Parenthood.

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If there’s one thing I’ve often been accused of in the blogosphere, it’s being an optimist. In the real world, I think people regard me as being a bit cagey, careful, perhaps slightly too calculating at times. Where it concerns family, I’m always on the lookout for something like a maniac with an axe running amok, and they all know if my back is to the door of a restaurant or bar with them, I simply get too antsy to enjoy the occasion.

They tend to shuffle around to accommodate me. It’s by now a venerable family joke, but they still indulge me.

When it comes to family, there’s just too much sheepdog in me to relax when we’re out and about, and off our own turf. I can’t help myself shaving off any marginal risk to them. Intellectually, I know the odds of anything like an axe-wielding maniac ever appearing are vanishingly small, but I’m a dad and that sort of mild paranoia comes with the territory.

I know exactly when that imperative to always act as the overwatch on them began. On the very day the first one was born.

For nearly every parent, there is a moment when you hold that new-born baby in your hands and a big switch in your back that you never actually realised was there goes clunk across your shoulder blades, and then clunk all the way down to the base of your spine and then the drop-forged handle gets broken off, and can never be reattached. It’s a one way switch, there is no going back.

You knew you wanted the child and were expecting some sort of reaction at their birth, but this is totally unexpected, intense and a real electrified humdinger.

A few million years of parental hominid genes kick in with a vengeance, and you realise just how superficial nurture can be compared to the elemental DNA-level nature you never suspected was within you. That sterile intellectual debate gets kicked into touch once and for all. It’s for BC people (before children) who even if they’re as smart as whippets, simply don’t have the first idea.

You’ve been simplified.

All aerials, fins and sexy go faster stripes have been sheared off your hide. Now there’s only you, the woman you love and a few pounds of defenceless downy-backed baby, with pointy little bones, a panting chest you can see all the ribs outlined with every breath and tiny perfect hands, complete with miniature fingernails. Anything else is peripheral. You place your fingertips on their bare chest and feel that walnut-sized heart hammering away and you pull them off quickly, afeared your pressure might stop it.

One woman, one baby, one man.

You’re gladly at the bottom of the priority pole and if needed, you’d walk into traffic for them. More importantly, you’d not only tear down a world that might harm them, you’re prepared to reshape it, to carve out your niche in it to give them a future.

In that moment, there’s a lot of other ideological and even theological junk that get kicked off the playing field as well.

You look into that red bruised bloody face that you’ve just watched powerfully wiggle out of your woman’s body with such determination to live, and you are in awe of such resolve, their pure instinct, their hard-wired will to survive, and you think how anyone could believe such innocence could come into the world already bearing a burden of original sin or needing saving is sheer imbecility. For me, it was the last severing of any residual belief in organised religion.

There are cultural ideas about gender roles which melt in the face of the immediacy of a baby whose needs are right here and now. We never discussed it, but from then on I knew my job was to get out of the cave each day, brain some quadruped and drag the carcass back to them, secure in the knowledge that anything with sharp teeth that came anywhere near our baby would bump into a lioness at the mouth of our cave and would not survive that encounter. Her big switch had gone clunk clunk as well.

We were fortunate in that we could afford that route. I was always a good earner, she wanted and therefore took the years out to raise our kids and gave them a great start in life, and then resumed her career. I’d get home of an evening and pop upstairs to see the baby in their cot. “Don’t, I’ve spent hours getting him asleep” would be the warning as I went up the stairs to see them. She’d worked out I kinda kicked the cot to wake them up for a dad cuddle.

In the immediate aftermath of the birth experience, I was banished to home from the maternity ward and them. That was very hard and my emotions ran high. Nowadays, dads don’t get the bum’s rush out of maternity wards, and that’s a good thing. Everybody gets to bond in the first few days. I wrote a poem for him. After it had drained some of the emotion in me, I thought about piecing the feelings that raged through me into some context. It was me running for the comfort of some logical cover and in some respect, I found some.

You get all these fumbling definitions of what makes human beings human beings, and I’m constantly stunned at biologists missing the obvious, but perhaps it’s because they don’t want to see it and therefore would have to deal with the really heavy implications of it, as it very definitely is in danger of straying into the area of what’s laughingly called the social sciences.

Our offspring are totally helpless for years after their birth. There is no other lifeform on Earth that is so vulnerable for so long. We are totally and massively unique in that respect. The only thing that will keep that baby alive is the best part of two decades of selfless care and vigilance by two people. The only reason they will invest all that effort for no material gain – and I’ve never bought into all that selfish gene crap – is love.

We are the product of the most sublime and subtle example of Darwinian selection.

We have been selected for our capacity to love.

Evolutionary biologists bend over backwards to explain why someone will risk and sometimes lose their life trying to save another person who is no blood relation of theirs. They call it the altruism problem and of course such common behaviour drives a horse and chariot through the simplistic almost fascist world of the selfish gene. If they could get off their deterministic butt for a moment and actually recognise that people are not robots, the answer is staring them in the face. A person’s capacity for love and care just doesn’t suddenly come to a screeching halt at family boundaries. It’s as simple as that.

