A lot of my homeys are having babies.
When I say homeys, I mean fellow men. I suppose they’re not having babies exactly, women have babies, men become fathers. At around one in the afternoon on the first Wednesday of December, my brother became a father for the first time. Seeing someone so close to me go through something so heavy is very hard to describe, harder still to understand.
To say it was amazing is a waste of a word, I haven’t really digested it yet. For him it was so heavy it was overwhelming, for my folks and me it was overwhelmingly joyous, but it was also a reminder about how little any human being really knows about anything.
Especially the serious stuff.
My contemporaries going through the process of having kids is for me the most clear-cut sign of how everyone is styling every single thing out to the Nth degree. No-one knows what they’re doing. They just pretend they do. I wrote once about how my parents didn’t have a clue what they were doing when they got married. Yet somehow they’re still together.
Seeing the expression on my brother’s face in the hospital room hours after he became a father was a reminder that most of the time in life, you have to make a decision and then adapt to the results. That’s the reality. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and step out into the abyss with nothing but blind faith to hold your hand.
Which is scary as hell, but not nearly as scary as doing the opposite. Making no decision at all. The sinister place Dr Seuss called…
The Waiting Place
So plunge into the decision we do.
Does it get any easier. Two award-winning docs following my man Guy through the process of becoming a pop paint the same bleak picture, and would suggest that no, no it doesn’t get any easier whatsoever.
But obviously having a child is far from bleak, that wasn’t my point. The reason I started this post talking about homeys is because it concerns the male response to parenthood. Like much of life, females have a head start on us, being that they are more involved in the natural side of the world. Pregnancy for men is pretty abstract, I mean they go through none of the hormonal fireworks associated with the mother, they hear about cravings and feign a raised eyebrow and mumble something like… vanilla ice cream again, how interesting.
Post-birth they also find themselves at the shallow end of the utility-pool, because they don’t have breasts. Turns out breast-feeding is about more than just nutrition. It’s skin to skin contact, eye to eye gaze, the rocking is an embodiment of rhythm, it forms the beginning of the establishment of the relationship. And breast-feeding even produces children with higher IQs. But pops miss out on all of this. Instead they look on quizzically, pretend to be taking it in, and then balls up the first 53 nappy changes.
A new father would be much better placed to tell you this stuff. But in his defence, while some women don’t feel maternal at all, the maternal instincts of some men are off the charts. Shortly after Mary was born, my father described how he saw my brother connecting to her with a type of totally animal intuition, emanating from both his heart and his body. Maybe men with more evolved emotional centres find a way of connecting with their newborns in a way other men find harder, I don’t know.
My brother said he always wanted to have a girl.
He says right at the beginning the idea freaked him out. But when they found out pretty early on in the pregnancy that she was going to be a she, he said he much preferred the idea. He’d heard about how men have more issues with boys, how a daughter is the apple of her father’s eye. I also have a sneaking suspicion that, more so than a boy, he felt like a daughter would be more of a protector, and my brother quite likes company.
I don’t have a girlfriend and with one sorry exception I can’t remember the last time I went on a date, so I’m pretty far from the following predicament. But personally, the idea of being a father to a daughter makes me really quite scared, like almost queasy. And try as I might i can’t get to the bottom of it. I have a feeling the reason is a bit more complex than sports, something a little deeper than Peter Griffin’s moment of dawning realisation in the maternity ward.
I think it’s to do with how little I understand women.
Add in some Freudian stuff, sprinkled with my belief in the matriarchal setup of the world, that how contrary to our delusions women run things, they control everything, but at a much deeper level than equal pay etc. Nature is female, women carry life inside them, men are tools, that kind of thing. And the weird idea that this figure of dominance, this embodiment of feminine power, would be so tiny and helpless but I think just pretending to be, doesn’t convince me at all. Perhaps it’s something to do with that thing that we never really escape the womb. Despite what we might think, we’re all kinda still in there.
Like Hesse’s quote about trees rustling.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear the trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.
There’s a French-Canadian film called The Barbarian Invasions. About a man diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it follows the last few months of his life surrounded by his family and his mistresses. It’s a serious film, heart-breaking but also hilarious. There’s a scene right at the end, where our man close to his deathbed, when he receives a satellite video message from his daughter, who is on a boat stranded out in the Southern ocean, unable to get back to him, knowing she will never get the chance to see him again. It’s a goodbye.
When casting the role of the daughter, who appears just once in the whole film in this scene, the actress Isabelle Blais recorded herself doing a read-through and sent it by email to the director Denys Arcand. He recounts that when he saw it for the first time, he broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. And once he’d recovered, he called her to say the part was hers.
It’s been too long since I last saw you. My daddy. My papuschka. I’ll have missed you my whole life. Tell yourself that I’m a happy woman. That I’ve found my place. I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to pass on your lust for life, you and Mum raised incredibly strong children. It’s a miracle really.
And then she goes big.
It never really fails to reduce me to a blubbering wreck.
It’s basically the opposite of Peter Griffin in the maternity ward. It made me think the real reason why I’m so scared of having a baby girl one day, that perhaps I wouldn’t think twice about were it not a girl, is that the stakes are too high.
There’s something about the bond between a father and a daughter that sits right at the top of the cake. You don’t mess with it. Like, what is stronger in human nature than that. Her looking up at him, him looking back down at her. It’s different to father-son, it’s more hardcore it seems to me, it might be the single most precious dynamic that exists. And so perhaps rightly so, it scares the life out of me.
I think I’m afraid my hypothetical daughter would see right through me. She’d realise what a deficient human being I am, erring and bumbling and messing things up. And what’s more she’d be female. Those strange beings I uphold as dominant to men in almost every way. I couldn’t hide from her.
My mate Alfie has a five year old daughter called Iris. He told me the other day that although he didn’t think he would be the type of person to admit this, Iris is his best mate in the whole world. He says he tells her all the time. And he said if it came down to it, he’d hang out with her above anyone else.
He also said this.
Whatever veiled moments of glory life might throw our way from time to time, they sure as hell won’t come about as a result of inaction. Life demands that we live it forward. This whole thing about my friends becoming parents being an act of blind faith, seeing my brother with Mary and the emotions she’s brought him even just over the course of the five short weeks of her life so far, me freaking out about the idea of being a dad to a little girl one day, they’re all examples of the same thing.
We have this idea that we need to believe something strongly before we decide to do it. But actually much of the time, what we need to do is act. And then figure out what the hell is going on, while we go. Like Douglas Adams’ character Dirk Gently says in The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul…
I may not have gone where I intended to go.
But I think I have ended up where I needed to be.