Becoming a FatherWell my son has just passed two months old, and I'm finally at a point where I look back on the ups and downs of my most life-changing experience ever with a calm and balanced mind. It's been a complete rollercoaster of emotions going from delirious happiness to 'OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE I'VE RUINED MY LIFE' moments when confronted with evenings of continual screaming and filthy nappies. I'm happy to say though, that I'm now firmly in the camp of the happy feelings and good times.
Nothing could have prepared my wife and I for this. No amount of younger siblings, nieces, nephews or evenings babysitting can possible prepare you for the full 24/7 experience of caring for your own child with no option of changing your mind or taking him back to the shop for a refund. There is literally no choice but to stick with it, enjoy the ups, get through the downs and let yourself slowly adjust to your new life.
Eight weeks down the road for us we are past the worst of it. He's not yet sleeping through the night but we can get him to sleep about 7pm (he's even getting better at settling himself - only about 10 mins of crying first!) and enjoy some precious adult evening time. We've got into a routine, we know how to calm the tears (most of the time) and I'm starting to forget what it felt like not to have the little guy around. He's turned us into a family :)
My BrotherI have been inspired by many people throughout my life, but none more so than my big brother Duncan. He was born six years before me so throughout childhood we weren't particularly close; although we of course had great affection for each other we lived in very different worlds. He was beginning high school as I was just out of nursery and as soon as I arrived at high school he was off to university. It was during his time at high school that Duncan fell in with the wrong crowd, began smoking and drinking heavily and found his studies to be less and less important. I was too young to understand what was happening, I just knew that there was much more tension in the house, my parents would be angry or distant for much of the time and Duncan was in the house as little as possible.
Ultimately university didn't work out so Duncan bought a small house and ended up working for the council. His drinking continued to a point where he was really losing his grip, we tried to support him as a family but one Christmas, after enduring days of his drunken ramblings I snapped and told him in a rather less then diplomatic way what I thought of his recent behaviour. Looking back I absolutely regret speaking to him in that way but I genuinely feel that it wasn't the true Duncan that I was addressing, it was instead this shadow of the former him that was being controlled by alcohol.
We didn't speak for a few months after that, but in the intervening time he quit drinking and began studying for a degree with the Open University. By the time we met up and buried the hatchet he was like a new man - a little battle-scarred admittedly but a sober, responsible brother with a renewed enthusiasm for life. He changed the whole way he lived his life; gaining promotions at work, taking up drum lessons, developing an interest in amateur photography and massively expanding his social life. A year later he'd quit smoking too. He even found the time for a regular curry night with his brother!
For him to turn his life around so suddenly and so dramatically took a strength that most people only ever dream of having. I will forever be so proud of him for that.
When my wife fell pregnant he was the first member of the family we told and he was thrilled about the prospect of becoming an uncle. He came to visit us at the first opportunity, bringing with him a huge stuffed bear (which to this day is still bigger than my child) and suggesting that he be referred to as 'Uncle Duncle'. We had never really discussed his thoughts of starting a family of his own but it seemed to me like although he would love to have that aspect to his life, he needed to find peace within himself before sharing his world with another to that extent. What I did know however is that when my child arrived it would be so showered with love from Duncan that it would be like having a second father.
On the day of our twenty week scan we discovered that we would be having a boy, and again Duncan was the first person I called (from the hospital car park!). He was delighted of course, but even more so when I told him that we'd like to give our son "Duncan" as a middle name. He actually had to hang up the phone because he was welling up in the middle of a crowded office but then proceeded to send a series of gushing text messages expressing his delight and honour. It was the best reaction we could have hoped for and I actually found myself becoming rather excited for him that after all the twists and turns of his life he would be able to help us shape this new life into a really amazing little person.
It was about six weeks later that I was working at my desk when I received an email from one of Duncan's colleagues saying he hadn't been in work for a few days and they were worried. I hadn't heard from him for a week or so (which wasn't unusual) and after trying his home phone and mobile numbers I called our mother, who lived fairly near to him, to ask if she had heard anything. She said she hadn't and immediately jumped into the car with her spare key to his house. The details here are not necessary and need not be shared, but suffice to say that normal boring rainy Monday rapidly turned into the worst day of my life. Suddenly, without any warning my brother had left this world never to return. He would never get to meet his nephew or watch him grow. All my son would know of Duncan would be the photographs, the stories and the big teddy bear - the only present he'll ever have from his dear uncle.
We said our final goodbyes to Duncan two weeks later on another rainy Monday morning.
Then the hardest task of all had to begin. I wont call it moving on, as to me that term implies forgetting about what has happened and consigning it firmly to history. Rather we had to begin the process of simply functioning again. My son would be arriving in three months and there was no way to slow him down, so for his sake if nothing else my wife and I had to bring back some sense of normality. I really struggled at first, and thanks to an extremely unsympathetic attitude in the company I worked for I ultimately quit my job to start my own business. It's a hard road to take, and I do find myself worrying about where my next payment will come from, but I try to remember the strength that Duncan had and use that to spur me on. I don't believe that he is "looking down on me" from any sort of afterlife, but I do believe that he would want me to live a happy, productive life and make sure that all the lessons he gave me are put to good use.
So here's to you Duncan. You were stronger than I'll ever be, had a heart as big as a planet and the world is seriously diminished without you. Rest well xx