Prior to 19th February 2015, I hadn’t held a baby for more than 3 minutes, and certainly not without a responsible adult close by to immediately tag in as soon as “it” made a noise. Then, suddenly, I was handed my daughter by a nurse who for some reason assumed I had a clue what I was doing.
I was ushered into a room on my own with her (the baby, not the nurse) and we were left alone. 10 minutes went by and we just stared at each other. “Well, what now?” her eyes seemed to say. “I don’t know, but I promise to always put your needs ahead of mine, and take my responsibility seriously”, my shoulder shrug implied in response. I prayed, and not just that she wouldn’t cry until my wife was back from being ‘patched up’. I prayed that I would know what to do, and that I would have the strength to do it.
It was quite easy to know what my responsibility was in the first few days: do whatever is required, whenever it is required, to keep the two most important humans alive and happy. Make drinks that might not get drunk, change nappies that might need changing again 5 minutes later. Run a bath at 2am. Drive to Tesco at midnight to buy a cabbage “coz the leaves will help my boobs”. Y’know, practical stuff to help the woman who has been awake for 53 hours straight to do the job that you just physiologically can’t do. It’s all the things that we as men seem to naturally be quite good at, and if we’re honest quite enjoy because they are easy. Easy, but very important.
my true responsibility as a dad
Gradually though, I found my responsibilities as a dad becoming a bit more nuanced and even more important. I realised young children learn by watching you go about your life. Without ever specifically telling my daughter that shoes go on your feet, keys go in the lock, screwdrivers are for twiddling with screws, she somehow knows it. She knows you swipe up to unlock the screen and if you want to start again you press the circle button. We’ve definitely never given her an official lesson on these things, she has just observed them as the way the world works. We do it, therefore it must be “the way”.
It is scary to see what she picks up, but reminds me of my true responsibility as a dad – to lead by example. I can tell her to be nice to people, to share, to treat people with kindness and love regardless of their background, to not get too angry or aggressive when things don’t go her way…but if I don’t model these things myself, she won’t think they are the norm. Equally, if I DO model these behaviours, I won’t even have to tell her to do them – she will just assume it normal. If I tell her that shoes go on her hands, but then go and put mine on my feet, where do I think she’s going to put her shoes?
Yes, the real responsibility has begun, and it’s terrifying. The good kind of terrifying, which kicks you into action! I have no idea what the next thing is, but I know I am up for it. Shaping a life is a big responsibility, but it is also the biggest privilege I can imagine. Time to walk the walk.
Anyway, got to go, my daughter is trying to load the dishwasher…
By Ben Westerman