One of the things that’s struck me most about becoming a dad is how much less of a big deal it is than I expected it to be. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work, or life-changing, or sometimes a bleary-eyed, uphill slog, but I was expecting more of a fundamental shift in my worldview, something deeper and more profound.
I’ve often noticed in life that what can seem like a huge cliff face one side, looks little more than a bump in the road the other. I think a lot of us often underestimate our ability to cope with change, to just get on with it and roll with the punches.
Before Ottilie was born I thought I was in store for the biggest moment of my life, the biggest, most fundamental change I’d ever gone through. I felt like the world was going to be a completely different place when I became a dad. I thought I’d feel very different to the person I was before.
As it’s turned out, all those deep and meaningfuls have been booted aside by more immediate concerns, like making sure she’s looked after properly; making sure she’s well-fed, well-rested, clean, entertained, happy.
To be honest, I don’t really get it when I hear new parents talk about how much in love they are with their babies or how they just can’t stop looking at them. I haven’t felt like that, not in that sort of gushing way anyway. That’s not to say I don’t care – it’s not that at all. We had to take Ottilie to the hospital twice in her first three months and it was horrible seeing her prodded and poked and examined while she didn’t know what was happening to her. I felt extremely protective. And I felt extremely proud of how well she coped. She’s a real water baby too – she loves the bath and we take her to baby swimming classes on Sundays. It’s such a great feeling seeing how much she enjoys it – and she reacts an awful lot better to being dunked underwater than I ever have!
I want to be the best dad that I can be. I want Ottilie to grow up feeling loved and secure and free to express herself. I want to help her learn about the world and get the most out of it that she possibly can. But for me that takes removing myself and my feelings from the picture. I want to do those things for her, because I’m responsible for bringing her into the world and I have a responsibility to look after her.
My favourite times so far have been when I’ve seen her develop and grow – the first time she smiled, the first time she used her hands to grab a toy, the first time she rolled over. It feels like a privilege to be there when she makes a new discovery, a new leap in growth and understanding.
The hardest parts are the mundane things like dealing with a lack of sleep and the lack of free time. Parenthood feels more like a job than I expected it to. I feel less of a sense of warm, fuzzy, oh-isn’t-she-wonderful love than I expected, and more a sense of duty and responsibility. Again, that’s not to say I don’t love Ottilie – but it’s a different kind of love than I expected. It’s the kind of love which puts her first. The kind which urges me to just get on with it and roll with the punches.