In the first of a new column, Olly Mann gets to grips with the delight—and fear—of impending fatherhood, life will never be the same again!
I know my world is about to change forever. I know it’s going to cost me a packet. I know it’ll be approximately a decade before I sleep for eight hours straight. But I haven’t—as my partner has—played out the past seven months with a cluster of cells growing inside me, conspiring to create life; kicking, squirming, anxious to arrive. I haven’t had morning sickness.
I haven’t taken even a single vitamin. I’ve yet to experience things that force me to think of myself as a parent.
Not that I’m complaining. I’m a feminist and all that, but if biology dictated that expectant dads had to endure even half the physical burden during pregnancy, I’d be straight on the internet looking for a surrogate. It’s just that I’d prefer to be a little more prepared.
When I share our happy news with friends who are already fathers, they fix my gaze, shake their heads dismissively and say, “You have no idea what’s about to happen to you.”
It’s true. I have little concept of the realities of sleepless nights and puking and nappy rash and interfering relatives and mystery illnesses. But that doesn’t mean I
don’t have questions.
For example, what the hell am I supposed to do during the birth?
"In an ideal world, I’d like access to some sort of man’s midwife, with whom I could discuss my neuroses"
Being a 21st-century chap, I’m planning to be present for its duration. This is as much motivated by selfishness as by altruism: I’ve yet to meet a dad who doesn’t tell me what a magical moment it is when you get a first glimpse of your progeny.
But I’ve also, foolishly, watched a lot of One Born Every Minute, and thereby witnessed multiple varieties of man put his own preposterous spin on the role: the over-supportive husband, squeezing his wife’s hand while she repeatedly screams him away; the relaxed Romeo, who appears to consider the whole exercise a confirmation of his own virility; and the eternal optimist, who emanates calm and cheeriness as his wife is wheeled off for an emergency caesarean.
No one seems to do it properly.
Secondly, how am I to deduce which of the myriad baby gizmos on sale are worthwhile, and which are a complete waste of time? I mean, instinctively I know that a breast pump is probably useful and a dalek-shaped baby-wipe dispenser probably isn’t. But what about the stuff in between?
In the stores, all the essential your-child-will-die-without-this stuff is displayed cheek by jowl with the expensive, superfluous tchotchkes.
Mind you, it’s not the expense that primarily concerns me: as Reader’s Digest technology columnist, I could ring round my contacts and request samples of baby products for free. But then I’d inevitably end up introducing entirely unnecessary innovations into the nursery: a baby monitor that syncs up with Spotify, or a nappy that posts a Facebook update when it reaches saturation. The iNappy, perhaps.
Illustration by Matthew Hollings
Thirdly, and most pressingly: my child is to be a boy. How do I ensure he develops zero interest in football? I already dread the day he summons me for a kickabout in the garden. (I still, aged 34, have no idea of the rules and no intention of learning.)
While he’s still very young, I can—with a little luck—fake enough enthusiasm to persuade him I’m Like Other Dads. Convincing a four-year-old that I’m the best player since Pelé probably doesn’t require exceptional ball-handling skills.
But what if he starts playing for the school team? How am I to camouflage my lack of knowledge from other dads?
If only there was some way, right from the outset, of indoctrinating my boy to appreciate country walks and musicals instead…but I know from my own experience that there isn’t. Dad was so keen for me to take an interest in his classic-car business that I slept in a classic-car-shaped bed, the walls of my nursery were bedecked in classic-car print, and I even had my own dinky classic car to wheel around the living room.
As soon as I was able to verbalise an interest, I wanted to work in radio.
These concerns, I realise, are small fry indeed compared to, “How will I endure the pain of labour?”, “Will my figure ever return to its pre-pregnancy shape?” and, “If I don’t bond with him, can I send him back up there?” I understand completely why all the health support seems to revolve around the mother.
However, in an ideal world, I’d like access to some sort of man’s midwife, with whom I could discuss my neuroses before finding myself plunged into proper parenthood.
I only suppose that, once the day finally comes and my son has arrived, these matters will simply seem irrelevant.
After all, I have no idea what’s about to happen to me.
Olly Mann is a writer, LBC presenter and serial podcaster, with shows including Answer Me This!, The Media Podcast and The Modern Mann.