Having one child changed my world forever, having two in quick succession broke the camel’s back. There was nowhere left to hide, no time for a quick puff on a cigar on the porch, always a baby or toddler to get to sleep. I was working more and more from home to be on hand as a parent, and as much as I embraced the role it never quite measures up to the expansive fit of the mother. Biologically speaking, I don’t think it will ever be thus, men will always be caught between worlds – brought up to be out in the world providing for the family and yet wanted on the home front to share the load. It is often an inner dichotomy as well, wanting to stay home with these new innocent beings and often having to leave the nest to bring home some bacon.
My wife embraced parenting and motherhood like a tsunami does an archipelago, it was fantastic to behold. No book unread, no Internet forum unbreached and a passion for it that made me smile inside. Natural parenting was the buzz word; Attachment Parenting the correct moniker and the forum interaction ran thick and fast. Any break from physical parenting was enjoined by the virtual parenting discussions – I thought it was great, that the shared wisdom of parents everywhere was now accessible on the web. Of course after awhile the sheer brutal demands of parenting tests every part of you. The broken sleep, with two little ones going off, is grindingly tough – one feeding on the breast all night and the other waking up exceedingly unhappy, because of the very existence of the other having supplanted its position with the mother. We tried many things to reduce the trauma of this situation but it is such a primal state of affairs, with a one year old’s blood curdling screams at 3am not conducive to much cognitive therapy.
Those cries and screams at the midnight hour can unhinge feelings inside, that have not seen the light of day for many a year. Sometimes for a brief moment you are not sure if you are awake or asleep and many times I began to discover my screaming child was in fact asleep or sleep screaming, as in sleep walking, and no amount of desperate soothing or reasoning could reach our poor child. It was like a Blitz, not of bombing but of blighted shadows emerging uninvited out of our baby girl.
Getting up and getting to work got later and later, and I suppose I was lucky that I had a job that did not watch the clock. Sometimes after a night like this I would drive hundreds of kilometres to meet a client and attempt to sell them something. My sales erected smile got limper by the day and often people would buy more out of empathy than any other motivating force. My drive for results was ebbing away and no amount of pep talking was bringing it back. It was like I had descended into another world, where things were more real than ever before, more raw and far more demanding than my day light reality had ever been.
Now when I hear that my favourite footballer has just had a baby I know what is in store for him and how it will affect his performance on the field. I know that he and his wife will experience the wonders and the challenges of parenthood, and that they have embarked on a journey both long and arduous. The simple fact is that parenthood gives life profound meaning and meaning can only come through a process, which tests us to the core. Having a baby is not about cute little booties and pink rattles – it is about complete care – wiping faeces and vomit off a multitude of surfaces; holding your baby skin to skin; worrying about unseen things like fevers and viruses; and loving that child until your end. It is the most life changing event on this planet and has been thus since the beginning.
It marks the changes from girl to woman and from boy to man. It heralds the transformation from caring about yourself to the nth degree to caring about another even more. I think that women make this move much more rapidly, propelled as they are through the physical stages of pregnancy and birth, and us men watch these unfolding events like some blood and guts spectacular in the theatres of our homes.
Slowly we are called upon to do more and more, and the sacrifice of selfish desires becomes the norm. Within this process we are transformed to care for another before we consider our selves – and yes this inclination can get out of hand and your sense of self and mojo can be crushed. You may join a dazed procession of zombie parents wandering and wondering who they actually are. You can see them in the supermarket aisles pondering the unit prices of disposable nappies and pushing prams in parks like disheveled gypsies, with endless pockets and pouches issuing streams of material and plastic containers. All of them asking themselves is this what it is really all about?
It seems to involve a lot of words beginning with the letter ‘S’ – like survival and surrender; sacrifice and sleep – please go to sleep darling! God I need some sleep! Sex is of course what got us here in the first place and it is the consequences of this act, which has changed our lives forever. Fatherhood is so much more than a seminal deposit.
So we continue on everyday and they change so much, so noticeably, growing and developing like nothing else on earth. There is nothing as fascinating as your own children. I have often though that evolution has made the children of all life’s species as appealing as possible, because with the amount of work involved well……… I always remind myself at the darkest times that this too will pass. The sun does invariably rise again and things are never as bad as you think or feel at the time. Life is not the fantasy that either my wife or I may have pictured but there is something else there in front of you and inside you. A shining light in the eyes of my children that illuminates even the darkest corner of my life.
To be continued……