An enduring memory of my days as a single man is watching a new father in his 30s manoeuvre one of those hideous, BMX-wheeled prams through a Saturday morning crowd and me thinking, “Dear Lord, don’t let me be that bloke.”
I can’t tell you how many times I returned to the image I’d captured and curated of this man, looking forlorn as he tried to weave through groovy cafe-goers, his kid shrieking like a boiling tea kettle under the pram’s shade cloth.
Yeeesh. Back then, the only thing that struck as more emasculating and lame was fathers who’d wear ‘baby backpacks’ – those harnesses that stick your child to the front of your chest like a Thalidomide twin.
I’d look at these men juggling Tupperware containers filled with sultanas, carting garish baby bags spilling nappies and packets of wipes and just feel pity… then something approaching fear.
“There stands mediocrity,” I would think and shudder. Truly. Have a kid, entomb yourself in suburbia, get fat, say goodbye to your social life, die.
I’d often vocalise these thoughts to friends, even strangers, and what now strikes me as remarkable is that I was not once dragged into a car park for an attitude readjustment by an offended father.
I now know why those dads just laughed at my jibes and indulgently shook their heads: they pitied me, or at least understood how useless it was trying to convert a non-”club member”.
You hear it all the time that parenthood is like this massive club you join once you have a child; that you can’t explain it, you just have to go through it… then you’ll understand.
Having been in the club now for just over two and half years, I can say it’s difficult to describe the transformation I’ve undergone, one of the most profound being what I live for.
Before 2009, when my then-partner rang me to tell me she was pregnant, it involved boozing, carousing and a lot of hungover pondering why my life felt so empty.
Of course, I’d constructed a narrative that helped me derive a measure of fulfillment from my job – that I help other men with my writing – but it never made me leap out of bed in the morning.
Nowadays, when the alarm goes off to pick up my daughter, it’s like having Christmas three times a week. It’s a 40-minute drive to her mum’s house and I reckon I’ve been late once in two years.
It’s also abundantly clear to me what my role is in my daughter’s life and it’s to love her, teach her to be a good and rational person and guide her towards happiness.
I am that guy with the pram now. The first time I put on one of those Baby Bjorn carriers and looked down at my daughter’s face pressed to my chest, it changed me.
When she fell asleep in that same carrier, soothed by my breathing as we walked along the beach, it shot into the top five greatest moments of my life.
The sheer thrill of having this tiny person to care for – the responsibility I was once so terrified of – is actually an incredible, sacred privilege.
It’s what I live for now… and the odd bit of carousing.