Paradoxically, every army that’s ever been, relied on that love. Never mind the country, politics or the banner they fought under, soldiers always fight for their brothers in arms and that’s why a man with a chest full of medals always cringes when someone calls him a hero. It feels like being unfairly singled out from a brotherhood whom he knows would all go to the wire for each other, especially when there were brothers who never made it home. They won the medal not because they hated the enemy, but because on one particular day the enemy was hurting their brothers, and that they simply couldn’t abide.

The changes in becoming a parent ripple on down through the years. In some ways, it makes you softer. Some stuff that never really bothered you, becomes quite distressing, especially anything to do with cruelty to kids.

At the same time, it makes you harder. As they get older and at some point, you have to make that vital decision of either being their best friend or their parent. You’ve seen the bloody awful results of best friend cop out parenting, so you take the older route of being a hard assed dad, even if that means losing that affection you still crave from them. Hopefully, five or so years down the line, they’ll understand and come back to you. It breaks your heart but that’s the duty of care you owe them.

We’re constantly bombarded with terrible stories by a media which seems fixated with “if it bleeds, it leads” negativity. We have supposedly august people who are nothing more than irritating bum pimples on your knicker line, constantly telling us we’re a cursed species bent on destroying the Earth. That’s their grubby and to be frank elitist world – that’s all they see. They exist in some enlightened circle that lives in medialand and has no connection to everyday reality.

The danger is that you could unconsciously accept their nihilistic world view under such an overwhelming propaganda bombardment. Don’t. I come out of my house every day and all I see is common decency, consideration for other people, a few smiles and above all an extended care network.

To adapt a quote from Matt Ridley, it would be irrational not to be an optimist.

That baby in the picture above is my grandson Michael, who’s but minutes old. Look carefully into the faces of his parents and you can see not only the pure joy and pride, but the love. Within 24 hours, he was already running them ragged but in response they call him their little scamp.

That’s us in a nutshell.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

Love is simply not an option.

Moments in a life and those restarts you have to make.

For Nicholas, a birth poem.

It’s 2.45 in the am and I’m reflecting on a long night’s journey into day.

Click for a list of other articles.

Comments
18 Responses to “Parenthood.”
  1. Timbotoo says:

    Grandkids are great! A calmer you gets to enjoy a lot of the fulfillment all over again.

  2. Clarinda says:

    A very elderly lady once told me, as I was proudly wheeling my firstborn in his sparkling new pram, that as a maturing parent “Things don’t get easier – they just get different” – how true. I’m still concerned about my offspring who are all independent adults.

  3. John Shade says:

    Tremendously good writing makes for tremendously good reading!

  4. Blackswan says:

    Parenthood … that mysterious re-wiring of the brain, that changes us from being irresponsible, selfish young lovers who only have eyes for each other to a lifelong commitment to little strangers who come into our lives, and never quite leave. Just when we think we couldn’t possibly love another child more than we do our first-born, Bingo! … along comes another and we find our capacity for love doubles in an instant.

    And so it goes, until one day you realise having a family doesn’t just change who you are, it’s your children who can teach you so much … if you just take the time to listen.

    Thanks Pointman, and Congratulations again to you and your family on Michael’s safe arrival.

  5. meltemian says:

    Wonderful picture. Congratulations to the happy parents, however as the grandmother of twin boys believe me they don’t know the meaning of being “run ragged”!!

  6. prendelaluna says:

    Thank you Pointman, for some it’s very different from the outset
    and never gets easier.

    • Pointman says:

      A child knows when they’re neither loved nor even wanted, and seeing that as an outsider is one of those distressing cruelties to children I referred to in the piece. On occasion, I’ve felt tempted to say just give me the kid, I’ll make a home for them.

  7. Pointman says:

    I know that I shall meet my fate
    Somewhere among the clouds above;
    Those that I fight I do not hate
    Those that I guard I do not love;

    My country is Kiltartan Cross,
    My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
    No likely end could bring them loss
    Or leave them happier than before.

    Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
    Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
    A lonely impulse of delight
    Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

    I balanced all, brought all to mind,
    The years to come seemed waste of breath,
    A waste of breath the years behind,
    In balance with this life, this death.

    William Butler Yeats.

    • Blackswan says:

      At the going down of the sun, and in the morning … we will remember them.

      Lest we forget.

      • Rastech says:

        A nurse took dad to the Legion Memorial Service they held in the hospital, and it turned out they didn’t have the Service sorted.

        So dad, despite his dementia (not the alzheimers type thankfully), marched to the front, and recited the whole thing off by heart, to the amazement of all present, and some were even in tears.

        After 30+ years as the Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer of the local RBL Branch, he’s still got it.🙂

      • Blackswan says:

        Thanks and respect to your Dad for his years of devoted service Ras, as I’m sure he thanks you for yours.

