Wednesday 12 December 2018

'It was as if I'd waited my whole life for this moment'

So it is with my son cradled under my arm that I dedicate my own letter to Daniel, writes Barry Egan

FATHERHOOD: Barry Egan is a hands-on dad as he comes to happy terms with the wonders of being a new father all over again. Photo: David Conachy
FATHERHOOD: Barry Egan is a hands-on dad as he comes to happy terms with the wonders of being a new father all over again. Photo: David Conachy
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The great Fergal Keane in his award-winning essay from 1997 Letter To Daniel talked about the art of one arm typing with his newly-born son cradled in his arms.

So it is with my son, also of that name, cradled under my arm as I type this - as my wonderful wife has an enormously well-earned sleep in the hospital bed opposite.

This, then, is my letter to Daniel.

Dan the little man is the most beautiful boy on the planet. Weighing 7lb 9oz, he was born last Thursday at 5.11pm on the third floor of the Rotunda hospital in Dublin city centre. That night at 8.45pm, I kissed my son goodbye and told him that daddy was taking the Daniel Day (the Luas) home but I would see him and his magnificent mother in the morning.

First things first. The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. My love for my wife Aoife deepened beyond all imagining last Thursday after I witnessed with a mixture of shock and awe the hours and hours of pain she went through in childbirth (and the months and months of carrying him around inside her) to bring Daniel into the world. I think I would have passed out with the pain. My wife is an incredibly strong woman.

Until you have a son of your own, they say, you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he holds his son in his arms.

At moments like this, life makes sense. It was as if - to paraphrase Black Bird by The Beatles - I had waited all my life for this moment to arrive.

I feel like some nutjob Christian fundamentalist preacher when I start talking about the miracle of life, but seeing Daniel pop his head out into the world was such a miracle of life that it brought tears to my eyes.

My poor wife did all the working, pushing and pushing through the pain for hour after hour, and I am the poor idiot to cry.

Tears of joy.

Tears of a realisation that this little fella is going to be the most loved son ever, the most brilliant young man in history.

Daniel was almost completely grey when he emerged from my wife's blessed womb after nine months inside. Five minutes into his life in the world, he was brightening up lying on his mother's chest and having his cherubic cheeks planted with loving kiss after loving kiss.

I love the smell of his skin, the little sounds he makes (maybe my wife and I won't enjoy these little sounds as much they get louder over the coming weeks and months as our patience perhaps wears a little thin), the size of his little feet and hands as he wriggles in his very first babygrow outfit.

Changing his stinky nappy for the first time was magical. As was every interaction with Daniel. Every little thing he does - however stinky - is magic.

I felt overall a mixture of absolute joy and fear. The late Christopher Hitchens put it best. "Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realise that your heart is running around inside someone else's body."

We named him Daniel Hugh Peter - the Hugh was after my wife's beloved late father and the Peter after my dear departed daddy.

When Daniel fell asleep in my arms last Friday night, my thoughts started to wander: his arrival made me face unexpectedly my own mortality. His life made me think of my death.

It hits you out of the blue. The absolute dependence of this little baby boy, this little dote, was suddenly my responsibility (and my far younger wife's). And I, as his father of a certain age, would not live up to those responsibilities by popping my clogs on Daniel before we get to know each other over pints in the local in 2038. When I will be 70 and he 20.

He, and his beautiful big sister, will receive unconditional love from his parents morning, noon and night - or as long as I am above the ground.

This is something of a worry for me as I am 50 and he is barely a day old. So maybe I won't get to see him grow up and make the same mistakes I did as an adult man.

Maybe I won't get to share the agony more so than the ecstasy of watching Manchester United play at the dubiously named Theatre of Dreams with him by my side. Or maybe I will. Once Jose Mourinho is gone. That's all I ask. I wouldn't put my boy through that.

I would like to bring him to lots of rock concerts.

And, if he can stomach it, sit Daniel down one day and play him my favourite records and tell him why I like those records...

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, More Light by Primal Scream, Unchained by Johnny Cash, Low-Life by New Order, Achtung Baby by U2, Avalon Sunset by Van Morrison, The Boatman's Call by Nick Cave, Desire by Bob Dylan, Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones, All Mod Cons by The Jam, The Lion And The Cobra by Sinead O'Connor. Plus lots of stuff by Aretha Franklin, The Velvet Underground, Paul Weller, The Pogues, Captain Beefheart, Joy Division.

And yes, I know what you're thinking; poor child!

Explaining my thoughts on these records would be my way of imparting to him some sort of philosophy or code about life and living. The records could speak to him in a way that his verbally inarticulate father could not perhaps. I will try to give him advice, sure, but what do I know, really?

John Steinbeck asked in his 1949 tome Cup of Gold: "Why do men like me want sons? It must be because they hope in their poor beaten souls that these new men, who are their blood, will do the things they were not strong enough nor wise enough nor brave enough to do. It is rather like another chance at life; like a new bag of coins at a table of luck after your fortune is gone."

Like with my daughter, who will be three next month, I am anxious about what wisdoms and advice I should or shouldn't be giving Daniel about life, about living. My late father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. I hope to let Daniel do the same.

I'm going to give my son and my daughter the greatest gift anyone could give another person - I'm going to believe in them. I now realise, without knowing it, what unconditional, unwavering and undying true love is. For Daniel. For my daughter Emilia. And for my wonderful wife Aoife.

Sunday Independent

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