Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Happy Father's Day
I’ve been given the most amazing Father’s Day present. It looks like an unshelled peanut with a tiny beating heart. Our embryo has miraculously turned into an eight-week-old foetus. Through the wonder of ultrasound, we’ve just seen it for the first time, swimming inside a radar screen. Ozzy, or maybe Izzy (we won’t know the sex for a while), is already a living, beating, swimming peanut.
As I write this, Joanna is sitting on the sofa, surrounded by strange snacks and pregnancy magazines – for breakfast this morning she had black beans on a baked potato topped with sour cream and jalapenos. Meanwhile I’m planning our move to a larger house.
Having a baby means that in January my role as a parent will start all over again, days before my 57th birthday. Coincidentally, exactly 57 years ago, my Dad must have been sharing what I’m feeling right now. For I, too, was born to a father old enough to be my grandad.
The prospect of a new child at my age is both exciting and worrying. Exciting because I’ve completely forgotten what it was like to hold my own newborn, or change a nappy, or see the first toddling step. I’m looking forward to doing all the things I neglected last time. When my firstborn, now 26, entered my life, I was so preoccupied with career, so blinded by absurd ambition, I scarcely noticed the signposts whizzing past on his motorway to adulthood. These are mistakes I am determined not to make this time. I want to savour every delicious moment.
But I’m worried too. I know that people will assume I’m the granddad. I don’t mind personally, but I recall (now with painful shame) my fear of humiliation as a fourteen year old, praying that Dad wouldn’t come to parents’ day because his grey-haired, overweight 70-year-old presence might engender ridicule amongst my classmates. Oh, if only he were alive today, I would proudly show him off. He fought in the Battle of the Somme, refereed at St James’ Park in the ‘20s, was charming and gentle and doted on me and I wouldn’t even let him come to Assembly. Alas, my shallow, callow ignorance deprived him of many paternal pleasures.
I’ll understand if Ozzy/Izzy feels similarly about me, but I’m determined to be the coolest 70-year-old ever to go to parents’ day. Actually, that would probably be even more embarrassing for the poor child – there’s nothing worse than a parent who imagines he’s cool. But aside from this, I also fear for Ozzy/Izzy’s world.
In 1952 I was born into a society that had survived appalling war and deprivation. My parents’ generation was determined we should grow up with idealism and optimism. If human progress is measured by whether society has improved its quality of life, drawn its population closer to each other and to God, brought up its children balanced evenly on the pillars of family, health, marriage, career, community and spirituality, then my parents’ generation, and mine, have failed abysmally. In the ‘50s, people left their homes and cars unlocked; they smiled and helped each other; young people considered their elders their betters and only used knives to butter their bread; life was simpler, and the fabric of society more richly coloured than the bland consumerism of today. Sure, there have been improvements – we’re a little less discriminatory towards gender, class and race; we’ve learnt how to live longer; but as a whole 1952 was a nicer world to be born into than now.
It’s one of the reasons we have chosen to bring up our child in rural Northumberland. I wouldn’t say it’s like living in the ‘50s, but I do sense an appreciation of traditional values and lifestyle that’s lacking elsewhere in the UK. And that, for my new child, will be a priceless start to life.