Becoming a Father is a Moment in a Man's Life Like No Other

Let’s not beat about the bush: being a father is the best, most important, most profound thing you’ll ever do during your time on the planet.

Yes – you might be a big achiever at work, you might be a formidable competitor on the sports field, or you may even consider yourself pretty special when it comes to sudoku.

Laudable and impressive achievements one and all. But when it comes to making a difference, to leaving your mark during your relatively brief sojourn on our green and pleasant planet, there can be only one show in town. That’s your responsibility to – and influence on – the little people you help to bring into being. As befits something of such magnitude and gravitas, fatherhood comes with a complete working set of highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies, and moments of illumination and despair.

You see, being a father is many things, but anticlimactic isn’t one of them.

You can feel intense irritation and impatience before breakfast, frustration and despondency by lunch and an acute sense that you need to earn 37 times more than you do now just after tea.

Threading through all this high emotion will be a sense of fatigue which would be impressive in its tenacity, if it didn’t make you feel so utterly wretched.

After the passionate intensity of the conception, the taut anticipation of the pregnancy and the all-round gobsmackingness of the birth, you’d think that with the hard work over you and your partner could settle down to bringing up junior in an idyllic domestic setting.

But even before we join the dad club we are well aware that’s garbage.

We’ve heard the rowing parents in Sainsbury’s; we’ve seen the new dads at work, dragging themselves in like the living dead with a tie on. We’ve even endured meals while our friends, our once placid and composed friends, have conducted a frantic debate over a nappy full of green poo.

All that and much more will happen to you too – guaranteed.

But it’s the things you weren’t expecting about parenthood that really take your breath away. Your moments of joy, pride and unbridled love for your little boy or girl go completely unnoticed by the outside world, because they take place in the very deepest part of your chest.

My eldest son saw me coming down the stairs one morning wearing the same blue checked shirt I’ve been trying to pass off as ‘smart’ for almost a decade. He looked up and said ‘You look nice, Daddy’ before skipping off into the kitchen on the hunt for more Marmite on toast.

It doesn’t sound much, I know, but it did me all ends up, just like it did the last time he said it. That’s not because I knew he’d probably have the last of the Marmite. It’s because the minute he and every other child on the planet is born they have their parents in such an emotional half-nelson that at any moment they can render you emotionally incapacitated in quite spectacular fashion.

And that is what’s at the heart of all that’s great about being a parent in general and a father in particular. No matter how busy, how stressed, or how uptight you might be, you can’t fail to have your emotions yanked to the surface at regular intervals. Your child will remind you that you’re not only well and truly alive, but that a part of you is alive in someone else now, too.

It’s not always lovely, fluffy, gooey emotion that’s invoked. When your new-born baby gets her first cold you’ll be gripped by a fear the like of which you’ve yet to experience. She’ll snuffle and snort her way through the night, seeming to struggle for each breath.

When your toddler almost wanders out of your momentarily open front door, you will scream like a big girl’s blouse before running after them at light speed. Then you will also play the moment over in your head a million times later that night, envisaging the horrors that could have occurred had they taken a few steps more.

Then, when you refuse a request to build the fourth den of the day because you have to check your BlackBerry, you can taste the guilt in the roof of your mouth.

And if you lose sight of your little one in a park or shop, even for no more than a second, you will feel every single organ in your body forming orderly queues and preparing to evacuate using both your major orifices.

 It’s like being possessed. In a good way. They don’t know or care – they are just kids, playing and being and doing. The only time they will truly know is when they have children of their own and the whole thing will start all over again.

You might not be bitten by this virulent bug straight away, mind you. It may take a little while for evolution to do its thing and turn you into a protector, a provider and a nurturer. But once you are, you are in for life, so you might as well throw yourself at it and enjoy it. You’ll never feel as important, as worthwhile and as uplifted.

Helping you enjoy your newly found fatherhood is essentially what this book, in its own small way, is trying to do.

