father

"How does it feel ?"

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When I became a father, a few male friends asked me a question. A question, if I had to confess, I just hadn’t thought about. It might also be worth pointing out that these friends were largely unmarried twenty-something men who were in semi-serious relationships. Anyway, the million dollar question was: “How does IT feel?”.  

The first time I was asked this seemingly good natured query, I was rather perplexed. For I didn't quite know what he was referring to. My idle mind honestly thought that either he was referring to the timely procreative act that had successfully borne fruit (kids - if you're reading, you're too young for that now!) or  about having survived the nearly out-of-body experience of actually helping a doctor and a set of maternity nurses hand-deliver my little one.

 

Yes, I'm very aware that my 'experience' isn't even a drop in the ocean to what my wife could have possibly endured, but more on that in another post. Anyway, since I was usually in no mood to discuss either of those two points, in the interest of giving myself an exit window from the clutches of the above-mentioned question, I would usually just smile and shrug my shoulders, as if 'IT' felt like the most natural thing in the world.

 

Eventually, after a lot of contemplation (read as: man-ing up and asking my wife), I figured out that what they were actually referring to was in fact, 'How does it feel to be a father?' And truth be told, I did not know. For I'd never really given it any thought. I mean, how does one define these things? These feelings to be precise. It's not as if you've just been given a bar of chocolate and had to decide whether you want to eat it slowly or devour the whole thing at once. It is a wee bit more complicated than that.

 

How does one describe the feeling of realisation that you have just been elevated from the role of a normal, happy-go-lucky chap to someone who is now responsible (at least partly) for this new life form that you now hold in your arms? And that the little person you're looking at, with those tiny little fingers, toes, snouty nose and crinkled up forehead, is perhaps going to decide your schedules and social calendar for the foreseeable future. Also that while there may be times when their smile could make you feel like you're on the proverbial cloud nine, there may also be times when their shrill cries could keep you up all night wondering how you ended up in such a pickle in the first place. 

 

No. I did not know how to describe that feeling. And I still don't, even after 33 months of wholesome and hands-on parenting. But here's the thing. To me, fatherhood has been a discovery of sorts.It's a journey of constant learning, adapting and yes, sometimes just thriving.

 

There are times when you can be both amazed by and angry at the same little person. At the same time, that too. Other times, you discover that you have this storehouse of patience that is the only thing stopping you from wanting to bang your head against the wall. There are also moments of self-discovery when you surprise yourself with how good you are at telling stories, sometimes even making them up as you go along. And then of those pangs of jealousy that you feel when you kid temporarily chooses someone else to bother. 

 

And that there will be times when you just want to go to the supermarket under the pretext of doing some shopping, just to get some 'you-time'. Or how your inherent radar just goes off when you spot other parents with kids in the same age group. Of course, there are also moments of joy, when you discover that your ability to make the weirdest noises is a source of entertainment for the little one. Or the strange looks that people give you when you are busy having strange and intimate conversations with inanimate objects. Sometimes, the discovery is something more simpler. Like replacing your otherwise overpriced cup of latte from Starbucks to plain, strong coffee in a mug that says 'Daddy, you're the best!'.

 

And sometimes it is the fact that you can actually hear your own voice, after they sleep.  Or how you're constantly trying to evolve from being the guy hanging out with your best mates to the guy that your kid wants to hang out with. Or that even the simple act of getting out of the house with a child requires more planning that your annual vacation. Often, it could be  a more serious realisation. Like how this little thing called 'money' is suddenly a criteria for everything. Or how sleep, something that you managed without for days at a stretch, is now a luxury that you'd gladly give an arm or a leg for. Or how your relationship with your better-half changes. When sweet nothings become all the more important and every chance that you get for the simplest conversations are more precious that all the talk you've ever done before. 

I could go on and on, but I won't. The thing is - 'Everything in parenthood is a discovery'. For no parenting book or journal can truly explain what you're getting yourself into. Only that you'll always come out stronger.

 

And as for this said 'feeling'. that takes on new dimensions ever so often. Sometimes every day. And at times every other hour. I suppose, it is pretty accurate to say that depending on the time of the day, you may receive a different answer for that question. Right now for example, as I sit nursing my wounded pinky toe, that 'feeling' is :

 

I can't wait for him to grow out of the 'I shall leave my Lego blocks lying around so Dad can step on them' phase. Trust me, they hurt!


The Parenthood game

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It is often said that the road to your parenthood becoming a fruitful reality is approximately 40 weeks long. Try as you may, you just cannot go above the nature-regulated speed limit - doesn't matter if you have a brand new Ferrari or a decade old Toyota Supra. Me, I say it's more like a board game - more often than not, you go from starting point to the winner's circle on a set path, and lady luck occasionally throws you a few lucky rolls of the dice, the outcomes of which are anybody's guess.

Though others may choose to disagree, I would broadly split out this 40 week path into 5 complex yet beautiful phases.


Phase 1: Wonderful beginnings

From a man's point of view, this stage almost always starts with either a "Yay, we're pregnant" or a "I'm pregnant with YOUR child" phrase. Since I am a staunch believer in the institution of marriage and/or any kind of serious relationship, I am going to use the former statement as the basis going forward. (Another reason is that mostly the latter statement has a 50% chance of going either ways - i.e could be good or bad news.)

