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.

Any good?

The Best Cure for a Parental Hangover is a Duck

Sometimes caring for children while nursing a hangover is unavoidable. Judging by the gallery of restorative booze shots on social media it seems to be a common problem; on a daily basis there are scores of parents posting snaps of Pinot Grigio pints with a jolly message about their increasing dependency. It seems that along with all the nappies and rusks, parenthood can bring with it a mild functioning alcoholism.

My advice to myself is twofold. Firstly, a bit like driving, check that I am not still shitfaced from the night before and if I am don’t attempt to operate a child. Secondly, just get on with it. Looking after my sons is so consuming that I don’t have enough brain capacity to consider a hangover.

It was in this spirit that I accompanied the two boys to a local pond to feed the ducks last Sunday, having attended a party the day before at which I was the first to arrive and virtually the last to leave. To my shame there were children at this event, including my own. Fortunately my wife had to the foresight to perform an early extraction of the boys, before for instance I manhandled my own son and told him that I absolutely fucking loved him.

I have previously confessed on these pages to a quiet admiration for ducks. Their phlegmatic nature, the attractive iridescence of their plumage and the fact they can swim, walk and fly with a minimum of fuss. It seems this respect has been bequeathed to my sons, they are both well into ducks as well. So the trip seemed very apt.

A hangover cannot survive in a world where two small children are careering around a body of water. This is a situation that requires complete focus and the swivel-eye function of a chameleon. In truth I couldn’t muster the energy to face this so the Minor was permanently installed in my arm cradle. This set-up was complicated by a worsening issue with my wrist caused by an insect bite suffered the previous evening. In fact I had been nibbled around twenty times and not in a good way. The bite on my right wrist was inflicted in the middle of what the Minor would deem to be his seat and the pressure of his bum was causing the whole area to swell up.

I had also made a fundamental error in strategy by adding a football to the equation. On arrival the football immediately escaped and rolled into the pond. Fortunately it ran aground on a minor mud flat about a yard away from the bankside. How to retrieve a ball from a pond with a three-year-old and one-year-old sort of sounds like one those corporate riddles posed to get disaffected colleagues to work together. The simple solution is a stick, the sourcing of which became a pleasant distraction in itself. The Major is big on sticks.

I was thankful for the stick mission because the duck pond was a disappointment. There were no ducks. Instead the pond resembled a well-croutoned minestrone, each soggy uneaten scrap of bread representing the shattered dreams of all the children who had visited that day hoping to mass-cater for some wildfowl.

We were on the point of leaving when two ducks touched down on a grassy hump near to the pond. So as not to spook them we approached stealthily (as stealthily as two excitable little boys and man with a hand that was rapidly turning into giant foam glove could).

The ducks may have just lunched because when we threw our grub towards them they skulked off. I’d seen Carol the weathermum off BBC Breakfast explain that bread was actually bad for ducks, so instead we brought a bag of what amounted to some rubbish crudités. Once the ducks had turned their beaks up at it, the Minor tucked in, shoving grotesque squidgy cucumber batons into his mouth. It was only later that his mum revealed she’d retrieved the food from the bin.

But at least by then my hangover had disappeared.

Any good?