smoothly climb into. Essentially operating on dad auto-pilot, confidently tackling all the dad challenges like hosepipe connectors and nanny tax.

The first indication that this was not the case was in the very early seconds of fatherhood. I had heard men recalling the moment they were first presented their child and talking about experiencing an intense wash of emotion and love. When I pictured this happening to me I imagined the feeling to be like a chemical euphoria, a high basically: a love-numbness in my limbs, the warm pleasant prickle of love-sweat on my skin.

I felt none of these. I remember the disappointment that I was not going through what many of my predecessors seem to have done. I’d clattered into the first dad hurdle.

I only felt peckishness. I’d subsisted off Hula-Hoops for the previous 36 hours. I am reluctant to admit that I was tired also, knowing that the deprivations I suffered are so incomparable to my wife’s they don’t even deserve to be in the same sentence.

As my dad-reflexes weren’t working I decided to copy a tactic from the classic dad playbook. I’d seen on One Born Every Minute that dads like to take their babies to the window of the delivery room to show them the world that they just arrived in. But I’d forgotten that the view from our room overlooked HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, where a parade of cancerous-looking lags had just loped out for a smoke.

I noticed the first traces of dad-instinct working the next day when we left the hospital and installed the Major into his car-seat. A bizarre paranoia borne of protectiveness swept over me that the road home had become a very long fairground dodgem ride with every fellow road-user hell-bent onto ploughing into us. Fleetingly I even saw the logic in those ‘baby on board’ signs.

In the week after the birth I saw other changes in my behaviour. An inability to remove my gaze from the Major for instance. I had spotted that his toes were tiny replicas of mine, hideous long toes that look like fingers on the end of our feet. It struck me then that the Major was a part of me, a small shard that had splintered off and therefore in need of unconditional love and attention.

I was wrong-footed by my son’s ability to sleep for long periods throughout the night. Assuming that I was required to tend to him in the small hours I’d fish him out of his basket and let him doze on my chest while I watched old golf footage that I had recorded. I had hoped to persuade his mother that the ambient green light of the televised fairways had a soothing effect on him, part of a longer-term strategy to secure golf, cricket and football viewing in the future.

It was watching a golf tournament that I properly clicked into gear as a dad. Some of the victorious players had gathered their families around them to join their celebrations. Their triumph was enriched by the presence of their children. Life was richer.

It had taken a few ill-dressed millionaires to understand, but now I knew what it was to be a dad. I looked at the little form curled up on my sternum. And there was a pleasant prickle on my skin.

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Gas and Air and Haribo: A Dad in Labour

Witnessing the birth of my children as a father was an odd experience in some ways. It’s the most momentous, brilliant thing that will ever happen to me but at the same time it wasn’t about me at all. It was about my wife and the medical team assigned to extract the peculiar little creatures living within her. I was a minor character in the action, an extra loitering at the back of set. Albeit with a small cameo towards the end.

My wife had issued me with the remit to sit quietly and only speak was I spoken to, like a Victorian child. This chimed with my passive, reactive nature so throughout both labours I squirreled myself away in a corner with a multipack of salt and vinegar Hula-Hoops, playing puerile games on my phone and awaiting any instructions.

Unaccountably both my sons were reluctant to come out and meet us and had to be induced. There was no high-octane dash to the hospital on either occasion, just a measured journey to be admitted to the induction ward.

The induction ward is what I would guess an olden-days military field hospital was like. On the induction ward you are never more than a yard away than a woman beginning to experience what I imagine is the acute sensation of having her undercarriage dismantled from within. Most mothers-to-be at least suffer these early ravages in the privacy of her own homes, but during induction only a thin vinyl curtain separates them from a strange man awkwardly immersing himself into a mobile version of The Sims. Naturally I felt that my presence on those wards was intrusive.

During our second trip to the induction ward, there seemed to be urgent demand for Entonox, or gas and air. Unfortunately it was only available in one canister which had to be passed around the ward via a nurse like a suspicious cigarette at a student party. My wife’s pain was exacerbated by an ovarian cyst, a situation noted by a kindly midwife who ushered us discreetly through to an unused ward to provide my wife her own space and crucially her own drug supply.

Midwives are among the best people I’ve met. The ones I’ve worked with most effectively are able to adapt to each delicate situation by either offering sweet reassurance or a full and frank slap in the face. Like a good cop and a bad cop in the same well-pressed uniform, a person who might greet you with a lovely warm meaningful hug but then punch you in the tit for not hugging hard enough.

I am convinced that the addition of a few Haribo Tangfastics rendered the gas and air more powerful that night. During the first birth, my wife inhaled a small cloud of the stuff but described the feeling as ‘being a bit pissed’ but with no reduction in pain. Another unforeseen side effect was a bizarre misplaced paranoia that she sounded like the American drag artist RuPaul. This lead to a temporary obsession with RuPaul and his career.

The disappointing impact of the Entonox on that occasion was partly the reason that my wife decided to have an epidural. She viewed this as some kind of failure, but she was the only person in the room that thought this and we all gave her our fulsome support. We were also a bit tired of RuPaul.

The epidural was left in the needle second time round and the delivery team explained that the option of a water birth was available. I’ve heard stories about dads stripping off and getting in the tub with the mums or being equipped with a net to fish poo out like the worst fairground game ever. But my responsibility was to remain outside and hold my wife’s head so as to prevent her plunging underneath the water as she pushed, thus avoiding an impromptu witch-trial.

Before the first birth I had resolved that during the final pushes I would station myself close to my wife’s head and away from the business end. But when it came to it I was magnetised towards that area, until I my face was only a yard or so away from the action. What I witnessed there was like the greatest magic trick I’ve ever seen. More specifically being taken step by visceral step through the greatest magic trick and still having no clue how it was achieved. The miracle of childbirth may be a cliché, but it’s definitely true.

Any good?