Fatherhood

Breast feedingSo, just over nine months ago I received confirmation I was to become a Dad. Since then my son has been born and I’m now typing this through eyeballs that feel like they’ve been put through the spin cycle of my washing machine.

They say nothing prepares you for being a Dad. That, however, has not stopped the NHS from trying to put together a course that does. Antenatal classes and their more expensive counterpart, the NCT course are a good idea in theory. Attempting to prepare individuals for the rigours of parenthood, they are however a minefield for fathers reluctant to be pigeonholed as responsible for the agony their spouse is about to go through. For a start, and lets be honest here, there really is very little men can usefully contribute. Patting your partner’s hand and saying ‘breathe’ whilst she attempts to pass a bowling ball sized person out of her body seems woefully inadequate. Like being reminded to duck just before a punch is thrown at your head.

What bothered me more was how inappropriate some of the lessons were. Recently I was required (for required, read ordered) by my wife to accompany her to a class on breast feeding.

“I’m sorry Dear, let me get this right, you want me to attend a class on how to breast feed our child?”

“Yes.”

(Looking down), “I can already foresee a problem with that my sweet. Possibly a couple.”

“You’re going.”

“Certainly, and perhaps after that you might come with me to the Doctors for a prostate examination. I believe they’re doing two for one.”

“Don’t get smart with me.”

If there is anything more ridiculous than holding a plastic doll to my chest pretending to let it suckle, then I don’t know what it is but alas that, along with seven other dutifully expectant fathers, was what I was to find myself doing shortly after.

Afterwards all the couples were asked to pour over a tabletop selection of photographs showing bare chested women from around the world breastfeeding their children. We were then asked to select a picture and sit in a circle before telling everyone else why we enjoyed that picture so much.

I started to sweat. Having a man decide, in front of his wife, which picture of a woman’s breasts he likes the most is like asking which mine in a minefield he’d like to have blow his legs off. Furthermore being asked why I like that picture so much seemed tantamount to marital suicide. This is where it is important to choose your

audience. Down the pub with your mates: stock reply ‐ ‘because she’s got great tits’‐ fine. In an antenatal class ‐ not so good.

Later on we were shown a cutaway diagram of the female form during pregnancy. We were then given a selection of magnetic stickers upon which were written the names of various organs, to be correctly located on the diagram: a sort of grim anatomical game of pin the tail on the donkey.

As mentioned previously I have a vaguely scientific background so when as a group we were asked to call out where we thought each one went, modesty forbids, but I was not found wanting. I regret however attempting to add some levity to the proceedings when upon being asked ‘What is the Fundus?’ I replied ‘I don’t know but they make great crispy pancakes.’ The look I received from my wife sat on the other side of the room is one I shan’t forget. Like I said choose your audience.

At quite an early stage of pregnancy the midwife asked me if, when my child is born, would I like to cut the umbilical chord? My reply of ‘not really’ was met with something of shock. How could I pass up such an opportunity? What kind of father was I going to be? Perhaps child services should be informed. I really don’t understand this and maybe it’s the Yorkshire grump in me but I fail to see how the severing of an anatomically defunct piece of equipment is such a momentous occasion. I have in the past had the misfortune of having my wisdom teeth removed and never felt the need to ask the dentist if I might have the honour of wrenching them out myself.

As we neared the due date it became apparent we were going to need a whole new catalogue of equipment. Having never really paid attention to the baby section of John Lewis, I found our visit exasperating. If you’re already a parent you will be aware of the bewildering array not to mention cost of some buggies on the market. The one we (my wife) eventually decided on was over a thousand pounds. For that price I expect to be able to travel in it myself.

The problem is that babies require a wide range of transport options. In the car a specially designed seat is necessary. One that offers side impact protection and air bags but that holds them so tightly as to cripple them if they stay in it beyond two hours (a bit like flying economy). So once they reach their destination they must be transferred to a much roomier pram that they can lie flat in. However beyond six months they are likely to outgrow it and require a more upright pushchair type device. If, like us, you have a hyperactive Springer spaniel that needs walking and no relatives to drop ‘said’ baby off with, you will need something more off‐road. This means abandoning the pram and depositing your offspring in a baby carrier, a sort of front facing rucksack that when modelled in the store affords you no dignity whatsoever. My suggestion that it might be less hassle just to hire a fucking Sedan Chair and a couple of porters did not go down well. The end result is that a day out in the car with my son is reminiscent of Apollo 13’s progress through the stratosphere, shedding one transportation capsule after another until all you’re left with is a frayed temper and a wife who doesn’t appreciate sarcasm.

