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.