THE DAD ABIDES

Day 23  (I think.  The days run away…)

With my head in the shed, our latest feeding session descends rapidly into farce.  Generous quantities of what appears to be cottage cheese – but not the kind you’d like to eat – spume freely from the nozzle, with little of it reaching its intended target.  Indeed most of it is heading my way, and far too much is coating Leo’s face.  Welcome to formula.

It’s a happy scene, nonetheless.  For so long, almost the span of a pregnancy, this cottage flat had been my suburban Marie Celeste.  Life was elsewhere, and I waited for it.  Now it’s come home, it’s dandling in my lap.  Soon it will be me that’s departed, bound for the childless quiet of the next empty space, but for now this moment, this clumsy dance, this gentle, firm persistence, this patient steering of bottle to a learning, yearning mouth, this getting-to-know-you is all there is.

By increments Leo fills the space, claiming it for his own.  With his smells – the warm density and tangible fug of his moss-greened nappies to the soft deja vu of the downy hair still barely amounting to a wisp.  With his infant voice and its burgeoning palette of sound, a constant source of joy and surprise to tired ears – not the cliched ear worm of the BBC sound effect baby’s cries, but the burbling chirp and tender mewling of a suckling cub.

In time he’ll establish dominion over his various and separate territories, both Ellie’s and mine.  He’ll no longer be the object in the corner as a friend so brusquely refers to the pre-crawling/walking memory of his own young children.  How I long for it, though, even if I do end up in thrall to the sovereign lord of all he surveys, and even if I am witness to his growth and development on a part-time basis.

Briefly, I wonder how unsettling it might prove to shuttle continuously from one flat to another – with baby and without – and from a house that will forget me to a flat yet unknown.  But feeding Leo trumps all, and the thought is consigned gladly to the back of the queue with all the other mental clamour that’s threatening to turn my life into an eternally self-replenishing to-do list.

And yet wherever I find myself, the need to forge a solid rapport with Leo – and, in view of the circumstances, to establish primacy with him, is paramount.  In my fledgling parent mindset paranoia escalates – as gross a violation as it is to know he’s on intimate terms with Ellie’s new partner already, it must be faced.  Whose smell, whose touch, whose voice will he respond to?

Perhaps, then, to the GP with this welter of mental insecurity – there, no doubt, to hear everything that I don’t want to hear.  The realisation is growing, silent like cancer, that my weeks-old son may in time emerge as a part-reflection of an influence that is other, foreign to my own.  It’s knowledge that can hollow.  But over time I must endure – the dad must abide.  And this is no man thing, this is about being a father.  And as a father I can make no apology for aiming to be, alongside his mother, his prime influence.  That, after all, is what I am here for.  What the other he is here for, remains to be seen…

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