Wednesday, 7 August 2013

BACK TO EARTH

It stung cold; slapped me right across the face.

“Please, don’t you sulk. I’m busy looking after a newborn and I don’t have time to look after you as well.”

Who armed my wife with those words dressed as a 200-pound frozen tuna? And where did she learn to swing it like that?

Breeding changes the winds. I was never naïve enough to think I could sail through life, produce a plus one every time we passed the coastline of love, raise it seamlessly like a full spinnaker and then coast through the calm waters as a perfect nuclear crew. (Excuse the sailing metaphors; I’m not quite sure where they came from). Nor am I a whinger; I rarely complain about anything, and surely I’m allowed to draw into my cave for an hour or so if I want. Anyway, it’s not about that; and it’s not about having someone to look after me. I’m a big boy, and I can fight my own fish.


What I perhaps concede, though, is that I feel that I’m experiencing my first transitional phase of parenthood. It’s not something I’ll be celebrating, but equally it’s not a negative realisation. Time has brought me down to earth – from the high of new and magnificent sensations, to the reality of this not being just an experience I can opt out of.

I see this as the “first” transition because I sense that relationships between a child and a parent passes regularly across thresholds into new worlds, although I suspect that later in life these transitions are less frequent. That said, and I reflect on my own upbringing, the shifts probably become more dramatic when influenced by pre-teen, pre-pubescent and mature offspring.

So, my first transition phase. Eight weeks ago, I was a blubbering mess of emotional excitement; on a high, having watched the love of my life deliver another human into the world. I was a father, something I had always hoped to become, and the dream was real. Fatherhood was everything I had expected – there was a new, cute, soft, pure little person in my life, half me, half tuna-thrower, who could do no wrong.

Then we take the prized possession home, and the dream lives on. I ogle, proud of myself for having played a vital role in conceiving such a work of art; and I’m showing him off, greedy for the cluckiness of my friends and family, mentally patting myself on the back every time someone says: “he’s beautiful”, “he’s handsome”, “he looks just like his father”.

Fast-forward two weeks, and the parental leave is finished. I’m back at work; my colleagues keen to live his every move through me. I’m pleased to talk about him, and to accept the throng of presents gifted to him from people I haven’t even met. It’s as if he’s the messiah; to me he is. He could cry all night and crap all day, and every time I’d race my wife to settle him, or change his nappy. Any exhaustion was well and truly overwhelmed by the exhilaration of being a new parent.

Now this family of three is at eight weeks and the atmosphere’s changed. When a fortnight ago I felt confidently prepared for parenthood, I now feel so poorly equipped for the job that I can’t help feel there’s a better way of doing things.

Fretting over things that seem vitally important now but are sure to be insignificant in six months has become a favoured past time. Disagreements on the most mundane issues have increased; I feel torn over who I should dedicate my time to – my son, my wife, myself; the confidence I was proud of has been lost to the point where I seek counsel on the most minute activities involved in raising a baby like whether or not I should put his dummy in if he’s grumpy; and my work-life balance seems to be out of kilter.

Add to that the frustration Anna feels about her lack of human contact. Yearning for an adult discussion with someone that isn’t a nurse or the 85-year-old fruit and vegetables vendor who really only has two tracks of conversation. Talking like a mouse to a crying, pooping, restless, feeding newborn, when you’re sleep deprived and you feel like a dairy cow, obviously has its limits.

 
Still, both of us know how lucky we are. The highlight of my working day is still arriving home to my family. Despite the feeling that the honeymoon period’s over, the smile of recognition I get when I walk through the door is treasured.

No one can ever be completely prepared for fatherhood. As easy as it seems one moment, you know a test sits just around the corner. But most of us are capable. When you steal a peek in the bassinette and in there slumbers the lightly snoring creation of your own, you know all the toils and struggles are simply a necessity in continuing the journey for the start of a new generation.