With every day that passes, my admiration for my Old Boy keeps growing.
My Dad was about to turn 31 when I decided to make my grand entrance; he and my Mum hadn’t been actively trying, which makes me either a ‘happy surprise’ or a ‘ghastly mistake’, depending on how polite you wish to be.
Looking through the early photos, I’m struck by how young he looks. As I grew up, my Dad was the archetype for adulthood in my eyes – but the images reveal a skinny, fresh-faced gent who would have had trouble getting served in his local, if it wasn’t for a comedy moustache advertising some level of maturity. He looks happy, balancing my chubby bulk on his stick-like legs, but by god he’s young. How could he be ready?
Of course, the answer is that he wasn’t.
Much as my father managed to convey a sense of absolute preparedness and omniscience during the first 12 or 13 years of my life, the truth is that he had no masterplan in place for raising a son. He was pretty enthusiastic, up for giving it a try – but like most guys, he was winging it. He was taking each situation as it came, trying to make the best decisions he could with the information he had at the time. Any one of those decisions might have gone wrong – and some probably did – but he kept his balance and walked that wire without a safety net. By the time I was ready to start paying my own bills, he’d done a pretty good job (despite the fact that, as a teenager, you might say I grabbed the tightrope with both hands and started shaking it. Now that shit I would pay to see in a circus).
When my baby arrives, with any luck healthy and on time, I will just have turned 31.
In theory, this means that I’ll be a little bit more prepared than my Dad was. But in reality, it’s pants-shittingly terrifying, because I know that I’ve barely learned the basics of running my own life. Pretty soon, I’m going to be making decisions on-the-fly which will have an impact on the way a little person begins to understand the world – and if the theories of early-years learning are true, the most important period of development in their life will co-incide with my period of least experience in parenting. By the time I’m getting the hang of it, the days when I can make the biggest impression will be all but gone. If anyone reading thinks this is fair, please raise your hand.
At this point, as I appear to be spiralling into hysteria, it’s probably useful to take a step back. I am, amongst other things, a gamer. From Chess, to Poker, to Sid Meier’s Civilisation, I’ve played and enjoyed them all. Taking my ‘Prospective parent’ hat off and putting on my ‘Gamer’ hat provides some useful perspective.
Parenting is a high-stakes game, but like any game, we are only under the pressure we choose to put on ourselves. For best results, that tends to be just enough pressure to make us care about the outcome, but not so much that it impairs our ability to perform.
For instance, if you’re playing No Limit Holdem, you need to care about the sum of money you are gambling over – otherwise you’ll take large and ill-advised risks with your chips. However, if you fixate on the possibility of losing those chips, you’ll slowly fritter away your stake to nothing, paralysed by fear. At that point, you really need to ask yourself whether you should be playing poker at all.
There is another overlap between these two areas: in both cases, we wouldn’t do these things if they weren’t rewarding. I play games because they challenge me and they’re great fun; I have it on good authority that parenthood will outstrip most games handily on both counts.
I don’t have a masterplan for raising a kid – most people don’t. But rather than beat myself up about it, I have finally decided to accept the fact, try to stop worrying and enjoy the ride. I’m going to fly by the seat of my pants – and helpfully, I’m going to document my misfortunes here each week, for your sniggering enjoyment.
It’s not the safest way to fly, I grant you – but hell, it was good enough for my Old Boy.