We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
I greet new dads with a slight smugness, a wry smile or a little raise of the eyebrow knowing that I’m long past the baby stage and that I can fall asleep on the sofa on a lazy Sunday afternoon without any worry. Better yet, my ‘baby’ can now sometimes be persuaded to fetch me tea and cake!
But, before I puff out my chest and strut around the place like I’m the all-knowing oracle, I have a realisation as I’m writing this that there’s something I hadn’t considered before…
“She’s fifteen now”, I say to myself. “That’s one away from sixteen”.
My brain begins to shut down under the weight of what I’ve just comprehended – basic maths and breathing in and out seem to be the only functions I could successfully perform.
“Sixteen…! But… I… She… Just… Wait…! BOYS! Nooooooooo!! That means in two years she’ll be driving”. Oh no, hang on, it’s worse than that: “Her boyfriend will be driving!” My once almost arrogant expression falls to a blank expressionless shadow of a man.
With all sincerity though, congratulations. You’re moving to a new stage in your life. One that, at least for me, I could never quite imagine happening.
From now on it will be different, always. Your purpose changes. Responsibility of the highest order is bestowed upon you.
Never again will you walk out of the front door without asking everyone if they need a wee before they go out. Any attempt at watching a slightly emotional film without crying is futile. Anything by Pixar is a no no, especially UP. Even a well-meaning TV advert will have you rubbing your eye and announcing, “it’s just hay fever...” in December.
Let’s backtrack a little bit and give you some context: I’m Jym.
I was 25 when my girl was born, and still just a boy in every sense. I had, up until I got married at 23, drifted through life. I had no education, no real connection or relationship with my parents and, to be honest, few friends.
I was in a band though, and that was all that mattered in my mind. That was the thing that I could hold onto and the thing that defined me. I was going to be a professional drummer and everything else would fit around that. It’s the thing that I relied on to get me out of the situation I had found myself in – having no prospects in the “real world” – and so the band had to come first.
I know what you might be thinking: “What an arrogant, selfish twat.” And you’d be right!
In all honesty, something at the back of my mind told me that all of the things I thought would save me – the band, becoming a big star – were really irrelevant but, for the most part, I managed to live in blissful denial. That is, until my daughter arrived.
Now, for my partner and I the entire childbirth experience wasn’t great.
Her mama had endured a week long labour before having to undergo an emergency caesarean. Our baby’s head was stuck, so she was never coming out the intended way. With a week of labour, inattentive hospital staff and an epidural that dislodged in surgery, (meaning my poor wife could feel the surgeon's scalpel), meant we were not off the best start.
I still remember the sound of alarms, staff frantically rushing about and my wife’s eyes closing as they put her fully under. I was firmly shown the door and as my head fell into my hands, I heard a baby’s cry.
Barely five seconds out of the room and our baby girl was born!
From the first moment they handed her to me, that I held her, I knew that all of my selfishness had to wash away. I could feel the metaphorical weight of the “wee bairn” as I held her and tried to encase her entire body with my large hands, just so that I could surround her, protect her. She was mine and things just became serious.
Don’t drop the baby, don’t drop the baby, don’t drop the baby… I DROPPED THE BABY!!!!
Before you call social services, let me explain!
Three days home from the hospital - I’d sat down and put her on one of those rocking foot stools. You know the ones that go with the fancy rocking chairs meant for nursing mums?
I’ll pop her in the middle, I thought. Wedge one or two of the 25 blankets we’ve received as gifts around her. Just like making pasta – she is the egg and the blankets are the flour walls holding everything in place.
My intentions were good, if not somewhat misguided. I thought a nice gentle rock back and forth will mean we’ll have a nice quiet, calm baby girl.
At this point the plan quickly went south, so to speak. As I sat back a little to admire my good work – “I am super dad who can calm a screaming baby in seconds!” – the little mite stretched her arms up, rolled to the left and off the edge of the stool.
Thankfully, she was absolutely fine. As for me, the super dad? Well, I was rocking in the corner sucking my thumb and telling myself that I was in fact a terrible person and that I was going to go to jail.
Beware of the first poo!
They don’t tell you this in any of the books or antenatal classes. It’s kinda like pond weed. Like a deep, almost black green. It is really something to behold – if you’re having trouble picturing this, think of the1979 film “Alien” and you won’t be far off!
Whilst we’re on the subject of poo, never, and I mean never, position yourself in the line of direct fire when you’re changing a nappy. This is a rookie error. You want to be slightly off to one side, close enough to slowly peer around the legs to make sure the coast is clear but… do not get too close!
