I have recently become a father again. And yet I have been a father for a fair few years already now, and that hasn’t changed. What I mean is that we now have a much smaller child than the one we already had a few months ago. A number of my friends and contemporaries have become fathers over the last few years too. It is the natural order of things, it would seem: We’re all getting on a bit.
My thesis is that when a man finds out that he is about to become a father, if he is not scared, or nervous, even apprehensive, then he has not thought hard enough about it. Even the slightest understanding of what is involved in parenthood should give most men pause. Yes, there is going to be a lot of blood, and invasive procedures, but your partner is going to handle that side of things.
What follows is a daunting prospect: whatever you have done in your life, whatever experiences you have been involved in, whatever you have witnessed, nothing will prepare you for the first few months of parenthood. You will, for instance, cease to mind being covered from head to toe in milk, urine, vomit and faeces; you’ll probably even sleep in it all without a second thought. For a start.
It’s different for girls. That’s patronising, but there is a kernel of truth in it. Women understand that they are capable of growing a life inside of them. For some this is a divinely granted quest; for others this is the definition of abomination. Either way, the knowledge is there for a good few years before anyone actually gets around to doing anything about it. It prepares the mind for the journey ahead.
Even a man who is surrounded by a bevvy of babbling babies need not really know that this event lies in his future light cone. It may not have sunk in from the possible to the potential to the likely. The fact that he could readily implant life every time he gets his leg over is eclipsed by the genetic urge to get his leg over in the first place. And it’s a very loud urge indeed, drowning out all others.
I understand that the real impact is on the mother-to-be when pregnancy is discovered, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a shock for fathers-to-be, too. Just because I could become the Secretary General of the United Nations does not mean that I expect it to happen every day. Even if I have applied for the role, and have been running a modern industrialised nation for a decade or so.
That discovery, that you actually need to grow up and do something with yourself is a shocker. A lot of men live in bubbles of semi-adolescence for as long as is humanly possible. These men either think that all domestic jobs “just get done”, or that they are “not my problem”. These are the men for whom the concept of a forthcoming child is nary a cause for complaint or fear. Then reality bites.
These are the men who run for the hills; these are the men who run for their lives; these are the men who give the rest of us a terribly bad name. Running away from a partner and a child when all of the shouting, the crying and the horror is at its peak may seem like a great and justifiable idea, but it is an act of true cowardice, and it robs you of any say over the lives of any of your children.
Parenthood is hard, and it brings with it numerous privations and perils. Living in a house with an adult is a battleground of epic proportions; living with a child as they grow up is a mirror to one’s own inadequacies, faults, flaws and the utterly hateful nature of human existence. If the thought of entering in to that is not terrifying, you are not aware enough of the nature of hell on this earth.
When I was a child I was a coward. The problem is that I still may be one: I am afraid of everyone I have never met, and the horrible things they will do to me. Only, when I am out and about with my kids, nothing scares me. They look up to me and know that they are safe in my hands. I can walk down darkened streets at night, my heart beating a normal rhythm, where in the past I would have been on the verge of a panic attack. After a few years of fatherhood, the world holds no more fear.
In the past I would be scared of a gang of ne’er-do-wells roaming down the street: scared that they would pick a fight or call me names. Having survived the wars of shit and piss they scare me not. After struggling to get a five year old to brush her teeth every single day for a year, the prospect of screaming at some limp-dicked snot rag holds no fear for me whatsoever. Terror is looking in to the eyes of the people you love most in the world and not knowing how they could reduce you to a wet ball of misery; all in the understanding that they will giggle any second. Other people don’t exist.
And yet, fatherhood is the main thing which converts a young “man” in to an actual man. That is the real process of “Manning Up” – a phrase so pathetic I endeavour never to use it. I only do so here to make a point. A pre-fatherhood man is a different proposition to a father: there are responsibilities, yes, but there are also fears and instincts. You look back on yourself and weep for his childishness.
Abilities are presented to you which you had never considered before this day: Sleep is optional; caring about someone else’s survival is now important; you actually choose to tidy up after another human being; you no longer think of yourself first. Mostly. One’s former concerns are mere wisps on the breeze of a life now relegated to the past. In short, you are a smug bastard, and you know it.
A father is a far more capable human being than a mere man. He has the ability to think when all around him is screaming (although not every time, it must be said); he has the stamina to help run a home when previously he would have sacked it off until the next day; he is the strongest human being on the planet.
Any man who is not terrified by the imminent prospect of his own fatherhood is not worthy of it.