And on that note I’ll sign off before I fall asleep at the keyb…

I’m not a Jaffa.

Jaffa OrangesSo events have moved on and some time ago, my wife and I decided to try for a baby. For my own part it was not a decision made lightly since, unlike other life changing moments‐moving home, starting a new job, getting married, having children is not a situation that can be readily reversed with the help of a good solicitor. One cannot divorce your children, move away from them, or seek employment bringing up more agreeable ones. (Though I know friends with teenage offspring who are not completely opposed to the idea.)

On paper the act of conception doesn’t look too hard (no pun intended). And on the grounds that I lack a uterus, I am not about to comment on the difficulty of nurturing new life within myself for nine months. Therefore at this stage I’m limiting myself to observations and of course whinging about conception from the male point of view.

Firstly and most obvious is how male fertility is so intrinsically linked to masculinity. Thanks to a particular TV episode in the 1980’s comedy, Only fools and horses, the term ‘Jaffa’ (seedless) has come to describe any man not ‐ how shall I put it?‐ firing on all cylinders. Let me state straightaway that being unable to have children is a devastating prospect for any couple. But there is no getting away from the fact that, in the early stages at least, sympathy between the sexes is dealt out somewhat unequally. Should a woman be confronted with such a possibility she will, by and large, receive encouragement and support from those around her. A loving circle of friends who will offer comfort and advice; will tell her not to give up; will tell her they’re all here for her and that soon she will be blessed with the offspring she’s always wanted.

A man on the other hand will be ridiculed for having empty bollocks and then receive an offer from a mate to step up and shag his missus for him. It’s for this reason men are hardly ever the ones to announce that they and their partner are ‘trying’. To do so is to start a mental stopwatch in the minds of his friends as to when it’s appropriate to start calling him a Jaffa.
Secondly is the advice given by certain websites to prospective fathers on how to increase the chances of becoming a Dad. Allow me to give you the first bit of advice. Don’t visit these websites. I have a vaguely scientific background but frankly I’m at a loss as to why some information is necessary. For example, possibly in an attempt to reassure, many websites describe the normal amount of ejaculate produced by a man as a teaspoonful. Bearing in mind this information is usually posted in response to specific questions, who on earth needs to know this? More worryingly who considers it necessary to confirm these measurements? Most importantly have I had a cup of coffee round any of these peoples houses?

Most men are aware of the usual advice given ‐ no tight underwear, no hot baths, no smoking, reduce alcohol intake. It is this last point that we have the biggest problem getting our heads round since it is thanks to excess alcohol that many of us have, in the past, already had an unwelcome brush with fatherhood long before we were ready.

After a few months of ‘trying’ ourselves, I decided I wanted to get myself checked. Not that I doubted my virility, but at a somewhat advanced age, and after years of hot baths, tight underwear and serious alcohol abuse I imagined my ‘swimmers’ more likely to be parked up on their sun loungers than considering the prospect of a channel swim. Any avid readers of my blog will be aware I do not relish meetings with the Doctor, as they are generally fraught with embarrassment and misunderstanding. This time was to be no different. Now, I’ve seen many an American sitcom and so was under the impression that the process would be a simple one. That I would be ordered to attend a ‘select’ but reassuringly clinical establishment. That the nurse would direct me toward a private room. That I would go through the wrong door and so initiate a highly amusing not to mention improbable confrontation involving me, my specimen tube and a Nun.

Little did I know that the process is even more comical than that. At the Doctors surgery I was presented with a small transparent plastic bag containing a specimen tube. I looked blankly at it. The Doctor looked blankly at me:

Doctor‐ ‘Is everything okay Mr Curtis?’ Me‐ ‘Erm, yes.’
Doctor‐ ‘Do you have any questions?’ Me‐ ‘Erm, no.’
Awkward silence.
Doctor‐ ‘Do you need anything else then?’
I looked around me. I’m not really used to having an audience. Me (toying with my belt)‐ ‘Erm, could I have a little privacy?’
Doctor‐ ‘You don’t produce your deposit here Mr Curtis, you have to phone up the clinic. The address is on the back.’

