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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Since becoming a dad I've realised what a piddling effort I've made with my friends' babies

Having a baby plugs you into the world around you, writes Adrian Russell.

WHAT HAVE I learned since becoming a dad?

I could tell about all the new vocabulary I’ve picked up thanks to the articulated amount of paraphernalia that comes with a child.

Dr Brown and Koo-di are not the cool new bands you’re missing at Electric Picnic this year.

Or I could share the war stories that mean lessons are hard-earned… like always bring a spare set of clothes for the baby and yourself, stupid. That stuff goes everywhere! (Apologies to the staff and customers of Costa Coffee, Cork)

There’s new practical life skills I’ve acquired, of course, like attempting to change a nappy without having to dry-clean your shirt or tear up the carpet afterwards. Imagine the guest chefs on Saturday Brunch doing The Omelette Challenge or an F1 pitstop engineer furiously zapping off a Pirelli. But a lot more messy and dangerous.

The sleep deprivation is like visiting another country. No matter how many books you read beforehand, you won’t know it ‘til you go there. People, in the run up, will grab you by the elbow and whisper that the first X weeks/months/years are the worst.

For us it was probably six tough weeks in which I watched a lot of Copa America, drank a lot of early-morning coffee and drove my newborn baby to the homes of friends or family, before reversing out of the driveway like I’d stolen the car.

But you know all that stuff.

For me, really, it’s been about the new perspective.

Without overstating it — it hasn’t been that dramatic — it has added a filter to the lens through which I see the world.

It’s like Fr Dougal realising suddenly that ‘those women were in the nip’ as he rattles down the street on his milk float.

I find myself wondering several times a day how my parents did this with four of us and less help and everything else. I’ve a whole new appreciation for the job they did, the sacrifices they made, the sleep they lost. I can imagine that understanding will only grow more as I spend more money, time and energy on my kid.

‘There’s worse dopes than us have done it’

The arrival of a first baby is the twist at the end of a good film that sparks a flashback montage in the protagonist’s mind in which the pieces come together. Wait a minute…. my mam and dad… were there the whole time!

As well as looking back, it forces you to look out into the world. For me anyway.

I worry more about the environment, airport security, people who don’t vaccinate their children, will she ever see a Cork hurling All-Ireland, and the economy.

Images of suffering refugees on the telly seem more vivid and less abstract. As every Hollywood bad guy knows, kids make you vulnerable.

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It plugs you into the world around you too. You have to climb down from your high stool and sit on the ground making goo-goo noises to earn a gummy laugh.

The community closes in around you; you talk to neighbours more, co-workers drag bin bags full of clothes in on the bus of a morning, you stop local politicians to complain about the lack of childcare. The diocese closed my school after I left (though that wasn’t the reason) and I hadn’t been back until last week when we went to visit the creche that’s now in part of the beautiful old sandstone building. There’s a monkey maze in the chapel and none of pupils were smoking in the toilets.

What else? We had the pleasure of having comedian Jarlath Regan — who’d recently become a dad — do a short set at one of our Christmas parties some years ago. The Irishman Abroad host said, essentially, that having a baby is like a bomb going off in your life… and your friends could not care less.

This is true (everyone cares of course, but ultimately, you’re on your own) and since our arrival, I’ve realised what a piddling effort I’ve made in the past with friends who’ve gone through this ridiculous process. Texting queries from the pub and maybe popping in with a soft toy was about the extent of my curiousity or assistance. I’ll be a bit more equipped in the future to help buddies and look forward to telling them that ‘the first six weeks are the hardest’.

Maybe that’s a man thing, admittedly.

Because really, this is all about the mother and baby. You learn that as hover around half-uselessly for the first few weeks, feeling like you’re in the way and you’re like one of those gormless men from TV adverts. Everyone muddles through in their own way – ‘there’s worse dopes than us have done it’, as one friend told me on a stag night not long after the birth.

Ultimately, it’s fine not to feel immediately connected with this little intruder in your house. It takes a while but there’s plenty of time to get to know each other.

Adrian Russell is the Editor of and father to one. 

Read: This Irish dad’s wonderful reaction to his first airplane flight is going viral>

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