I remember the first night we had Alex home from the hospital and in our house. I remember how scared I was. He was barely three days old, and there he was, in his cot, making all these weird breathing noises. It was obvious that we had another person in the room — and I was worried, no, petrified.
“I can’t fuck this up like my dad did.” I thought to myself as I struggled with my anxiety and battled with sleeplessness. It wasn’t until the early hours that I finally managed some sleep that night, after being rushed out of my bed for at least two feeds.
See, my childhood was a bit screwed up. My dad wasn’t there for the best part, and well, he did try some of the time. But for the times that counted, I mean really counted, when I needed someone — it was only my mother that was trying. She was the one that stayed awake with me when I had the whooping cough, she was the one that stayed with me when my body was ravaged with food poisoning. She was the one that talked to me after my very first date.
No matter how much of a big shot my dad was, no amount of flashing his cash around would have made up for the times that mattered in my life. He just had his own priorities. And well, I’m not mad, and I’m not angry — of course I used to be, but not now, I understand there were things that mattered a lot to my dad in his life and I wasn’t one of them. It’s just one of those things. After 30+ years I eventually came to terms with the reality that was right in front of me.
So there was me, trying to sleep and not being very good at it; my whole life flashing me by in stages. Mostly reminiscing over the quality and solid time I had spent with my dad. The good times, the bad times, the ugly times. How it all made me feel. Why I was going to do it differently with my Son.
I can remember the minute Alex was born. The surgeon threw Alex on Natalie’s belly;
“it’s a boy!”
He shouted as he began furiously stitching Natalie up; it had been a forceps delivery and the labour had been difficult from start to finish. So the fact that I had both of them alive at the end of it was enough to make me cry with happiness.
I remember the moment I held him after the nurse cleaned and weighed him — she placed him on my arms and he looked up at me, eyes still closed from the blinding light of the operating theatre. His face screwed up into a little bundle; I expect not liking this cold dry area that he had been thrust into.
Looking down at him for the very first time all I could feel was numbness. Emotional numbness. I had been through so much over the last fourteen hours. All that I could do was look down at my boy, my creation, and look on in tiredness. I hadn’t ate, I hadn’t slept since the previous day. It was 4am and here was this little bundle, that I, we, had made — dependent on my every need. I had to be a big boy now.
I remember that night, the first night he was home, being overwrought with realisations of responsibility. I was finally understanding the amount of emotional and physical dependency my little one would ask from me for the rest of my life. I had to step up. I wasn’t going to fail him like my dad had failed me. I was going to be his mentor, his dad, and eventually, his hero.
When you’re like me and don’t have much guidance as a young man from other good male role models then you tend to make it up as you go along. I had my Granddad, but it’s just not the same. Same with the other men my mum dated. They came and went, and one even died, so eventually I stopped getting attached. Stopped listening. Rebelled a bit, well, maybe a lot, and then just learned the ropes myself. Went my own way.
It was scary. Knowing that I understood better how to make a weeks wages spread out so that I could get off my head on drugs and alcohol every day, than I did basic things like cooking, cleaning, washing, handling my bad behaviour — and god when the hormones hit, sex. I was basically a child myself and here was me expecting to raise a young boy to become the best version of himself. You can see why I just couldn’t let him go the same way as I did. Just by being there raises his chances ten fold, and if I have to learn with him then so be it. I don’t give up. At least now I don’t.
And yet over the years Alex has taught me timeless lessons. I’ve learned more about myself through helping him with his own life than I ever could on my own. His Autism has filled gaps in my own childhood, sending us into wondering if Autism is a family trait of mine on the male side. His natural tendency to test rules and boundaries has taught me so much more about my own rules and boundaries, and his very smiling, willing to please attitude has me understanding where mine came from.
Sunday is Father’s day, here, in the UK. I’ll admit that I was only told about it earlier today. See, I had forgotten. Natalie’s mum and dad were helping Alex and I with the strawberries in our garden in the midday sun and she let slip,
“well, you can ask for a new netting for your strawberries tomorrow, on Father’s day”
It took me back slightly because I had totally forgotten we hadn’t had it yet. I thought it had been and gone. I had no idea. Natalie had forgotten too, as did Alex. She’s through in the bedroom watching TV feeling guilty as I write this. But I’ve told her several times already that it doesn’t matter to me. It does to her though, because it’s important for Alex to celebrate my day, because we celebrated mum’s day.
I’m not too sure though. I have what I wanted out of life. I have a very loving wife, and a super happy son that you can just tell absolutely adores his dad. It’s all I ever wanted. A family. That’s it. We say that men provide and that’s their function but it’s more than that. Some men just crave connection. The rest can be built upon.
If you have your family behind you then you can conquer the world. You really can. So for me, every day is Father’s day.
Happy Father’s day to all you other happy dads out there!