Great, you're expecting! This has to be amazing news. Your partner (for this example, I am going to go ahead and assume it's a woman - to ensure biological accuracy) and you are excited beyond words, and suddenly everywhere you turn, you can't help but notice expectant couples everywhere. You personally want to shout out the news from the top of a very high building - however your sensibilities make you understand that only immediate family / friends need to know. You dote on your partner and are available at her beck and call. Their every little "ooh and aah" are a cause for concern for you. If you are a couple that enjoy the occasional drink, you voluntarily solemnly vow to take a detox till the little one(s) is/are out. This phase usually lasts till the first proper scan - say for about 12 weeks from conception, or possibly 6 weeks from when you discover you are expecting


 Phase 2: Ups & Downs

You've just accompanied your "expectant partner" for her first scan. As much as you'd hate to admit it, you would have been jittery for the past couple of days - after all, this scan is black and white proof of your impending parenthood. The scan goes well, and your excitement (or fear) is confirmed, and you've now officially got an ultrasound image of something that resembles a cross between a reasonable sized squashed coffee bean and a baby chimp. Though you are vividly aware of both the scan technician and your better half squealing in delight at the "apparent features of your baby", you probably are squinting at the screen, unable to differentiate the baby's head from its feet. Fear not - research has shown that more men struggle with inkblot tests, which would probably go some way to explain our lack of skill in this field. Having said that, more often than not, you'd tend to play along and try to imagine what the baby should look like.

Once the confirmation of the scan is done, you'd most likely be ready to let your close friends and acquaintances know about this momentous event that is now slowly taking over your life. However phase 2 is not entirely stress-free. As your baby grows, so does your partner, albeit very slowly. And invariably so does your partner's pregnancy related syndromes - Nausea, tiredness, an absolute aversion to some previously well-liked aromas etc. just to name a few. To add to your misery, your partner now starts to show signs of weight gain; Unfortunately the worst part of this, is that she now starts to look more fat than pregnant. So be prepared for a lot of "Do I look fat in this?" and plenty more "I don't fit into those jeans anymore". Be patient - she deserves to whinge. However this is where the luck of the dice starts to come into play for the first time in this board game of pregnancy. Your partner could have all, some or none of these symptoms at all. This phase also sets off a round of maternity related purchases - maternity clothes, baby toys etc. Though fear not, these are the occasional spur-of-the-moment purchases.


Phase 3: Calm before the storm

You as a couple, are now approximately 7 months into your pregnancy. More than likely, your partner has now either been set free from the vicious holds of the initial pregnancy related symptoms, or both of you have made peace with it, so much so that you've accepted it as part and parcel of this wonderful journey. By now, the signs of pregnancy are really starting to show on the both of you - Her with her cute round bump and you with those monstrous dark circles under your eyes as well as your overall unkempt dishevelled state. Personally this is one of the best stages of the pregnancy - your partner gets a lot of attention from everyone, loads of congratulatory messages and plenty of " You look so beautiful / You're glowing" messages; It's great because these feed her good ego, and hence you are invariably much more relaxed.

Through the midst of all this, you can't secretly help but wonder if you should invest in a larger king-size bed, in the hope that this might stop you from being kicked out at night. Have fun while this lasts - which is for about a week or two.


Phase 4 : " I hate you …and everything else" phase 

At approximately 8-and-odd months, starts the penultimate leg of this "lovely" journey. Be prepared to hear this phrase, at least once a day : " I hate you!". She finds it difficult to breathe, and everything that can swell, will start to swell. Maternity clothes stop fitting and she even finds it an arduous task to wear any kind of footwear that involves straps or a pair of laces. And you….you find yourself at the receiving end of every single outburst. You're torn between wanting to take care of her, and secretly wanting to stay a bit longer at work, till she possibly goes to bed. But at this stage, even a simple thing like a nap is excruciatingly difficult for her to come by. Once again, be patient - we men can whine and whinge all we want, when we are able to reciprocate with the production of life inside of us. Until then, be as loving and kind as you can be. At this point, you're very likely starting to regret the whole " I vow to detox and restrain from having any kind of alcoholic beverage" episode from Phase 1. Also get set to hear a lot of " Haven't you guys had the baby yet?" from the rest of the world. Phase 4 culminates with both of you secretly harbouring the same thoughts - " I don't care if that baby needs to be pulled out through the ears, I just wish it'd hurry up!"


Phase 5: The miracle of birth

This phase often starts off with a long resounding "aaah" from your better half, which progressively gets repeated every 10 minutes or so. So you do the best thing possible - call the Maternity suite/wing and let them know you think the bun's had enough cooking in the oven. Depending on your luck, you'd either be asked to come in straight away, or the duty nurse will insist on speaking to the mother-to-be to assess the situation. For the sake of simplicity, and sanity, let's assume that both of you have been advised to come to the labour suite. This sets the stage for "Let's wait and see.."; Your partner is now "comfortably" (yeah, right!) settled on the hospital bed, dressed in their traditional maternity gown, bed at a half-elevated position. As for you, you're just sitting around by the bed waiting for the inevitable push to come through. Apart form the occasional visits from the maternity nurse and the doctor-on-call, the both of you have some quality time to pass. Unfortunately, neither of you are in the mood to have lengthy philosophical or romantic talks. Sooner or later, the fated push will materialise, and riding on these waves of pushes and deep breaths, shall arrive the answer to the age-old travel question " Are we there yet?" -  your little bundle of joy!

Sounds simple, doesn't it ?

 

Image Courtesy : RGBstock.com/johnnyberg