My urge towards fatherhood kicked in about a year after we got married. The emotional high of that (truly spectacular) day had gradually faded, settling back into the warp and weft of history, and the comparative mundanity of a day-to-day existence stretched before us. Was that it, then? The game of life complete? Hm. A child seemed like the next thing to do—and yeah, that’s not a great reason to breed, I know. Clo was against it at first, and who could blame her? It’s not like I’d be the one bearing our child and risking my health. Parenthood is a pretty God-damned serious commitment, and whilst we had no cause to doubt our relationship, we had nothing to fall back on if things got tough. No. If we were gonna to do this – if we were ever going to do this – we needed to be in a much more secure position.
It was a gentle but determined pushback, but I took it as a mission. The more I imagined us as parents, the more right it felt. Was I chasing the high? Perhaps. I was in a kind of early mid-life crisis, seeking purpose and a sense of direction. I was nowhere near done with personal growth, but if I needed a ‘next thing’ then this would be it: proving myself worthy of fatherhood. Most of this was in my head, you understand – a self-imposed diktat. I had to earn enough to buy a house with Clover, providing her with that security, and then we could start a family. I began to pour everything into my work, promotions racing the housing bubble until finally – finally – I could contribute enough to our joint income to help secure the mortgage. This high was sweet, but the comedown was swift. The work was demanding, my temperament and skillset unsuited, and my only solution seemed to be working longer hours. It was unsustainable, and our marriage suffered as a result.
The order of events is muddled in my mind, such was the intensity of pent-up emotion and eventual relief, but these things happened: Clover and I had a conversation where we were open about how we felt; we agreed that my job was causing far more problems than it solved, and that we would both be far happier if I resigned; we figured out the minimum I’d need to cover my half of the bills; I began looking for other work, and Clo and I began trying for a baby. Summer-Rose was not meant as some reward, nor as a salve to our injures – though in some ways she seemed to be both. She was light after darkness, emblematic of the kind of life we actually wanted – a repository for, and continuation of our love. And we showered her with it from Day One.
Parenthood changed us, as it must do everybody. There’s a vulnerability uncovered when you care for something so desperately fragile. We none of us know how we’ll cope when we bring our baby home, nor what mistakes we’ll make along the way, but we all head off down the path anyway. There is no other choice. New parents just muddle along as best as they can. It’s strange, but those early, daily fears of cot death, the wordless cries and repugnant nappies diminish in impact as a new normality forms. We had to rely on each other in ways and to depths that we’d never had to before, and the fact we were able to do so – the degree to which we worked together as a team – truly cemented us. In trying to divine what Summer needed, what was upsetting her, and what made her happy, we were tuning our emotional antennae. And in doing so, we were becoming more aware of how each other was feeling, where our breaking points were, how we could be more supportive.
Every day brought new challenges, new surprises, new delights. The bank gave me just what I needed: regular work that was relatively easy, and in which I had next to no emotional investment. I could turn up each morning, earn my pay, then race home to the place where everything mattered. Weekends were my favourite when she was little. I’d strap her into a papoose and go for long walks, giving Clo some well-earned rest. Precious moments. It didn’t matter whether we were strolling through the woods, wandering along a beach, or picking our way through town; it was us-time. And that’s the way it went at first – maternity and paternity leave, taking turns with all the various chores, our lives centred around her until she was old enough to go to the nursery.
Unlike her dear old dad, she took to this new social life like a duck to water. She picked up a wry and cheeky sense of humour early on, and there was never any malice in there, never the need to dominate or to cut others down. She was widely loved and she was loving in return. We joked around, made art and watched tv together, but I had difficulty getting down onto the ground to play her games of make-believe. Physical problems. Clover – bless her – had that whole side covered. We played to our strengths as the gal grew, shifting our balance at need. Story-time became the *main daddy/daughter thing. I’d always enjoyed reading to her and I took a particular delight in dramatising them with funny voices and exaggerated expressions. We shared some adventures I can tell you! I crumbled a little the day she told me she she was too old for bedtime stories, but we had a blooming good run through nursery and primary school. After that, we started watching hammy horror movies on Sunday mornings, letting mum sleep in. How we loved those old Godzillas, Universal monsters, and MST3Ks. Golden times!
Activities were important. It’s one thing to share your own passion, but you can’t assume your kids are going to take after you. (God knows I’ve tried to get her to read for pleasure…) Over the years we’ve tried her with harp lessons and singing, gymnastics and karate; she came with us to our historical re-enactments, terrifying all and sundry with her little wooden sword; in the end she found her most enduring interest in performance, through school plays, eisteddfods, and acting classes—and she’s become damned good at it, too. It’s been wonderful seeing her come to life on stage, delighting and moving the audience. It was a serious contender as life-choice for a while, but every time the long-term future comes up in conversation, she’s shied away from an answer. There’s too much to see and do, too many places to go and far too many options on the table. She might be a journalist or a chef, or a social worker. Well, she’s got time to figure things out.
She’s 16 now, heading into her A-levels. She’s got a part-time job, she loves cooking and watching terrible movies, she’s got style, confidence, grace. I don’t know how things split in the whole nature/nurture thing, but I like to think we played a good part in forming the fabulous, funny, and feisty young woman she’s become. We’ve had an absolute blast bringing her up, teaching her about life, watching her test her wings, and I think that enjoyment – both voiced and demonstrated – makes a difference. Love and kindness, empathy and forgiveness has outweighed any upsets for us, and she’s picked up on that. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve never regretted a day. It’s made us stronger as a couple, I think, and I can say with certainty that I’ve become a better man for it. I owe a huge debt for that (oh Christ, I feel like I’m making a toast…) to Clover – for being all that I could want or need in a partner – and to Summer-Rose – for being all I could hope for in a daughter.
Ahem. Okay, I’ve gushed enough now. Move along; nothing to see here. Just some sad proud dad with glistening eyes.
I’ll see you again next week with a review or something.
Go on, now. Scootch!
* The walks ended when she grew too big for her back-pack papoose, and her little legs grew grumbly. We played simple board games together, watched movies, went to the park at weekends and what-not, but there was a while there where I struggled to engage her. It happens. Daddy’s girl one minute, Mummy’s the next. We’ve each had our hearts crushed, but we waited our turn.