Wednesday 26 July 2017

Advice for George Clooney and Amal... How to handle double trouble

George has no idea what's coming and may curse leaving fatherhood so late. But there are plenty of blessings too, says dad of twins Paul Connolly

Life changes: Amal and George Clooney who have just welcomed their first children Ella and Alexander
Life changes: Amal and George Clooney who have just welcomed their first children Ella and Alexander
Paul Connolly with his girls, Leila and Caitlin
Amal and George: Unlikely to struggle too much with the supermarket shop

Funny, how few people have ever compared me to George Clooney, despite some striking similarities. We're both fiftysomething, married to successful, younger women and predominantly grey-haired. Perhaps it's on account of my leaner bank balance and being built for comfort; more silver rhinoceros than silver fox.

Still, as Clooney and his wife Amal (39), celebrate the arrival of their twins Ella and Alexander, I am in the unusual position of being able to offer the first-time father a little insight.

He is certain to have a small platoon of nannies at his disposal, but if I'm still finding it tough at nearly 54, then George, already 56, has no idea what's coming

My wife, Donna and I became parents to twins - our daughters, Leila and Caitlin, now four - at the relatively late ages of 40 and 50, respectively. So, some hard-won wisdom for George? This will be the hardest thing he has ever done.

Paul Connolly with his girls, Leila and Caitlin
Paul Connolly with his girls, Leila and Caitlin

Rather than cursing himself for leaving it so late, however, I reckon he'll come to see late-life fatherhood as a blessing, too.

Like George, I was never desperate to become a dad, myself. "I wouldn't have the patience or dedication you need to take care of a family," he said, back in his pre-Amal days. "I admire those qualities in other people but it's not for me."

I was a rock journalist who spent years jet-setting with bands, and enjoyed it far too much to think of kids as anything other than an impediment to getting up to no good. Nephews and nieces gave me an occasional fix, but although I loved spending time with them, I was never tempted to go 'full-time'.

But, as 30 turned to 40, I started to feel a little tug of regret. I was with Donna by then, who was in an equally glamorous job and was beginning to feel the first stirrings of broodiness, too.

We tried for a few years with no luck. Then, as George and Amal are alleged to have done, we turned to IVF, and found ourselves expecting twins. Lives don't change much more than that.

My male friends, mostly navigating the choppy waters of teenage children, warned me it would be tough. But make no bones about it, being a father to twins - an older, first-time father, to boot - is not twice as much work as a single infant; it's at least 300pc the effort.

Amal and George: Unlikely to struggle too much with the supermarket shop
Amal and George: Unlikely to struggle too much with the supermarket shop

The combination of three-hourly feeds, double nappy changes and squalls of infant bawling - all while trying to work five days a week - drains every drop of energy from ageing bone and befuddled grey matter.

My physical decline was really quite alarming. My hair, once jet black, went grey almost overnight, the continual bending to pick up the girls played havoc with my 6ft 5in frame and my back started to spasm whenever I tried to move suddenly.

I remember an occasion when I emailed my mum a photo of myself with my three-month-old daughter Leila curled asleep in my arm looking preposterously cute.

Donna had taken a quick snap and, knowing how much my mum loved seeing pictures of her new grandchildren, I sent it over straight away.

Five minutes later, Mum called me, concern heavy in her voice: "Paul, my love, Leila is gorgeous, but you look awful. You look as though you've just escaped a crumbling building."

And she was right. I look at that picture now and see a man on the verge of collapse.

Gradually, however, things became slightly easier. At five months the girls started sleeping through, and once you're enjoying seven or eight uninterrupted hours' sleep a night, everything seems a little less catastrophically knackering.

There will be a moment, around the time the Clooney twins are six months old, when the zinc-haired screen icon will turn to equally well-coiffed wife, Amal and say: "We've cracked this - we're over the worst."

But it's the false dawns that really kill you. Because there is one fundamental truth that nobody ever seems to tell you: as soon as a child can propel itself, your life, as you knew it, is over.

Up until infants learn to crawl, daytimes are a relative doddle. Sure, you're forever carting babies around the house but at least when you put them down somewhere they're still there when you return.

Once a child is able to move of its own volition, you are entering a period of servitude and anxiety that will not ease until they're 18. And with twins, obviously, this revelation is even more blinding.

Let's indulge in a little twin myth-busting. For a start, they are supposed to be on the same wavelength as each other. Balderdash.

Twins may be similarly hardwired but if there's one piece of software Leila and Caitlin don't share, it's GPS.

As soon as they started to crawl they would wander off in different directions - Caitlin to prod and terrorise our docile cat and Leila to find a tasty piece of furniture to munch on. They never followed each other.

This is not so bad when all they can do is crawl - a baby gate or parent's foot is an instant infant paddock - but becomes much more problematic when they start to walk.

And once they discover the great outdoors, you, as a creaky-boned fiftysomething father flying solo as mummy takes her once-every-three-days shower, are in trouble. Big trouble.

Outside, they behave as if they are magnetically repelling each other. One will head south, the other north. I have knees ravaged by football injuries so a slow trot is all I can muster.

And a trot really won't catch a four-year-old determined to investigate that big new hole on your neighbour's land.

I can't imagine Clooney having to discover the struggle of a supermarket shop with toddler twins in tow - trying to get in and out before one can climb into a freezer cabinet, while the other scrambles to the nearest unused cash till, is a tougher gig than Ocean's Eleven.

But it won't take him long to realise that while he's undertaken a brutally arduous task, this is an adventure that he will never regret.

I'm certain that being an older father has its advantages for the children, too. I am much more patient at this stage of my life. Testosterone rates drop about 1pc per year as men age, making them less reactive and more patient (a key quality when dealing with twins).

I've seen success, failure, bright beginnings, tragic endings, and the death of loved ones. That richness of experience makes for a more well-rounded father than I would have been in my thirties.

But I guess the most important thing is that, if George and Amal's experiences are anything like ours, their twins will feel treasured.

We tried for children for almost 10 years and were told when we embarked on the IVF process that we only had a 13pc chance of having a baby - we still can't quite believe we were lucky enough to get two.

Irish Independent

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