Night of the Living Dad

He traded binge drinking, video game marathons and collecting pointless i-Pod stuff to become a Daddy. Yet he feels strangely relaxed.
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My vague rule of life is that if there three good reasons for doing something then you should go ahead and do it. And when I was thirty one years old, and had been happily married for one year, I had not three but four good reasons to suggest we try for a baby. Firstly, I proudly considered myself to be ‘good with kids.’ I had nieces and nephews whom I was able to make laugh through a selection of comedic voices, daft facial expressions and inappropriate toilet humour. Once, I demonstrated to my three-year-old nephew that thing where you place one hand under your armpit and pump your elbow until it makes a fart noise. He laughed so hard that milk came out of his nostrils. If that wasn’t stone cold evidence that I was ready for fatherhood, I didn’t know what was.

Secondly, I felt the need to further cement the happy and stable relationship I had somehow managed to fluke myself into. Miraculously, I had convinced a woman whom I loved with all my heart to love me back. I’d already married her, now I wanted to do something else to make sure we were locked in for life.

My third good reason was that, despite all this happiness I’d been experiencing of late, I was beginning to worry that my life might be a bit pointless. I mean, I worked, I paid taxes, I occasionally recycled but, on the whole, my contribution to the advancement of the human race was pretty shabby. Large portions of my time and energy were devoted to binge drinking, video games, the purchase of silly iPod accessories and the constant re-viewing of the Lethal Weapon movies on DVD. The pleasure derived from these things was beginning to wear thin and I had developed a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t really possess a soul. I hoped a baby might help me develop one.

The fourth reasons was simple: I fancied sex one evening and thought that the baby angle was a good way of suggesting the idea to my wife. I mean, once you’ve been with the same woman for a while you run out of decent seduction techniques, don’t you? So one evening while we were brushing our teeth, instead of whispering a sweet nothing in her ear while expertly caressing the back of her neck, I simply blurted: ‘I think we should try for a baby.’ Don’t judge me – it worked.

Fast forward nine months and I’m standing in a delivery room, chilled to my very core by the scenes of mayhem, butchery and tears that have just unfolded as I watched my wife squeeze our eight pound daughter out into the world. And now that eight-pound daughter lies precariously in my arms. ‘She’s lovely,’ I say to the assembled throng of doctors, nurses and midwives. I say it because it sounds like the sort of thing a new father is supposed to say. But the truth is, she is wrinkly and strange, with a mop of black hair and a blueish grey complexion. This, they tell me, is normal.

"Instead of whispering a sweet nothing in her ear while expertly caressing her neck, I simply blurted: ‘I think we should try for a baby.’ Don’t judge me – it worked."

I hold her nervously, scared that I might break her tiny frame in my clumsy oafish hands. ‘She’s lovely’ I mutter again through a thin, insincere smile. But no-one’s listening: the medical staff are clearing up the bloody debris that is splattered everywhere and my wife is so jacked up on epidural that she probably thinks she’s sunbathing in the Cote D’Azur right now. I am completely alone with my new spawn and my own feelings of panic, fear, befuddlement and self-doubt. Life pretty much stays this way for the next 12 months.

The first few months were tough, as our little girl unleashed a Tet-offensive of tears, screams and dirty nappies. It might sound miserable but it was all offset by this surprisingly obsessive sense of love, devotion, pride and obligation I felt towards her. I was infatuated in a way I’d never been with anything or anyone else, ever before. Why do people instinctively feel this way towards their offspring? Hard to say. Certainly, I derived a sense of pride and protectiveness from the fact that I had helped make her. There was also the fact that she looked a bit like me. Of course I was going to find her beautiful and loveable! Loving you’re your own offspring is the purest form of narcissism.

My social life changed considerably. Nipping out for a spontaneous pint or a meal was out for a while (although, now I’ve got a bit further down the line and learn to be more organized, I’ve found it’s perfectly possible to maintain a fulfilling work/home/pub balance). My best mate, who’d had his first kid six months before me (and will therefore always consider himself a vastly more wise and knowledgeable parent than me) had told me one evening in advance of the birth: ‘Make the most of your last few weeks of freedom; do as much living while you can.’ But he didn’t mean ‘living’ in the ‘traveling the world, discovering the secrets of the universe’ sense. He just meant ‘do as much drinking and going out as you can.’ That’s the sort of stuff many blokes miss once they’re tied down to the domesticity of fatherhood. They look back at a rose tinted version of their pre-baby lives, picturing themselves as freewheeling playboys on a rollercoaster ride though the hedonistic Xanadu of their twenties. I’m as guilty as the next idiot of this. I often get the pretty unremarkable reality of my twenties muddled up with the lifestyle enjoyed by Richard Gere’s character in American Gigolo.

Sometimes, when it’s five in the morning, cold, dark and rainy outside, the cat's crying for its food, the baby is screaming for her milk and I catch glimpse of my reflection in the window – all knackered and haggard and fraught – I feel briefly nostalgic for my old life. Then I remember that my new life is much happier and fulfilling and all it lacks in comparison is a bit of spare time. But what do I want spare time for? Spare time is boring and annoying. I never know how to fill it and just end up staring idly out of windows, humming tunelessly, or wrapping my hand in Sellotape to see how long it takes to go numb and swell up. Spare time is the last thing I need.

And three years down the line, I have replaced all of that rubbishy spare time with a host of new and unexpected sources of pleasure that I could never have predicted. It’s not just the corny (but nevertheless true) stuff about the pride I get from being someone’s ‘daddy,’ the sense of wholesome purpose being a parent has lent my previously ridiculous life, or the euphoric pleasure derived from getting a tired cuddle when I lift my sleeping daughter out of her car seat.

"I often get the pretty unremarkable reality of my twenties muddled up with the lifestyle enjoyed by Richard Gere’s character in American Gigolo."

There’s the smaller, day-to-day pleasures too. Recently, I found myself having lunch with my wife and daughter at the sort of high street chain restaurant my old self might have been a bit sniffy about. All around us, kids were screaming, crying, flinging cutlery and soiling themselves. It was like the Last Days Of The Roam Empire. And yet I felt strangely relaxed. Those sorts of restaurants are the only places you can take your kid without worrying about annoying anyone. My daughter could shout and scream, stuff the tabletop vase with chips and generally wreak havoc from her high chair without anyone batting an eyelid. I sat back, surveyed the room and thought to myself ‘This is living.’ To put it another way, having a kid can sometimes make shit stuff seem good.

That’s the funny thing about fatherhood: you find a whole new set of ways to be happy. Plus, once that initial few months are over with, you get to keep all your old ways of being happy too. As long as you get the balance right, you can effectively treble your daily fun-quota. And by extension make yourself four times happier in real terms. And that’s not just my own personal opinion: that’s mathematical fact. I think you’ll find my numbers add up.

Sam Delaney is the author of ‘Night Of The Living Dad – Confessions of A Shabby Father’ (John Murray, £8.99) out now in paperback. Click below to buy.

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