There are peaks and troughs aplenty awaiting you over the next few years. Through a combination of research, personal experience (also known as ‘mistakes’) and speaking to a whole army of new dads I hope to arm you with a decent smattering of information and intelligence on what to expect and what to do when it happens.

The first chapter looks at the time your new little family will spend in hospital before coming home. From then on, each section focuses on a period in your child’s life, from the moment she’s born to her third birthday.

Sprinkled throughout will be words of wisdom, wonderment and woeful cock-ups from dads who have been there before and lived to tell the tale.

The fact that you are interested enough to read this book means that you want to be a dad who takes an active role in the upbringing of your children. This is a decision that will reward you hugely in the years to come. It can help you to become more empathetic, emotionally literate and even-handed, as you learn from your offspring as much as they learn from you.

Fatherhood can also expose your weaknesses and the more unattractive sides to your personality, and it will certainly tax you physically and mentally in ways you’d not dreamed possible. That’s why we will keep a close eye on how you might be feeling at different stages too, how you’re changing as a person and how to begin to get your head around it all.

Not everything that happens in the first three years of your child’s life is covered here. But rest assured that the big, juicy, major milestones are all there to for you to read about in one go – or return to when the time is right.

Talking of timing, small children don’t give one fig for it. If something is meant to happen in your child’s development at a certain time, you and your partner will come to anticipate it, and may get more than a touch vexed if it’s late.

‘She’s not got any teeth yet, why hasn’t she got any teeth yet? Next door’s baby has teeth, all the babies in the NCT group have teeth, I’m sure mum said I had teeth by now – TEEEEEEEETTTTTHHHH.’

That kind of thing.

So please don’t take the timings in this book as a cast iron barometer of exactly when something should sprout or move or change because, unfortunately, uniformity and clockwatching aren’t on your tot’s agenda whatsoever.

If you are worried about anything to do with your child, seek medical advice as soon as you can. You’ll generally find that the entire medical profession display a sense of urgency and focus where treating infants is concerned – in sharp contrast to the nine-hour wait in A&E you are used to after you’ve stood on the rake again.

There’s just one more thing to say before we dive headlong into the first three months – as well as you and your baby or toddler, there’s another character in this story and a mightily important one it is too.

Mum, is indeed the word.

Watching the woman you know intimately become a mother before your eyes is in turn a wondrous and disquieting thing. The unbreakable bond they can build with their new baby, the primeval intuition they often discover and the sense of selflessness they demonstrate day after day are humbling phenomena to witness.

These new skills don’t come easily (and in some rare cases don’t come at all). With more and more women putting burgeoning careers on hold to become mothers, the culture shock alone can take a real toll.

Being a father nowadays is as much about supporting your partner as it is about focussing on your child. So throughout this book you’ll come across as much about how your partner is faring as you will about how you are. You’ll find a progress report at the end of each chapter that assesses where you and your baby are at during that stage, and what your partner might be experiencing, too.

 It’s also worth remembering that while supermum is indeed super and while most childcare books are rightly written with her in mind, your often overlooked instincts and nurturing skills are massively important and powerful too.

Study after study has shown that the more involved a father is with his children’s upbringing the happier, more stable and even more successful those youngsters become in adolescence and adulthood. Even something as seemingly minor as a father regularly taking part in their children’s bathtime has been shown to have a marked impact on emotional health by the time the children reach their teenage years.

No pressure, but you have a huge part to play. To help you on your way, this is a book you can read, refer to and quote in an annoying way during the numerous debates you’ll soon be having about how best to bring up your young offspring.

So, let’s get cracking.

You live in exciting times my friend, and no matter how it may feel when you are pacing the landing with a screaming infant at 3.37am for the fourth night running, your child will grow up at an alarming rate. Before you know where you are you’ll be wistfully reminiscing about babygrows and travel cots – OK, maybe not travel cots – but for now let’s move bravely on to what happens immediately after your baby is born.

Don’t worry; you’re going to be great.