For a country that is mostly conservative, elderly family members are sure able to suspend any and all manner of delicateness when it comes to the serious matter of issues, or as The Hindu matrimonial ads would have it, encumbrances. Short of bluntly saying “Put sattney, produce baby”, there are several unsubtle tricks employed. An example - “The caterer for my grandson’s Ayush homam makes an utterly delightful sambaar. You should seriously consider him, I mean, after you produce a baby of course”. There was also a “haha” at the end of that.
So after five years of what felt like the Battle of Helm’s Deep, waves of orcs throwing themselves at the battlements of our “free wille and righte to make babies at a tyme of our choosinge”, the wife announced one day that we were successfully enrolled in the dastardly plan to make economy class airflight more uncomfortable for fellow passengers. I said “Oh!” and went back to drawing rage toons. A few months later she told me we had to go for some sort of scan, where doctors take that most beautifully romantic idea of a baby inside a woman’s womb and turn it into a cryptic medical report written seemingly by crows who had dipped their feet into a bottle of Bril ink and walked all over the paper. Pregnancy sort of whizzed past without much ado, aided in no small measure by the fact that it was the wife who was doing all of the work while I pondered long and hard about what it would eventually mean to become a father.
I kept pondering as the wife increasingly complained about the baby’s tendency to kick a tad more than Wayne Rooney on coke. I offered to play a soothing prelude by Bach to see if the baby would kick less. It didn’t help.
The wife then seemed visibly discomfited by the Chennai heat and TNEB’s tendency to shed more load than snakes shed skin during this time. Since I didn’t have any influence in the matter of regulating the the earth’s movements relative to the sun, I really couldn’t help. In fact, she helped herself by going to work pretty much the entire 9 months because office had reliable air conditioning.
As we got closer to the due date, I thought perhaps now is the time for some serious discharging of fatherhood duties and prepared myself by installing several baby related apps on my iPhone and doing a whole lot of reading online. That didn’t help much. You see, the internet has this habit of telling you about Brain cancer when you google for headache. I asked her if she wanted any of those apps. She politely declined and asked me to install board games like this instead.
Eventually, at 3 am on the 11th of May, she woke me up and asked me to get ready. At that moment, I didn’t feel much like a to-be-father. I felt like Kamal Hassan in Tenali about to do a solo sky dive. I was as shaken up as my wife was chilled out. I attempted clumsily to take control of the situation and asked her if she was experiencing labour pain. She gave me an expression that suggested that Messrs Holmes had some serious blockages in his digestive system. We had to climb down a flight of stairs and I was worried if she could manage it. She then told me to relax, climbed down with the grace of a ballet dancer and got into the car and I drove. She even navigated as I didn’t know the route and once we reached the nursing home, an assortment of nurses descended on her, took her inside, and asked me to wait outside.
After hours of nervous pacing, the doctor came out with what appeared to be a mildly peeved small sized male human being who seemed more bothered about the harshness of the corridor’s tubelight than gazing upon the mien of his creator. He further reiterated his distinct disinterest in his dad by starting to cry.
After a few days, I offered to pacify the babe to give my wife a break from the routine. I somehow managed to reach some kind of resonance frequency with my patting and he seemed reasonably peaceful. I then put him down with the gentleness of a bomb disposal expert and gazed into his face as he still seemed to be looking around, eyes wide open. Now Wikipedia had told me that newborns are short sighted so one needs to get real close for them to see you. I had this feeling that we were having our first dad-son moment. What Wikipedia didn’t tell me was that newborns will mistake your nose for being a nipple, expect nourishment, get disappointed and start bawling.
When he was a week old, the wife asked me to cut his nails because he was scratching his own face with them. He was born with longish nails and my wife did not have fond memories of them as he had quite often attempted to draw scratch graffiti on the inner walls of the womb when he was inside. She handed me a “baby nailcutter” and I asked her where the rest of the equipment, namely a powerful magnifying glass, was. I wasn’t going to risk hurting his tiny fingers. She gave me a vote of confidence and I went through 3 nails successfully before the nailcutter pinched something other than nail and his cry pretty much came with the subtitles “Who hired this incompetent baby-attendant?”. A while later, I was changing his nappy and my inexperienced hands took way too much time as he ended up peeing in a projective path that was aimed at his own face before I finished. Womanly intervention was required again to pacify him.
What does fatherhood really mean? There are cliches about being a friend, philosopher, guide (and add-on credit card provider) but those come much later. What’s a father to a newborn mean? For several months I have no role to play in the arrangement of his full meals and tiffens. And the women in the house have mostly kept me away from nappies and once in a while they amuse themselves by watching me try to burp him while he attempts to extract milk from my ear lobe. Any attempt at googling for information and passing it off as advice is generally met with a “Do you have a womb? No? Then let us handle this” response.
I wonder if there is an expression for that feeling of being over prepared for what everyone around tells you is going to be a whole new difficult experience in life and then realizing that one’s help is not really required for quite a while. I suppose every man goes through this. 9 months of just twiddling ones thumbs as the baby chills out in the womb and a few more months of watching the women nurse it to some semblance of mobility before you have any kind of role to play. It’s like nature is trying to remind us men what insignificant role we really play in the production of the next generation. Visitors keep telling me I must feel like a proud father. I keep telling them that I feel like a manager who takes credit for someone else’ work.
Of course, I know he will grow up to become someone I can play with, buy Darth Vader suits for and introduce to T Rajendar, but till then, I suppose I am still an expectant father, and I just can’t wait.