April 1, 1995, 2:00 a.m. Belfast was sleeping—no controlled explosions, no hoax bombs jamming the streets with weary commuters sick of ‘The Troubles.’
The delivery room was stifling—the window open, the radio playing quietly on the sill. We’d been in the maternity suite two other days before, Patricia’s contractions were coming at regular intervals, but they had sent us home again, with the inevitable Belfast “Wise up!”
This evening, Patricia’s contractions were closer together, but I was too wrapped up in the X-Files, for isn’t the truth out there? And after Mulder and Scully had sorted out the aliens, I’d settled in to watch Millennium, only to be told quite firmly that it was time. ‘Now, Guy. Now.’
Pethidine and gas, mopped brows, hand pushed away and grasped, her fingernails digging into the back of my hand, the bustle of the midwife and then, my daughter made her entrance, Echo Beach playing on the radio… in the room, out into the night, far away in time, far away in time.
Patricia, exhausted by it all, smiled at her child and slipped into a deep sleep.
‘Would like to hold your daughter?’ asked the midwife.
I guess most fathers have been asked that question, and we’ve had similar reactions. Fear, overwhelming love, trepidation and something more primal, an emotion that reaches back into our ancestry. Generations of men have been surprised by it. Many of us have never felt anything close to it before. It is an indescribable rage, controlled, not directed at our partner or towards our child, but to anyone who would dare disturb those first moments. I would have torn your throat out, had you come near me… with my teeth, with my hands, with every muscle and sense that I possessed. The rage to protect is utterly visceral.
But there was more. This wriggling alien, with manicured fingernails, was special in a way only a few can experience. And that was more terrifying than all that had passed in those first few seconds.
When I was born, my mother kept me for ten days, and then I was handed over to a foster parent to be put up for adoption. ‘Put up’ always amuses me, as if I were some prize on a 1970s game show. At nine months, my adopted parents took me home and I grew as their son, always knowing but never fully appreciating what being adopted meant.
When I first held my daughter, my first-born child, she was the first human being I had touched consciously, to whom I was related by blood.
That first touch, the first bond, the terror, the love, the rage and then the final realization, like nothing I had experienced before. I felt the same with my son, only it was Suspicious Minds when he arrived.
I became a Dad and my life began. The moment my daughter’s tiny body weighed in my hands, I became the real me again, not some 1970’s game show prize.
She’s 21 now. Younger than that sometimes, older and wiser than me at others. We spark off each other, for we are too alike, both stubborn and willful. But for her and for my son, I’ve tried to be the father I never had.
I’ve not always succeeded, but failures are part of the learning process I guess and I hope that in years to come, they will see how much each of them mean to me.
I hope that in the sea of troubles that we call life, they will be able to turn to me for guidance. And for my own part, I’m a terrible dad-dancer to Echo Beach and Suspicious Minds. But isn’t that what dads are for?
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