Wednesday, 5 June 2013

...and when did you first see your son?

I wanted to write something about being a dad. I'm stealing a title, of course, from the wonderful Blake Morrison.

And when did you first see your son?

I won’t mention the first time I saw you physically because in truth all I remember about that day was the crushing realisation that all of this was really happening after all. A little black and white monitor and some bizarre computer game being played upon it. And the nurse pointing out this beating heart.  I couldn’t see it myself. I just nodded, not wanting to look stupid. I remember your mum looking at me and the pair of us realising we would be seeing this game through to the end. 
            So that wasn’t the first time I saw you.
            Four minutes after you were born, sometime after two in the morning, I held you for the first time. I remember the surprising warmth and weight of the bundle. I remember the smell of the efforts of labour and the sight of your mother angry with exhaustion. A father can feel like a fraud at such moments, I did. The only thing I saw was the next sixteen years of my life spread out like a dull, sufocating blanket. I knew I loved you but I loved myself more.  That wasn’t the first time I saw you.
            Taxi home from the hospital; you in the Moses basket on my lap. In the thirty-six hours since you were born I have sterilised the house or near as dammit. I have vacuumed, polished, scrubbed, aired, fumigated, cleansed. It is a museum not a home. My parents are there to greet us all, excited at the new generation of our family getting under way. They coo and they aah at the appropriate junctures. My dad’s brought flowers and champagne. I coo and I aah at the appropriate junctures.
            Over the next 18 months your eyes opened more, you crawled, took your first steps. Our days were adventures in growing up for the pair of us. Nappies and inoculations for you; responsibility and domesticity for me. However, my evenings were mine. I couldn’t wait to say goodnight. I could have read to you. I rarely did.
            A few days before your first birthday you were rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis in an ambulance with a police escort. Meningitis is big news round here right now. Some tiny lad round the corner died only the week before. And now we’re in a hospital drama, being wheeled at high speed to some special room where I have to bend you and somehow ignore your screams whilst they drain fluid from your tiny spine.
            Anxiously we wait for some guy in a lab upstairs to call down. No news is bad news. You didn’t have meningitis. You would live.
            I cried that night because I was angry at you for making me cry.
            The rest of that time is textbook. Parents too young. Unplanned child. Thwarted dreams. Poverty and rows. The inevitable split. Your mother getting custody.
            Before that, not long before that, maybe a week or two earlier, I saw you for the first time.
            A miniature village green that acted as an excuse for the cul-de-sac we lived in. A February morning, short on sunshine. What light there is is watered down from months of winter, the birch trees stripped and thin against it like angry veins, tired fingers. The pair of us padded up in thick coats on the wet grass. An impossibly red football in front of your little fat corduroy legs. You are running towards the ball, running, properly running for the first time in your life. You kick at the ball and pleasingly, it shoots away from you a few yards. You chase it. We chase it together. Kicking and running and chasing the rest of the morning. These are the greatest minutes of my life and I don’t yet know it. This is the first time I see you.

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