dad blog

Every man should…

When I eventually fell in love with my daughter it was about two days after she was born. I waited for the feeling in the delivery room, but it never came. There were no tears, or even a hint of a swelling of pride. Even a ripple of smugness would’ve been better than just standing there, feeling like a freak.

Even when my dad arrived, with that unmistakable grandfather glow, there was nothing. Just a sense of responsibility for this new life that was plucked from my wife’s innards. Mind you, I was more amazed to see bits of my wife that she never knew existed.

Maybe that was the connection between Spawn and me, that we’ve both been and seen inside her like she never has and will never be able to.

But it was in a moment of quiet, at home. I think the wife was in the shower, or something. I was sitting in that lovely standard issue leather hospital chair, left to my own devices with the most fragile thing I’d ever seen. Her swollen sleeping face let out a smile that I would later come to know as the burp face.

The flood of emotion was immense. It’s as if my heart opened up to accommodate the new volume of love that was suddenly rushing in. I never knew a love like that existed and I think it even made me love my wife more, a sentiment that complimented the new respect I had for mothers after witnessing the trauma of childbirth.

Grief, however, comes a lot quicker.

Granted, I only had the best part of an hour between seeing my mother in the hospital bed, in a dramatically worse condition than when i said my goodbyes about 12 hours before, to seeing her take her last breath. But I did process the thought in that time none the less.

I thought I’d be better equipped for it. I thought I’d cried all my funeral tears at the grave of my friend Mark. I thought my stoic philosophy would’ve covered me for this.

I was wrong.

It’s not that I cried when I saw it happen. That I was prepared for and the fact that my sisters and I were all there gave a macabre closure to it all. There was no room for shock. There was no time for disbelief. There was only death and the stone corpse of a mother who had sacrificed so much of her life to see us live ours.

My daughter was in amongst the malaise. In a way I feel guilty for exposing her to the rawness of death, but she’s tough and adaptable. It was better that she learn it now and know that granny won’t be getting up from her sleep.

Crying came when I was tasked to break the news to my mother’s dearest friend. I didn’t cry because I had just lost a parent, but rather for my aunt who had known my mother for 50 years. I cried because I had never heard such a heart-wrenching sound like the one she let out when my straight delivery struck home. It was around ten minutes past death, and I felt grief.

In church the next morning I sat in the front pew like I did every Sunday and balled when the opening tune of ‘Be Now My Vision’ vibrated out of the organ. I sang that song at my wedding, after the knot was tied. It played at the Easter service when my daughter was baptised. And now it will haunt me to the day I die. I don’t know why, but I fought for it to be included in among the funeral hymns. I cursed myself when it played.

Before the cursing though, there were words.

When we met with the priest, he asked me if I was okay to take on the eulogy responsibility. What he didn’t know is that I’d preached from the altar before at a Youth Day service that was packed to the rafters. My mother was flushed with pride. Speaking in front of a full church was the least of my worries.

What I didn’t account for was that it was the last opportunity I’d have to say goodbye to my mother, and it would be in front of hundreds of people.

There came a supreme sense of calm as I went through the opening lines of my heartfelt tribute to the greatest woman I had ever known. I glowed in my perfectly fitting suit jacket. I spoke with clarity, authority, charm and wit that would’ve made my mother smile. And then came the last line.

Even when writing the eulogy, I didn’t count on ending it. After all my thoughts were down I edited out the repetitions and redundancies. Crossed Is and dotted Ts. Was careful not to split infinitives or dangle participles. Hell, I even quoted a few lines from Billy Joel.

But nothing prepared me for the inevitable goodbye. “I will love you and miss you for all of my days. Goodbyemom.”

Grief moves more swiftly than love.

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Learning

An important part of fatherhood is teaching — transferring skills and knowledge to your spawn. It takes a village to equip your offspring with the required social and emotional intelligence to navigate the world, but only you and your partner are responsible for fostering the child’s curiosity.

The first lesson I learnt was when I reflected on the human condition (something that can only be pondered when under the influence of extreme narcotics or boredom). Robert Ardrey’s words feed the arrogance of man: “We are born of risen apes, not fallen angels.”

What this means to me is that like apes, we learn by mimicry. We copy good ideas and try and perfect it to make our lives more efficient, so we have more time for pleasure. Crawling around isn’t efficient, so children watch adults and copy their movements.

And when you master the thing that you copied, you begin to play around with it and find ways to express yourself in it. Messi and Ronaldo both learned the same basic movements that any able-bodied human has access to, but once mastering the basics they take it to another level with sheer imagination.

Imagination is driven by curiosity. “What if?” is the starting point of all innovation, but the ability to question is determined by exposure.

Exposure to other ideas and practices broadens your reference and allows you to be more creative in your what ifs. If you’ve been exposed to the many ways the question has been asked and answered, you can then pick your favourites and expand on them.

You’re the only person who is responsible for your child’s exposure to the world. Use this power wisely.

Behind the lens

The first time I felt like I needed a father figure was when I found out my wife was pregnant. Nobody prepares you for that shit.

To be honest, the first thought I had was “Get rid of it.” I’m not ashamed of that thought though, our current situation wasn’t primed for parenthood and I’ve always had reservations about unplanned family expansion.

Our turning point was the upfront cost of a fancy abortion (think incoming and outgoing counseling, not a wire coat hanger and a shot of whisky), we didn’t have the cash.

Telling our parents was the easy part, they were all ecstatic and supportive. But not once throughout the pregnancy did my dad ever pull me aside for a chat about the pitfalls of impending fatherhood. Granted, he and my mom were separated/divorced since I was 4, but he was then already a three infant veteran (not counting extra-marital siring).

I pressed him for details about my own rearing and was answered with anecdotes about my mother’s antics on the numerous trips between Pretoria and Cape Town. Conversations with my father-in-law uncovered similar tales of absent fathers, or rather, fathers who took their place behind the lens.

As wonderful as it is watching my daughter becoming the amazing person she is, I don’t want to be a behind-the-lens dad. I want to be active and involved, sharing the load with my wife and giving her a chance to be selfish. And I know I’m not alone.
Nobody prepares dads for fatherhood, but we can help each other be a perfect dad.