Back when I was still waiting for my son to arrive, when he could still have been a she and I’d found myself marooned by mutual agreement on the living room sofa, I got through a lot of late night TV. Perhaps I had some premonition of the routine I find myself locked into now. Maybe one hour snatched piecemeal throughout the week to catch up with football highlights – Liverpool only, to save on time. Maybe an hour of Nordic noir on the iPad while my eyelids head resolutely south under combined pressure from the subtitles and plot density, before the blue light re-ignites my brain. Pre-emptive compensation for the TV kid inside, maybe.
One Friday night along the nine-month haul when mum was elsewhere, someplace in North London – North London, entirely undiscovered country for the two of us when we’d been the two of us – I’d settled on an old music documentary on BBC4. Browsing through the onscreen menu and the list of recordings destined to remain unwatched, it was hard to be interested in anything much when the child I was expecting was already spending time with mum’s new partner. That inconvenient truth had a way of setting my attention adrift. A documentary on Pink Floyd would do as well as anything in those circumstances. They’d meant something to me once, I was sure.
‘Are you happy?’ Roger Waters was asked. ‘Happy?’ Waters retorted. He was visibly stoned and clearly of a mind to play verbal ping-pong with the old school reporter who’d put the question and was now audibly stiffening as the giggling of young men getting rich rang round the room. The Floyd’s lead man allowed for a pause, probably long enough in his mind to accomodate an expansive David Gilmour solo, before continuing deadpan with a question of his own. ‘What do you mean… happy?’
I knew what he was getting at. Certainly at that point, on the brink of becoming a father for the first time and with no idea of how or where I might be housed, or indeed what the future under any roof might hold, ‘happy’ wasn’t the word I’d pluck from the air if asked how I was feeling. I’m not sure there was a word for the way I felt. ‘None of the above’ was the box for me to tick. Baby on the way or not, I knew what happy was and I knew it wasn’t me.
So I’d simply not have understood the question. I’d have been every bit as nonplussed as Roger. Now, however, living in a flat with my son – ‘some of the time’ as they say in the dating profiles – and with not one but two sofas though barely enough time to apply myself to either, I think I get it. I think. My son was planned, very planned. He took time, effort and fun so it’s fair to say none of this is quite what I had in mind during the planning process. This wasn’t the introduction to fatherhood I’d been looking for.But there was a great deal I couldn’t see then. I couldn’t see that being a lone parent, far from being the prison I’d assumed it to be for so many, could at times be liberating, exhilarating even. I’d no idea that the space the two of us shared could be so expansive, as though we were riding ongoing rush of explosive love. It’s the cliche I’d some vague notion of, the warm gooey glow I’d almost laughed at when it emanated from friends with kids.
Now it’s me in the goo, basking in the truth that fuels the cliche. It’s dinner time, macaroni’s on the go, 6Music is on and Leo is at my waist demanding what’s rightfully his – ‘HUG! …VERY HUG!’ I scoop him up and he wraps himself around me – the longer his limbs get the better these days, I find. And The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ arrives, and with the wobble of the rising base crashing over the whirr of the extractor fan and synths washing over the kitchen I’m crying as I cradle him in our own private movie moment. If I’d ever cried for joy before Leo, then it was for reasons lost to me now. ‘Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick…’ I sing. Home is where the hug is, and it’s deep like osmosis. There really is no end to this love.
There’s an end to the hug, however, as the timer chimes and the moment melts with the fade out. Turning back to the hob as Leo gets back to play, I’m ready to go with the the butter, cheddar and Parmesan. I know what happy means and I’m glad I was alive to it when it set the kitchen ablaze. Just like a dream.