My wife is pregnant.
I am going to be a dad.
Any moment now.
This is not a decision we took lightly, nor one taken simply because it is what we feel we ought to be doing. My wife’s career is important to her. We both have reservations about adding another soul to a planet already over-stretched, about bring someone into a life which – in all probability – will offer harder choices and a more complex existence than we, to date, have experienced. And yet, beyond just an idle curiosity of what our spliced genes would look like, we actively want to be parents.
I want to be a strong father, a good husband. I want to provide for and support my family. I don’t want to let them down.
But I also don’t want to let myself down.
I sometimes feel that there is nothing I can invent, no fiction I can construct which is worth anyone’s time to read. I find writing this blog, dramatising my own life, covering up all the scars with words, much easier, and at times more satisfying. Its readership is reasonable, if not stellar, but significantly higher than those who read the stories stored on my hard-drive.
In other words I am devoid of inspiration but there is only so far I can go in trawling my own life for material. My wife and unborn child did not sign up to become characters for me to manipulate.
Writing takes significant amounts of time. I fear that time being eroded by the arrival of a child. At the same time, I welcome the time being stolen from me. It gives me a legitimate excuse to give up, to surrender the fact that I am, quite simply, not good enough. And never will be. No-one will begrudge me giving up what increasingly feels like a hobby to spend more time with my son or daughter.
All of which is making me sound like a total twat.
I am in my study. The music plays loudly. The screen blinks as words fill it. Outside dusk has fallen. My wife lies in the bed in the next room, her laptop open, resting with the cat curled up tight to her thigh. The world is calm.
I consider writing an imaginary vignette to compliment the true-ish stories I’ve been telling.
I think about taking my son to the playground in the park, feeling the gentle smack of the swing being pushed out by my gloved hands. The rush he feels as he shoots once more into the air never quite knowing if this time he will fly free, but somehow trusting he will always come back to my hands.
Or teaching my daughter how to ride her first bike, feeling the tremble in her hands as I steady her balances and then that surge of pride as she wobbles decisively over the horizon. That I know she will be able to do anything she wants if we are able to set her on the right path.
Or a thousand other situations which may or may not ever come to pass.
Maybe I should dramatise the joke my wife and I keep telling, that on the morning after our child’s birth I will take to the Hilly Fields stone circle and raise it aloft in the dawn, promising it the kingdom of south east London.
But these are just fictions and this is real. This is happening and I cannot possibly, truly, understand what it will be like until it does. I need to just stop making stuff up and focus on real life.
It sounds like I’m not excited, which isn’t true. With every inch my wife has expanded there has both been a spark of nervousness but also a touch of a thrill. There have been those moments when your gut somersaults, your heart pinches and the sheer miracle of it all bites: hearing the rapid fire heartbeat at ten weeks, like a terrified mouse, gave me a sudden realisation that it was really, truly alive. That first time I felt it move, swirl and wriggle, in my wife’s stomach, as it took a twisting escape from the pressure of my hand. And a hundred, thousand other times.
But I am worried I will fail either it or myself. Maybe I put too much emphasis on my need to write, but at the moments when the words come together the scars are entirely gone and I feel whole. When it is a battle to get anything that makes sense out, they weep pus and guilt.
I am, I realise, utterly ridiculous. My own parents had far realer difficulties in bringing up their children. From my touch and go birth onwards, my own Dad had to deal with a, at times, pretentious and precocious son with strange interests whose ambition left his ability far behind and who had a tendency to wallow in frustration. Dad responded by instinctively doing everything in his power to provide all for his children. In contrast, I’m moaning about losing a few hours a week to pointlessly put words into a computer hardly anyone ever sees anyway. My problems are miniscule compared to so many in the world. If I can be a fraction of the father he has been, my child will be off to a brilliant start.
Earlier in the year I re-read some of Harvey Pekar’swonderful American Splendour stories. Pekar was never a professional writer. He worked by day as a file clerk in veterans’ hospital, finding splendour in the life and struggles of the every day. His comics were his creative outlet which kept him sane, even finding a way to come to terms with his cancer treatment.
At the time I remember admiring his resilience; the fact that, even in his darkest moments, Harvey Pekar never gave up on his writing, on his life. He kept picking away at the scars of his soul and the society he saw around him, needling away until the crisp crust split and the truth underneath drizzled out. But, sometimes, that’s a release I crave. To stop picking at my flaws. A part of me wants to have permission to not feel guilty about not writing, about not necessarily doing anything other than being a man, a husband and a dad.
And part of me is terrified that, should I stop, that will be the end of me.