Curveballs and Status Upgrades
As most first-time dads well know, fatherhood brings many… and that’s after the heady nine-month build-up.
Raucous 3 am wailing.
Testy, sleep-deprived wives and girlfriends.
Raucous 5 am wailing (now harmonised by your partner’s cries of frustration).
Caramel-sundae-like poo on your fingers.
Foot cramps (from tiptoeing around the house).
Regular, slightly-crazed text messages from said partner during the working day.
And, finally: Facebook-induced anguish: “Another one sleeping through in my mother’s group! Why do they have to tell the world?”
Why, indeed. Mark Zuckerberg has much to answer for.
But when our beautiful – and unplanned – Edie came along, my girlfriend and I realised that joining the beleaguered parental community also bestowed a certain status. A ‘key to the city’ of sorts – regardless of whether we wanted it or not.
I’d be out pushing the pram and little old ladies would proffer me looks of warmth rather than fear and/or loathing. Local cafes started handing out little freebies – babycinos, biscuits, even muffins – or allowed credit for coffees because, “I understand, bringing your wallet was the last thing on your mind.”
Other cafe-going patrons, meanwhile, would move tables, hold doors open, or even pick up the books, toys and half-gnawed boxes of sultanas that Edie tossed out of her pram.
Most pertinently, other parents – from respective L-platers to those with multiple school-aged tyrants – started talking to us. While I could talk anyone’s ear off as a wayward twenty-something, I wasn’t much of a ‘real’ conversationalist in the ‘adult’ world (unless alcohol is involved, which, of course, has me thinking I’m being a real conversationalist).
So this was somewhat of an unplanned test. I hadn’t realised that having a baby not only invited chats with strangers also newly saddled with the responsibility of parenthood, but there was something of an expectation to do so.
At first, there were the other dads on early-morning walks. There’d be a knowing smile as we crossed paths, a cheerful: “The wife having a lie-in, eh?”
I’d snigger a little “yeah…” as I continued on.
“You getting much sleep?” he’d yell over his shoulder.
“Some… but it’s never enough”, I’d yell back.
“Hang in there, brother,” he’d say.
I had no idea just how positive an impact my little girl would have on the local community.
Then there’s the local park, where other bleary-eyed parents and their kids in our area congregate. Previously, these people had barely given us a second look – now we were in ‘the gang’. But this was a new type of ‘in-crowd’ to which I’d become accustomed. These weren’t trendsetters frequenting trendsetting places. They didn’t do as they wanted every weekend, nor did they wear the finest and coolest clothing money could buy. No, they were more likely to be found in tracksuit pants at said park or cafe, or at the supermarket on a Sunday. Because material shit just didn’t matter anymore. (And it never should have.)
I’d be walking Edie in the stroller, her bright blue eyes and joyous smile inviting more and more people – of all ages – to stop us in the street. “She’s so beautiful,” they exclaim as they peer in. “Are you enjoying being out with Daddy?”
While I’ve always appreciated the compliments, I hadn’t been prepared for them. I had no idea just how positive an impact my little girl would have on the local community. Now I’m learning to give people want they want, which is often just a little sunshine in their days.
“Have you got a smile, Edie?” I say, knowing that even though I’m talking to the stranger by proxy, it suffices.
“Wave goodbye, Edie!”
Fatherhood quickly changed me – I previously despised the word ‘normal’, for example; I soon revelled in the fact that Edie was in the healthy percentile for height and weight – and I accepted, to an extent, parenting ‘status’.
But while I’ve grown to appreciate chatting with other dads and mums about their experiences (even at the park at 8 am on Sunday mornings), I try my best to stay in step with my single mates who are happily disengaged from the world I’m now in. Some of them may never have kids, and I don’t begrudge them one bit.
In fact, the more they don’t change, the saner I stay.