I described in a recent blog the epic journey that is the birthing process. And if labour is a first tentative step into a brave new world, those immediate days after the birth are a head first plunge into the bottomless pool of raw emotion, vulnerability and sheer exhaustion that is called fatherhood.
To be honest I got through the first few days on a wave of euphoria, adrenaline and caffeine.
There was so much to contend with.
There were the forms and the hospital processes.
The bombardment of (often contradictory) information.
Then there were the vaccinations that made my daughter squeal in pain.
And the endless tests.
And you have to keep track of everything, because fantastic that they are, nurses and doctors are only human too.
And the random people with unsolicited advice, some of it often very unhelpful.
And there are the well meaning visitors who overstay their welcome.
The trips back and forwards to hospital.
And the utter lack of a frame of reference for ANY of it.
In my professional life I am quite used to dealing with ambiguity and crisis. But somehow when I am standing in a village in the middle of a war zone I can externalise the stress.
The conflict is after all not mine. It is not my war. It is not me that will have to rebuild my home, my life and livelihood. I can help, and that is what I do to the best of my professional ability. But I don’t own the crisis.
But as a father having not slept for weeks, I find myself looking at a thermometer that is reading a high fever, holding a tiny screaming baby – MY tiny screaming baby. And it is in the dark hours before dawn, I’m shattered and not thinking properly and something isn’t right and the hospital is a long drive away and wait…….is that a rash on her skin?
I soon learnt that as a father I was utterly responsible. This was my child. And THIS was now my crisis.
And I soon realised that she relies on me for EVERYTHING.
And there is no booklet. There is no guidance. However hard I wished in those first few weeks, no instruction manual appeared with my daughter’s name on the front.
Nothing to allay the fears. Nothing to allay the neurosis.
So I found myself doing something that human’s have been doing incredibly successfully for millennia: Adapting.
And there was something else there too.
And I have seen fear before. Fear is the emotion that comes from being vulnerable, overwhelmed, ignorant and outflanked.
Fear is the emotion that comes from the dread of making a mistake where the stakes are literally life and death.
And I know that the only way to tackle fear is to understand that which frightens you.
So I read the leaflets and the books. I politely listened to opinions. I chose the ones that made sense to my baby and I, and disregarded the ones that didn’t.
I learnt to live on very little sleep.
I wished the visitors on their way. I thanked the family for their support.
I closed the doors, drew the curtains, took the phone off the hook.
And I spent the next few weeks literally lost in my baby; immersing myself in her. Holding her tightly, breathing in the sweetness of her skin, savouring the earthy fragrance of her hair and losing hours in the deep pools of her beautiful eyes.
Understanding her patterns and her rhythms
I sang to her to calm her, rocked her to sleep in the middle of the night, traced the lines on the folds of her skin and obsessed over her tiny fingernails. I held eye contact and lingered, unwilling to break the gaze lest the spell be broken.
I fell in love.
And I figured that if I was to be truly responsible then I would have to face my fear. Understanding the fear was my best weapon.
If there was no manual with my daughter’s name on it, then I would be the one to write it.
I became THE world expert on my daughter.
Those first few weeks are joyous. But they are also hard
I read a superb piece of wisdom on Twitter recently from one of the fathers that I follow. We were discussing how hard parenting and fatherhood is. He nailed it when he said
“…It doesn’t matter how many children you have. Wanting to be a good parent means you make it hard on yourself”
And there it is.
If those crazy, chaotic early days taught me anything it was about facing down fear.
And they taught me that I can still surprise myself; that I can still learn and adapt.
And they taught me to trust MY instincts as a father to know what is best for MY daughter.
And they taught me that it feels hard because I want to be a GREAT father.
To this day I keep this statement in my mind. So on those days when the adrenaline runs out, the fatigue sets in and there appears to be no end in sight, I can let the statement out to shine a light into those darkest of corners.
And most importantly those early days taught me something else.
They reminded me of how utterly beautiful it is to feel those butterflies again, to experience that warm fuzzy disorientating feeling once more and to look into the face of another and see such beautiful perfection.
They reminded me what it is like to be giddy with life. To be overwhelmed with emotion.
To be hopelessly in love.
This original post appeared first on the Daddy Cool Project website (http://www.daddycoolproject.org.uk/). I am currently blogging for them. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation that aims to highlight the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. Go check them out, they do some great work.