I then had the ignominy of walking through a packed waiting room clutching my ‘goody bag’ with ‘Danger, Biohazard’ written all over it. But my consternation didn’t end there. After reading the instructions (if there’s one thing men don’t need instructions for, it’s this, but it was in fact referring to what I do with the sample after) I realised that once I had filled the tube at home (with a carefully measured teaspoonful of course) I was to deposit my deposit with the nearest hospital within  a timeframe of 30 to 45 minutes. My nearest hospital, traffic permitting, is a good 30 minutes away. This, it seemed to me, was cutting it close. I considered my options. I have often seen motorbike couriers with the words ‘Urgent‐ Blood on board’ printed down the side, weaving their way expertly through London traffic. On reflection however I’ve never seen any printed with the words ‘Urgent‐ Man Jam on board.’ (I apologise to readers of a sensitive disposition, but there’s really only so many colloquialisms for sperm you can use, and we’re all adults here).
Therefore it seemed apparent that I was not going to be able to hang around if I was to make the deadline. My worst fear was being stopped for speeding. I envisioned myself standing by the roadside sheepishly clutching my sample bag whilst being reprimanded by traffic police for such wanton abandonment of the speed limit. I don’t know if my reason for doing so has ever been used as an excuse at Magistrates Court but I really didn’t want my specimen produced as exhibit A.

Thankfully however, such a prospect was adverted when, before I could book in a little ‘me time’, my wife presented me with a freshly tested clear blue stick that proclaimed she was pregnant. I was of course delighted. Delighted at the prospect of being a father. Of bringing a new life into the world. Of imparting my life experience and wisdom on a young and fragile mind. But most of all at being able to go down the pub without being called a Jaffa.

More to follow but till next time.

Getting old(er) 2

Getting olderSo, it occurred to me that last week I didn’t really encapsulate everything that bothers me about getting older, particularly since my technological ignorance is hardly a recent development. What I failed to mention was that, ironically, one of my first jobs was as a sales assistant for Currys Electrical, which is a bit like making Britney Spears head of the Bank of England. At the end of my four-week employment (I know, a proud inclusion on my CV) I had sold precisely zero electrical goods. It takes a special kind of sales and product knowledge base to stand in a technological Mecca and convince people that they don’t want to buy anything technological- especially at Christmas.

Anyway I digress. In truth there are much better or rather unfortunate side effects of getting older, especially since I have recently reached the big 4-0. One of the most obvious is injuring yourself. It’s a common misconception that as we get older we are more prone to injury, but this simply isn’t true. What happens is that we injure ourselves just as often but in a much less glamorous way.

I have at last count, received five separate bone breaking injuries in my life and as a twenty or thirty year old I wore those injuries like medals. They show a life lead less ordinary and of adventure and endeavour. I have five titanium pins in my foot, the result of a motorbike accident in Australia. Never mind that my mother could have overtaken me in a golf cart at the speed I was doing: in my mind, and certainly in the mind of others by the time I’ve blatantly embellished the story, I am Barry Sheen, put back together in the style of the three million dollar man; a hero in the making as surgeons sweated through the operation mouthing ‘We can re-build him- the clumsy tit.’

Likewise I sport a slight deformity on the back of my hand, the result of all the bones being broken during a lad’s holiday in Magaluf. What’s that you ask? During a fight perhaps? Or abseiling off some cliffs? Motorbiking again?

No, I got pissed and fell of a mechanical bull. Okay I appreciate it hardly falls into the adventure and endeavour category but what the hell. It was worth the pain, although filling out the accident claim form on my holiday insurance took some creative writing I can tell you.

But now as I pass 40, injury strikes when I’m least expecting it. When I’m least aware. When I’m least awake. In fact it’s whilst I’m asleep. How in Christ’s name I manage to damage myself so substantially whilst unconscious is something I’ve yet to establish. But I have in recent years woken up with injuries more akin to those involved in a serious road traffic accident. I have gone to bed feeling perfectly chipper only to wake up with amongst other things; serious whiplash in my neck: pulled muscles in my back: trapped nerves down my leg. On one memorable occasion my knee almost completely gave way as I walked downstairs for breakfast. It’s gotten to a point I go to bed viewing our thousand pound memory foam mattress like the octagon at the ultimate fighting championships. Short of setting up CCTV in our bedroom there seems no way of knowing what my body gets up to whilst I’m asleep but it appears to be having an awfully good time without me.

