A Father’s Day blog…
Although, before I became a father, I wasn’t a pacifist, I certainly wasn’t what you’d call a violent man. Excepting one teenage drunken pub punch-up, I’d never experienced an emotion so raw it could only be vented physically.
And that solitary fist fight of my youth hadn’t prepared me for my new life as a would-be killer. Indeed, all I’d gleaned from that particular blot on my copy-book was that the first rule of fight club wasn’t “don’t talk about fight club”, it was this: standing with your arms by your sides doesn’t constitute an adequate line of defence against a drunken man intent on punching you in the face. Repeatedly.
After the birth of my daughter, however – and I do mean the very moment she was extracted from the womb and held aloft like a bloodied, scrunched-up Simba – I knew I had changed and that I was now a murderer-in-waiting because, at that moment, I experienced, for the very first time, a love – no, not a love, a primal instinct that went way beyond love – burning at my core. And I knew then that if anyone was to cause my daughter harm I would not need to think twice about killing them.
No second chances: that was the kind of man I was now.
And why this dramatic transformation? What is it that turns a mild-mannered man like me into a cold-blooded killer in the blink of a newborn’s eye?
Nature, that’s what.
Nature, you see, performs a biological magic trick, a dexterous sleight of hand, in order to protect newborns from harm: Nature gives the first-born a mask of her father’s face so that the father instantly recognises this strange new being – not as a predator or interloper – but as kin, literally made in his image.
Moreover, Nature ensures a baby’s father recognises the newcomer as something precious and vulnerable in need of his protection and aegis. And, by so doing, Nature ensures that its father becomes a would-be killer.
You see, to become a father is to be completely reprogrammed; to experience fatherhood is to be chemically altered.
The moment you see your son or daughter’s face for the first time is a moment you’ll never forget, a moment that changes you in ways that you’d never before anticipated.
In that precious moment, your priorities, your beliefs, your moral code are irreversibly changed, not just tilted on their axes, but utterly transformed. Your body restores its factory settings, re-programmes every chip, reconfigures every byte.
My sudden feelings of murderous intent – my newborn blood-lust – were the result of experiencing a primal desire to protect and shield my mirror-image, this infant wearing my face.
I saw my reflection in this bloodied infant and I cried.
Men aren’t supposed to cry. Men are made of tougher stuff: we are all blood and bone and sinew. But I didn’t cry through sorrow or fear; I didn’t cry from pity or grief. I cried because my life had changed; I had been chemically altered.
Everything I had previously thought and felt and done had been for nothing; my life had been a dress-rehearsal for this final performance.
You see, my daughter, my beautiful little girl, was not the only new life brought blinkingly into the light in the operating theatre that day…
On one side of the clinical blue screen a baby girl was acclimatising to a world outside of the womb, learning to breathe earth’s heavy air independently of its host; but on the other side of the screen a grown man made of blood and bone and sinew was acclimatising to a world of fatherhood, learning to prioritise someone else’s life above his own.
Many years later, as my three daughters wish me a happy Father’s Day with burnt toast and weak tea, I’m still not sure which was the most emotional birth and who has acclimatised most successfully.
But I know that fatherhood – for all its heartache and pain – is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
Happy Father’s Day.