      • Pointman says:

        Once a leader, always a leader. While everyone else were looking around, he did what was required. More power to his arm.

  8. Rastech says:

    Well put Pointy!

    I rather like this, which goes very well with what you wrote:

    “But the trouble is that conscious futility is something only for the young. One cannot go on “despairing of life” in to a ripe old age. One cannot go on being “decadent”, since decadence means falling and one can only be said to be falling if one is going to reach the bottom reasonably soon. Sooner or later one is obliged to adopt a positive attitude toward life and society.”
    George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays

    Becoming somewhat dilapidated with it all, I am likely to be off soon. It’s time for a new series of adventures (I miss them), After almost 10 years of looking after him, dad is on the brink of going into a Care Home, as he now needs 24/7 care (he’s done ok for his 89 years, it’s a really nice Care Home, and he can no longer do the bit that is necessary, for me to be able to give back a lot, including his independence). Kid sister has just had a baby boy (I am an uncle at last!). and while I am away, she can visit with dad, and update him on my travels. So it’s been a bit hectic lately, what with a few family members deciding to take the early bath of death on us as well, and I haven’t been around online much as a result.

    I now desperately need to chase dry heat and salt air (it came as a great shock for the Dr to say it was a great idea, but I would be doing it anyway), so I am off to North America in a few months to buy a boat (maybe one off the Great Lakes, either side of the border, though there’s a beaut near Seattle that isn’t much money I am enquiring about, which is almost there already for single handed disabled sailing, though it will mean coming back through the Panama Canal – I won’t be going round Cape Horn, this time anyway). Can you get vaccines against Panama Crocodiles, etc., I wonder?

    I’m going to get one of those DeLorme satellite texting phones (cheap for what they offer), which will give a link for my position, so I will try and post a link to the subscriber page, and any visitor can ping my position for an immediate update, as well as see the track of the journey progress (don’t send me a text though, it will eat into a meager monthly allowance of texts, as incoming texts count as ones I use, and I will generally be using one of three pre-arranged texts – possibly “Yaaaaaay! This is my position” and “Woooohoooooo! This is my position” and “”Ohhhhh CRAP!”) that have unlimited use, though those non urgent ones can take a full day to actually get delivered, as they fit them in as and when, with more important stuff getting priority to get transmitted).

    It should all be a humungous laugh, anyway.🙂

    Serendipitously, the dad’s Care Home is just a few miles from where I intend mooring the boat while it is in the UK (Summer visits), and with luck and a following wind, dad will be able to live a bit of his dream of going on a liveaboard sailboat on nice days out.

    So take care all, and keep on keeping on, as I will be a bit busy resitting my lifetime VHF license that turned out not to be, and also going to sailing school for a refresher and to get the silly EU imposed International Certificate of Competence, somewhere sunny. I need to spend over 6 months outside EU waters on this journey back, as I will then qualify for an exemption from their stupid imposition of taxes on old secondhand things. So I may have to do a fair bit of hanging around and making a nuisance of myself in the Caribbean (before I jump off across the Atlantic bound for Cape Verde, I intend to call in and get dad a Trinidad and Tobago football team shirt, scarf, and hat, as we were both supporting them during the World Cup – but shhhhh! don’t tell him, it’s going to be a surprise).

    /waves

    • Pointman says:

      It little profits that an idle king,
      By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
      Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
      Unequal laws unto a savage race,
      That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

      I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
      Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
      Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
      That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
      Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
      Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
      For always roaming with a hungry heart

      Much have I seen and known; cities of men
      And manners, climates, councils, governments,
      Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
      And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
      Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

      I am a part of all that I have met;
      Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
      Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
      For ever and forever when I move.

      How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
      To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
      As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
      Were all too little, and of one to me
      Little remains: but every hour is saved
      From that eternal silence, something more,
      A bringer of new things; and vile it were
      For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
      And this gray spirit yearning in desire
      To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
      Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

      There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
      There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
      Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
      That ever with a frolic welcome took
      The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
      Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
      Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

      Death closes all: but something ere the end,
      Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
      Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

      The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
      The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
      Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
      ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.

      Push off, and sitting well in order smite
      The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
      To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
      Of all the western stars, until I die.

      It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
      It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
      And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

      Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
      One equal temper of heroic hearts,
      Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

      Alfred Lord Tennyson.

      Congratulations on being an uncle Ras and send us back a few thoughts from your travels.

      Pointman

    • Blackswan says:

      Your footy shirt secret is safe with us.

      Wishing you fair winds and tight sails Ras – always good to be able to turn fresh pages and write unexpected chapters, so keep a diary. I can highly recommend new adventures.

      Look after yourself and keep in touch.

      Best regards.

      • meltemian says:

        We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
        Always a little further: it may be
        Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
        Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
        White on a throne or guarded in a cave
        There lives a prophet who can understand
        Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
        Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

        May it truly be a “Golden Jouney” Ras’, keep us updated, we’ll be thinking of you.

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