This is the anniversary of the last Saturday when my world was normal. That weekend I was watching the Queen on a barge getting rained on and looking miserable while thousands of people cheered and Fearne Cotton destroyed the reputation of the BBC.
Meanwhile my wife’s abdomen wobbled – a minor quake that would not register on the Richter scale but served as a continued warning that I was nearing the end of life as I knew it.
It was a life of weekends with late nights out, trips to the cinema, morning lie-ins, the odd hangover and occasional, abandoned half-hearted attempts to get fit.
By the following Friday morning it would be gone, replaced by a life of all-hours servitude to a miniature dictator. Some people say that it’s the moment you hold your child in your arms for the first time that you get that new found sense of responsibility and that feeling that your life is no longer your own. I didn’t, if I’m honest.
I loved her instantly of course. Only an emotionally stunted husk could not. But it didn’t feel like everything had changed, other than that lots of presents appeared in our house and none of them were for me.
When she announced her arrival with a cry like a wartime air raid siren, digitally re-mastered and turned up to full volume in suburb-shattering surround sound, all I had to do was cut the cord.
It was all a doddle at first. Ill equipped when it came to the feeding, I was required simply to change her clothes and some of her nappies. The most important tasks – keeping her alive and nourished – were done by my wife.
I returned to work after a couple of weeks and got on with my day job. I had a welcome respite from the screaming and crying – mainly whenever I left the office and got away from the news desk.
The moment it all changed came a few weeks later.
I was buying a sandwich from the office trolley and my phone rang. It was my wife’s sister. They were going to hospital. Leaving a trail of coronation chicken I fled down the stairs and jumped the bottom three, landing awkwardly on an ankle as opposed to the sole of my foot. I sat in traffic screaming and swearing inaudibly and impotently at the inexplicable stream of learner drivers and milk floats that had chosen that very minute to deliberately block my way.
Our daughter was fine. It was my wife who needed attention. It doesn’t matter what it was now – she turned out fine too and came home later that day.
We didn’t know that at the time. Wired up to a drip, the nurses warned her she might have to be admitted. And the baby could not stay with her. At this point she had been only breast fed. We literally had nothing else to give her. I stood there, numb. After a few minutes I was on my own with the baby while my wife was examined. A plan was forged through the blinding panic.
I wasn’t quite sure if I was rocking her or whether I was shuddering involuntarily in terror. If she had to come home with me I’d have less than an hour to get formula, bottles and equipment and learn how to make and use it before she would be hungry. But I would make it happen. Her survival was my responsibility. This was not the bag of flour in a towel nappy they used to hand out in schools.
Work, deadlines and every single other thing in the universe became nothing short of irrelevant. Milk and cuddles were all that kept the world turning. Our little girl – up to that point little more than a periodically screaming and excreting, beautiful little lump – smiled at me for the very first time. She knew that dads can do anything. I just hadn’t realised that included me.Subscribe to our Newsletter