Male bonding sealed by a smile to soften any heart

Published: 13 Jul 2012 13:000 comments

Everyone likes to think that their babies are cute, but let's face it, they can't all be.

Eamonn Bermingham with his son Rory.

For the first couple of weeks Rory looked like a cross between Winston Churchill and ET. I'm sorry my little no-neck friend, but it's true. Of course, the fact that he gurned his way through sizeable chunks of his early days didn't help.

But he wasn't the only one pulling faces. The successful establishment of breastfeeding meant that my services weren't required for night-time feeds.

While this ensured the resumption of a regular sleeping pattern, the down-side was a missed opportunity to connect with my new son.

I mean, it's okay for mums. Kate and Rory have an unbreakable bond that was established in the womb and has been strengthened through breastfeeding. As for me, I think he was vaguely aware of some bald man that lives in his house, but that's about it.

That's not to say those early days weren't rewarding though, on the contrary. How many men can say that they've managed to sterilise and assemble a breast pump? Check. And then there was always skin-to-skin time, a textbook bonding strategy. Unless of course it was near feeding time, in which case Rory would initiate his woodpecker routine, frantically trying to latch on to a piece of flesh (snorting all the while) until he ended up with a mouthful of chest hair for his troubles. They just don't teach them stuff like that in the womb. Imagine that. Breastfeeding 101, 1.1: Beware of a furry sensation on the lips. This likely means that you have misread the situation. Retreat immediately, and begin crying for mum.

When Rory did finally check into the correct restaurant he tended to stay there for a long time. Expectant fathers take note: as soon as feeding time gets underway your wife will be immobilised, at which point you will be inundated with requests to do all the things that mum didn't feel like doing before the feeding commenced. This can range from the completion of miscellaneous chores to the preparation of exotic snacks, and will all be communicated through your baby. "Is daddy going to bring mummy a slice of madeira cake and a glass of chocolate milk?" Of course, the preparation of such treats weren't a problem in our house, as I'd filled the place with junk food following medical advice for Kate to eat more calories while she was breastfeeding. Being a thoughtful husband I decided to show some solidarity and get stuck in myself.

"What did you buy that stuff for?" she remarked on more than one occasion, "You know I won't eat it."

"Come, come now wifey, I won't hear of it. We're in this thing together."

And boy can those calories produce some a stockpile of food- the physical changes you will witness in your breastfeeding wife are nothing short of astounding. Though while the doctor fittingly described the arrival of the mother's milk as, 'like having plastic surgery overnight', the timing of the agreeable enhancement could not be worse for poor old dad. The irony of the situation did not pass me by.

But Rory loves his feed, no doubt. I can remember waking one night to find the little man staring into my eyes, Kate having momentarily laid him down in our bed facing my direction before the feed got underway. A look of sheer horror flashed across his face as he contemplated a potential rival for his milk. "Bald man! What on earth are you doing here?! I mean, I don't mind you living in our house, but this?"

Like any decent feed, mother's milk is enough to put you asleep, which is exactly how Rory was when he arrived home for the first time, so we put him down in his cot.

Although the gentle beeping of the baby monitor (motion sensors) told us he was still alive in there, I spent the next hour obsessively compulsively walking in and out of his room, checking his breathing. If the inhaling and exhaling of breath wasn't immediately apparent I'd poke him a bit until a satisfactory amount of movement had been observed.

Finally I settled down a made a cup of tea. "He's fine in there", I'd tell myself, "Stop being such a paranoid freak." Best check on him once more though, just to be sure.

I quickly learnt, however, that sleeping babies are best left lie, unless you want to spend the next two hours of your life trying to settle them again. It's funny how after a period of continuous loud crying, Rory's weeping will sometimes slow almost to a stop and you think to yourself, "Yes, I've cracked it. MTV Classic Rock is the silver bullet we've been looking for." But just as he's about to close his eyes he'll snap out of it and throw you a startled look. "Don't mess with me bald man, I know what you're up to. I'm supposed to be crying here. I mean, don't get me wrong, I find the dulcet tones of Phil Collins quite convivial, but I'm certainly not going to sleep."

While the reluctance to sleep came as no surprise, Rory's performance when we gave him his first bath was a little more bewildering as we'd been told how much babies loved the bath. But he cried the place down the entire time. The nurse explained that it was because newborns didn't like being naked. "It makes them feel vulnerable," she said. Which was a peculiar thing, as most young parents I know have real trouble keeping the clothes on their toddlers. The little rascals seemingly want to get naked at every opportunity. The fear of being naked, it would seem, is something we carry into this world, and take with us when we go. We merely cast it aside, like the clothes themselves, for a few short years around the beginning.

Incidentally, after a few outings he started to love the bath and has even relaxed to the point of passing number twos while in there (sorry, more poo jokes). It's at this point that Kate momentarily turns into Chief Brodie from the Jaws movies, frantically ordering me to "Get him out of the water!" before something god-awful happens like the loss of a limb or a smattering of poo in the eye. It's all fun and games until someone gets a smattering of poo in the eye (or an explosion anywhere in that vicinity). Trust me, once you've been the recipient of such a transgression you'll live the rest of your days in fear of a repeat attack. Which is no bad thing, as it leaves less time for worrying about all the other stuff- babies have a canny knack of giving you a new sense of perspective in that way. I mean, do you think Rory gives a damn about the trials and tribulations that bother me on a daily basis?

"Things are a bit tougher now that mum isn't working Rory. We need to tighten our belts a bit."

"I'm hungry."

"Do you realise this is the first time Ireland has qualified for a major football tournament in ten years?"

"Booor-ing. How are you going with that milk?"

"What about the discovery of the fabled Higgs Boson, the so-called 'God particle' that could unlock the mysteries of the Universe? This stuff is really important Rory."

"What theĀ…are you trying to bamboozle me bald man? Bring me the cow this instant!"

Four weeks of make-believe back-chat later it was time for me to return to work, and I was feeling a bit depressed. I'd been puked, pooed and weed on with furious intensity, but couldn't have been happier- or so I thought.

The weekend before I went back into the office I was changing Rory's nappy when he looked up at me and smiled. I swelled with a feeling of acceptance that was enough to melt my soft old heart. "Ha ha, that was funny what you just did there bald man. You know something, you're not all that bad. Who are you anyway?"

There will come a day when Rory and his mates will refer to me as the bald man (or a derivative thereof) once again- behind my back at least- but that's okay. For the time being I've been released from those shackles and thrust into a new role in life. "You can call me daddy, little man."

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