Emma’s sister had a baby. She and her husband made it. Now, they are the epitome of happy, tired, loving people. I had not been looking forward to meeting them in the form of ‘new family’. Over the past three and a half years there have been occasions – some momentary, some lasting months, during which said sister and husband have been nearby and have had the capacity to offer help where Emma and I could have done with help – usually in the sphere of child-minding, more generally in the sphere of showing any interest in their nephew – beyond providing ill-considered gifts to Alex. Politely, I had raised this with them. Some months later – months since now, it yielded one evening of babysitting. Alex is seven years old. Before yesterday, I did not wish to see these people in ‘being generally clucked at and cooed around’ mode. Bluntly, I felt some loathing. They would be awash with support and active interest, having bothered themselves virtually nil to demonstrate the same. Last Christmas, their level of disinterest in our little man bordered on the grotesque (according to the objective Shane Determines Social Grotesquery Instrument). Thus, I retained residual feelings that made me feel neither good, nor proud, nor attractive for feeling such feelings – privately or publicly.
Yesterday, I met the new family. With Emma and her parents, I spent three hours with them.
As father of the newborn carried the child upstairs for a nappy change, I followed him, to simply talk and observe him in a most unlikely mode. All was relaxed, and by now mechanical – he knew what he was doing, though he seemed to appreciate a small suggestion regarding how best to lay the child down. With the clucking and cooing left downstairs, he asked me a question that I’d imagined being asked at some point soon:
New Father: So, do you think – I know that you treat Alex like he’s your own - but do you think you’d like to have children of your own?
I unfolded a brief answer that mentioned that perhaps this was the sort of thing that I should best talk to Emma about (she would like more children, biologically), that I felt no deep-seated desire to extend the Wexford genetic line (he laughed) (I wasn’t joking), that there had been previous musings around fostering and adoption – albeit in a previous life, but that nothing was fixed nor certain. He listened, seemingly genuinely interested. During this time, he had been in nappy-changing autopilot, with me sitting on the edge of a bed some three to four metres away. I can’t quite say whether it was the depth and profundity of the question that I’d been asked, the fear of the consequences of exploring this further, the utter raw beauty in watching the new father do his thing (I think it was mostly this one), or perhaps some olfactory shock as the old nappy was undone, but I could not help two tears silently rolling out of my eyes as we calmly chatted.
Shane: It’s a big deal isn’t it, I’m sure I’d be crying every day for weeks if he was mine. It’s beautiful.
New Father: Yeah, I know.
Shane: Believe it or not, dear New Father, there are tears rolling out of my eyes right now.
New Father: Really?
Shane: Yep, it’s pathetic.
New Father: No it’s not. I was just in awe for days.
Gladly, this managed to not feel awkward. We talked on.
Back downstairs, with a glint in her eye, Emma asked what I thought of the baby - recognising that I’d taken an interest by following father and child upstairs.
Shane: It’s good. They (the parents) know what they’re doing.
Though I haven’t unpacked the mental mechanics of it, nor do I plan to, all of those earlier feelings of loathing have gone, dissipated through the smell of Sudocrem. This makes me glad, though it makes me feel awkward. Emma knew that I wasn’t looking forward to yesterday, but I couldn’t say why – to have snappily burst the euphoric family bubble with one pithy yet flawed statement and feeling would have been wrong. I know that there's something to do with self-learning in here, but right now it's just beyond me. No doubts it'll hit me later.
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Update: I get it now - I was being a miserable, moody, unforgiving git - not a good thing.