The prenatal classroom for the Frances Perry House hospital is across the road, in a character-free office block. There are biscuits and bad coffee. And maybe a dozen couples sitting in a room, watching a midwife method-act a birth contraction. This is awkward for everybody, except apparently her, and so there is polite silence until she stops and asks us to introduce ourselves.
The script for every couple is the same: “Hi, our names are xxx and xxx. We’re at 22 weeks and this is our first child. We’re very excited and a little nervous.”
Until it gets to me.
“Hi, I’m Nick and this is our first child together but I have two older boys, and a 10-year-old stepson.”
“Oh, that’s lovely,” says the midwife, recovering between imaginary contractions. How much older are your boys, Nick?
“They’re 25 and 22 years old.”
The truly disappointing thing about that moment was my timing. If I’d just hung on for a moment before answering, bad coffee might have splurted across the room or even out of the surprised nostrils of fledgling parents. Timing is important.
Which is something I’m well aware of just now, as I consider a second round of fatherhood, squarely on the wrong side of 50. A mate Facebooked some shots of him and his grandson yesterday. Me? I’m rebelling against the concept of silver-fox empty nests, pre-retirement plans and world cruises. I’m going around again.
It’s not like this wasn’t planned. From early in our relationship, I was pretty certain my future wife was very keen to have another child. If I wasn’t up for that – which would not have been unreasonable for a guy my age – I needed to be honest, say so and see if that was a deal-breaker. You can’t bluff enthusiasm for fatherhood.
But, actually, the idea of raising a child together was more exciting than alarming. I’ve screwed up a lot of things in my time, but I am very proud of my adult sons, and consider them a Life Win.
And so the night came when I returned from playing ice hockey to find a scavenger hunt around the house that ended with a positive pregnancy test hidden in an esky. In the time of a single gasp, becoming a father again two decades after the fact moved from high concept to very, very real.
Back to sleepless nights, nappies, mashed pumpkin into carpet, school goddamn lunches and pick-ups, eventually wrangling a teenager until I’m past 70. A massive mid-life loss of me-time.
I won’t lie; as the birth loomed, the Rational, Sensible World occasionally coughed in the background of my mind. People gave me looks when I broke the news or calculated how old I’d be at the 21st; an apparently popular vision of this broken, white-haired old man with an ear trumpet to the side of the stage.
What if they were right? What if I was too old for this crazy adventure? What if I can’t ‘play’ because of ageing joints? What if I don’t have the earning capacity to support a new child? What if I resent my empty-nester friends touring the world while I struggle with maths homework? What if children’s TV is even worse now than it was when my boys were watching Barney the bloody Dinosaur back at the turn of the millennium? Oh God.
And then my wife gave birth. To a daughter.
And all of those fears and doubts evaporated in the moment I held her in my arms for the first time and looked into her eyes.
The photo with this story is from that moment. Our daughter and I, together for the first time. I haven’t included my tears as my wife met our daughter. The sheer joy. The unguarded pure love that accompanies a birth.
Our daughter. A whole new adventure and born into an age of female empowerment.
Also probably my last chance to have a kid who might play for Richmond FC, but let’s not put too much pressure on her too early.
A little sister for my boys.
An absolute rocket-shot of joy, it has turned out, for my entire family. Our daughter.
And that feeling hasn’t stopped. Seven weeks in, we’re now starting to get shy little smiles, along with a mountain of nappies (course record: four in five minutes). We run on the fumes of occasional sleep.
Yet I am strangely calm and composed, even after six-hour bursts of inexplicable grizzling and crying from a usually chilled baby girl. My wife and I are a solid team – and yes, of course she does the heavy lifting. Let’s not kid ourselves here.
But the old man has some moves, remembered from long ago. Muscle memory of teasing out a burp remains from the ’90s. Rocking motions are like I never stopped using them. Dragging my arse out of bed at 4am to warm a bottle feels entirely natural.
Is this being an older dad that I have lived enough life that being tested for hours doesn’t bother me? Is it because she is a little champ who is mostly calm and settled, so the tough days have gaps for rest? Is it exactly as it was two decades ago, but I can’t quite remember? I’m not entirely sure. I do know that all thoughts I had of her fitting into my normal life have gone out the window pretty quickly. Ice hockey, footy, all exercise is on hold, and every other aspect that isn’t work or home. But it’s temporary. And it’s worth it.
I find I can spend an hour just gazing at her, in my arms. Or holding her impossibly tiny feet in the palm of my hand. My wife rolls her eyes at my world’s best-practice method of getting her to sleep by cradling her on my chest in bed until she’s heavy and soft and making tiny cooing sounds. I could stay like that for days.
It’s as I remembered it, yet totally new. It’s amazing and I am so lucky that I’ve been given this gift.
I’m all in and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I adore you, little one.