All this came to a head two weeks ago when I woke up with possibly the most degrading and it has to be said painful of injuries. I don’t want to be over specific but such an injury is likely to apply to only fifty percent of the population and meant I questioned my wife closely as to whether her threats toward me in the past had got the better of her. She swears not, though I’m beginning to regret not installing that CCTV.

For those of you not aware, testicular torsion (and that includes me until I awoke to a particularly painful demonstration) is a worryingly common phenomenon in men. However like most men, I only visit the Doctor when absolutely necessary, after all other options have been exhausted (principally, complaining to my wife about the pain and being told with little patience ‘Go and see a Doctor then’ to which for some inexplicable reason I turn into the worlds biggest four year old- ‘Don’t wanna see the Doctor!’). Anyway after my dear wife pointed out, via some hastily carried out research on the internet, that testicular torsion if not treated immediately can result in amputation, I was to be found seconds later bounding, somewhat awkwardly, toward the car demanding my wife get me to the hospital pronto.

It has to be said the hospital staff were mercifully professional, but herein lie’s the possible reason most men put off seeing a Doctor. We’re simply not comfortable talking about matters of intimacy. My GP must dread my visits since I treat them like a medical version of the game-show ‘Jeopardy’. All too frequently the conversation go’s like this.

Doctor- ‘What seems to be the problem?’

Me- ‘You tell me, you’re the Doctor.’

Doctor- ‘Mr Curtis, I need to know your symptoms.’

Me- ‘Things that cause a pain in my chest.’

Doctor- ‘I’ll take angina for $500.’

Okay I made the last bit up but you get the point. I think we make it too easy for Doctors anyway. Why should we do their job for them; let them do a bit of medical sleuthing; work for their money. I once suggested to my wife I go see our Vet instead, since at no point has our Springer Spaniel had to perch on the end of the examination table and say ‘You know what Doc, I’m getting terrible water retention round my paws, can you prescribe something?’ Needless to say like most of my suggestions it was met with a look of complete distain and grudgingly I picked the phone up to call the Doctor instead.

As a follow up I was asked to attend the clinic for an Ultrasound scan two weeks later. If like me you’ve confused an MRI scan with an Ultrasound let me set you straight. An MRI scan is a pain free and relatively mundane procedure whereby you are slid into a huge metal tube, which over a half hour period produces a detailed 3D image of your insides.

An Ultrasound is the one employed on pregnant women using a sort of hand held microphone to produce a grainy image on a TV monitor of the developing foetus. Having an Ultrasound of a woman’s baby bump is a beautiful, life affirming experience to be savoured and treasured for many years to come.

Having an Ultrasound of your bollocks is not.

Firstly like a prostate exam (I’ve not had that yet, but now I’ve passed 40 I know it’s coming- can’t wait) the whole experience is pretty degrading. Even though you know it’s necessary, you’re loath to do as you’re told and the Doctors instruction are prone to misunderstanding making the atmosphere even more uncomfortable-

Doctor- ‘Just drop your jeans and lie down on the couch Mr Curtis- no, your boxers as well Mr Curtis.’

Me- ‘Okay.’

Doctor- ‘Now I need you to grab yourself.’

Me- ‘Beg pardon?’

Doctor- ‘Grab yourself (miming action) here.’

Me- (moment for penny to drop) ‘Ah, I see.’

Doctor- ‘And pull up toward your chest.’

Me- ‘My ch-? I’m not Mr Fantastic!’

Doctor- ‘Toward your chest Mr Curtis not to it.’

You see what I mean? You then look across at the monitor to see a grainy image that I would imagine is very different to the one pregnant women see. It was at this point I noticed that the door to examination room had no lock and that anyone could walk in to see me pulling this grotesque pose. The thought then occurred to me that this was all part of an extreme adult version of ‘Punk’d’ and that any second someone would burst in with a video camera to shame me for ever.

Mercifully for all concerned that never happened and I was informed all was clear. And on that life affirming point I’ll sign off. I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog, especially since my recollections have forced me to write it with my legs crossed, and providing I don’t wake up with broken wrists next week I’ll have another written soon.