For me, rookie dad, the coast was in no way clear. I was entirely within the cross hairs. A locked-on target.
At the time of my mistake, I was dealing with one of those more ‘liquid’ events that had traveled up her back – you can tell I was already up against it. Like a triage nurse, I had a clean nappy ready to go and a fresh pack of baby wipes (God’s greatest gift) at my side. With both legs in one hand, I had to lift the restless critter up to reach, and remove, her new back decoration. As I did that, it was like I’d loaded a pump action shotgun… and suddenly, she fired! BOOM! A spray of dark green liquid poo hit me square in the face, pebble-dashing me like a 1930s house exterior.
I couldn’t scream for my wife as I had a little bit of poo perched on my lip. If I opened my mouth too much, then that sucker was falling in. So, I made whatever noise I could out of one side of my mouth to call for backup, mumbling “Man down, man down”.
Backup arrived – or so I thought. As my wife hurried in to help her fallen comrade, she looked me up and down and burst into hysterical laughter!
“It’s on my lip!” I cried. “Please wipe it off!”
“No, no, you can manage,” she said. “I managed for nine months. Must be your turn now!”.
Fair point, I figured.
Looking at my ‘bundle of joy’, I swear my sweet baby girl was thinking: This is what you get for dropping me you bastard.
Find your own ‘right way’.
Now, this is supposed to be an uplifting, supportive piece for new dads, so I’ll try to concentrate, although I find it hard to offer words of advice. Here goes:
Everyone you speak to will have their own way of parenting and, if they don’t, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books that will tell you how it’s done – and I’ll bet good money that none of them will describe ‘your way’.
Guidelines and reference books are just that: a guide.
They’re really helpful, sure, but at the end of the day it’s essentially ‘on the job learning’ and ‘thrown in at the deep end’ for us all. And that’s what makes it so special.
Nothing really prepares us for a difficult pregnancy, a hellish labour, the horrors of losing a baby or dealing with sickness and disability. But, in all situations you will find your way through.
There are going to be times when the weight is almost too much to carry, but at times like these, trust yourself. As humans, we have a great knack of sacrificing ourselves for others and so when the time comes, you will bear the weight and you will manage.
It’s important to be honest. Reach out to people you know will have your back; tell them what you need and share the load. It really will get better and there will always be someone who’ll relate exactly to how you’re feeling right now.
Always, always get on their level!
Metaphorically, that’s not really that hard right?!
But I mean physically. Actually get on your knees and speak to your child face to face. (Obviously, this is for when they’re at least a bit grown up – it’s probably not the right tactic for a newborn!)
Get as close to their eye level as you can. I think it helps kids feel like they’re being listened to and understood. And on the flip side, when they do play up, NOT crouching down on their level becomes a great way of helping them work out how to get the right kind of attention.
Whoever you are, be it same-sex dads, first-time dads or you’re adopting, remember that pre-baby is the last time that you’ll ever be a couple again. So make the most of it! Be a couple and spend time strengthening your bond. Sleep in on Sundays, go to the movies, veg out and watch utter shite on telly eating a takeout. Enjoy being a couple while it lasts. Although having a baby won’t necessarily stop you doing these things, it will change how you go about them, if not their frequency.
And, in case my light tone isn’t hint enough – don’t take it all too seriously.
You will, I guarantee, look back and laugh much more than you cry, and you’ll have years’ worth of ammunition for future wedding speeches and other such opportunities for embarrassment!
So, now my baby is almost fifteen, and with seventeen years of marriage my family is still going strong.
The one thing that I always look forward to is the adventure – it’s always exciting to see what new challenges life will bring us, and as I mentioned nearer the start, just as you’re kicking back and putting your feet up a whole new set of rules will show up. Being a dad, just like the rest of life, is a constantly evolving set of unique puzzles to solve. With each level passed you gain knowledge and confidence. It’s a bit like Mario Kart, I suppose.
I don’t think those things will ever change. Even in my 90’s, (if I live that long), I will still be a parent; still, I hope, be providing support; and still learning how to be a better dad.
I will still be willing to step in front of traffic at a moment’s notice for her.
I’m a hopeful dad.
Hopeful that I’ve been, and will always be, the absolute best I can be for her.
Hopeful that she finds her own way, and that I haven’t imposed too much of my own preferences on her outlook and personality.
Hopeful that one day she will know for herself that we are all the same: flawed people trying to do the very best we can to figure this complex life-changing thing we call parenthood.
I want to wish the very best of luck and love to you, whomever you may be, and remember: don’t drop the baby!