It was after I’d finished building your cot that I sat down and cried for the first time. No-one had told me I’d cry. It happens to real men during the birth, crying. But during flatpack assembly? Definitely not. In my defence, I had had an exhausting day: I’d bickered with your mother; I’d helped drag a secondhand sofa up to your bedroom; I’d put together various IKEA furniture; I had not eaten. Sitting there, looking at this newly-made cot, along with your side table, your lamp and a wardrobe stuffed with bags of your blankets, toys and tiny clothes, it all suddenly became too much. Here was the room we’d prepared for you and were filling with things which we hoped would like. The walls we’d painted blue, a shade we’d picked out in the hope that it would remind you of a summer sky. An overpriced baby-rocker and a lampshade with a picture of a fox on it were on their way; somewhere among the bundles of clothes in the wardrobe were a pair of knitted Converse trainers bought by your mother and a babygro with a drawing of a badger on it bought by me. For a moment all of this was unbearably touching. But maybe touching isn’t the right word. Touching, but also odd.
Because here's something else no-one had told me: having a baby would be uncanny. There exists an industry built around doling out advice to new or expectant parents, both practical and emotional: How do I change a nappy? What if I fuck up my kids? Do babies wear pyjamas? What if they grow up to be Hitler? What is colic? What if I don’t love them? All useful (and all things I’ve worried about) but none of it tackles that weird, initial miracle: a person is segueing into a reality. Someone who did not exist is emerging from nothingness into existence, into the flesh-and-blood world, literally muscling into their portion of the world’s space. I’d always thought the notion rather trite, that pre-birth is somehow connected with the post-death, that life is a brief sidetrack on a cosmic Grand Prix. And yet here I was, assailed by what felt a little like grief, crying in the afternoon for someone who I didn’t even know yet, someone who technically didn’t even exist.
An odd form of love. Or, rather, the last few months have made clear to me just how odd love can be. We are all of us essentially genitals which emerge from our forebears’ genitals and subsequently go on to produce new genitals of our own. Human history is essentially an endless strip of William Morris wallpaper patterned with cocks and fannies. And not just the people who you see walking round every day, nor also those who came before us and those who are yet to come, but everything we have – the buildings, the roads, the thoughts, the technology, the wars, everything – is all woven through that pattern of men and women. It feels like another fairly banal observation, but it’s actually startling, when you fully appraise it – when having a baby makes you fully appraised of it. It feels like there must have been a mistake; someone has made a galactic error.
I don’t know where it came from, this odd love. You began as an idea, a conversation; then your presence announced itself quietly as a pink line on a pissed-on stick of plastic; you grew gradually; and now here you are, a kicking, wriggling, sonogramable, undeniable person. And with this slow transmutation - which has taken place against the backdrop of the humdrum, the routine, the everyday - the corridor of a future has opened up, of your future. It has caught me off-guard, how excited I am to see which doors you will try and which routes you’ll choose and how powerful my hope is that I can follow you for a very long time.
And finally there’s books. Like a lot of parents, to begin with I secretly decided that your upbringing should consist of a recreation of those aspects of my own which I hold dearest – I have bought you, amongst a great many others, Mog, Funnybones,Paddington and a thick stack of Ladybird books – and correct those of which I am least fond (no spanking, no church). The methodology lying behind this is fairly selfish on my part, and I can already feel it beginning to fall by the wayside the realer you become. But books will remain. If anyone ever wants his or her faith in the world restoring, they should visit the picture books section of a branch of Waterstones and discover the almighty industriousness that goes into the simple task of trying to make children happy.
I could go on, but I won’t. I just wanted to get some of this down, to have some of it in front of me, to try to help myself understand what it is that is happening. But also to have something of these feelings on record. Both for myself and for you, for the future, for those moments when you encounter the strong feelings of doubt or failure or insignificance which await you, when it might be helpful or reassuring to know that even the merest rumour of your existence was enough to populate your parents’ lives with joy and meaning and a powerful, daunting love.
I’m sorry it's turned out that you've got a father who, way back when, was so syrupy and twee he did things like write a blog post to his unborn daughter. And I’m sorry for writing about genitals.