Tag Archives: fatherhood

Genital origami, or I get a vasectomy

“So you got a vasectomy. Well, bully for you!” I hear you cry.

Oh, come on. It’s got to be a more intriguing post than my usual Friday fodder of a few links or an obscure black metal band I’m way too old to be listening to.

Anyway, if you’re a dad of a certain age and with a certain number of kids, this is bound to be something you’ve thought about or even had done.

Supermum and I began discussing more permanent ways of contraception a year or two ago. She’s been on a particular  kind of pill (Yasmin) for about three years and there are a number of good reasons why she shouldn’t carry on putting additional hormones into her body (e.g. the additional small risks of cancer). On top of that, we’d agreed after Little Elf that we wouldn’t have any other children. I’m in my late 40s and supermum is only five years younger so the idea of going though another couple of years of sleepless nights and mayhem, let alone dealing with the physical impact of another pregnancy on her part, didn’t appeal. Also, there’s the matter of age. I don’t want to be retiring just as the third one starts agitating for college fees. And I don’t want to be playing catch in a Zimmer frame.

Anyway…

Condoms split, coils are icky, sterilisation for supermum wasn’t something I ever considered at any point other than typing it out right now and as for the rhythm method, I’d rather trust “Am I fertile?” answers delivered by cutting a deck of cards and assuming the answer is “No” if its spades or diamonds*. So that left vasectomy if I wanted us to carry on having sex. Which I did.

After a chaotic attempt to have a vasectomy through the NHS ended up in their moving the appointment forward two months to an impossible date with no notice and substitute offered, I checked out how much it would cost to go to a Well Known Provider of birth control. It wasn’t insignificant but it wasn’t bank-breaking. I booked and today I showed up and had the deed done.

The particular branch was apparently where M**** S***** moved her first clinic in 1921, a narrow Georgian townhouse near Fitzroy Square. I hoped, as I read the blue plaque, that they’d updated the equipment since. Across the road, a lone anti-abortion protestor knelt, clutching a set of rosary beads. I passed him on the other side of the street and we eyed each other up warily. He was surrounded by scattered plastic baby limbs which (a nurse told me) he’d try to press into the hands of already stressed women on their way into the clinic. A kind of emotional terrorism of a deeply unpleasant kind. I went and got a sandwich and by the time I came back, he’d evidently gone for lunch.

Inside I checked in, paid the balance of the fee and was soon taken into the basement to the pre-op/recovery room. Two other men were already resting on the blue recliners there. We all avoided each other’s eyes. A nurse took my blood pressure, explained the procedures to be followed after the operation and went through the consent form. Then I waited, Classic FM softly torturing my ears. I twittered a little and reviewed the kindly thoughts of my Twitter followers:

tikkabootwo @dadwhowrites It won’t hurt as much as your wife being sterilised. Good for you manning up …… or not

Snowgirl1972 @dadwhowrites that can mean only one thing. Condolences’

scrummycupcake @dadwhowrites on my hub they didn’t wait for local anaesthetic to take effect before making the 1st cut, heard him scream from waiting room

scrummycupcake @ dadwhowrites hubs was in agony for days…in contrast, my dad went back to work an hour after op.

And my favourite:

pureartifice @dadwhowrites aubergines. Expect them. That is all I have to say. Good luck x

Soon after, the surgeon came out to collect me. I think he was Nigerian and, whilst I’ve no doubt he was fully qualified**, his English wasn’t entirely up to speed. His first question was

“Tell me about your history of heart problems.”

That nearly started a history of heart trouble there and then – I’ve so far never had cardiac problems of any kind. I think he heard something in my tone as he quickly rearranged the question as “Have you ever had any heart trouble?” which made much more sense. After that, he left the questioning to the lively Chinese nurse. I mention their nationalities specifically as I found it interesting that the medical and surgical procedures were carried out by foreign nationals whilst British staff dealt with all the admin.

The other thing I noticed as soon as I entered the small surgery was a strong smell of burning.

Anyway, the nurse had me take off my trousers and lie down on the padded surgical table with my underpants about my ankles. It was all too business like and matter-of-fact for me to realise that a strange woman was looking at my penis and a strange man was apparently carrying out some form of genital origami before it was too late to argue. The surgeon (who was highly professional and inspired a lot of confidence, despite his English) warned me that there’d be a scratch. There was. “OW!” I said. He ignored me  and carried on manipulating my scrotum. I suspect he was shaving it. I haven’t dared look properly yet. The nurse engaged me in cheery, hairdresser like conversation (“Do you have children? Do you work near here? How old are they?…”) as various weird prods and sprays and twists carried on in the by-now numb area of my groin.

“This will scratch a bit more…”

“OW!” That was the main local anaesthetic.

“Do you have a boy or a girl?”

“Ah…one of each…What exactly is he doing down there?”

“He wants to know what you’re doing down there.”

“I’m looking for your tubes.”

I didn’t ask any more questions.

“You’re done.”

That’s it? My underpants apparently weren’t supportive enough so they provided me with a fetching pair of briefs in white netting.

“All the way from Harrods! High Fashion!” the cheery nurse chuckled. The only evidence of the surgery I’d just had was a white pad of bandages. I felt nothing in my groin whatsoever.

“Thank you,” I said. “But that burning smell is a bit off-putting.” The nurse nodded sympathetically.

“I know,” she said. “We’ve tried to get rid of it but nothing works. And we have to work with it all day!”

She had a point.

Afterwards, I hung out in the recovery until the light-headed feeling generated by the local anaesthetic went away and then I went home to lie on a bed and feel a bit sore.

I wouldn’t take it up as a hobby but it was ok.

*Look, if you’re interested in trying out this method, I accept no responsibility. But let me know how it goes.

**I’ve had occasion to work with non-UK medical staff in an NHS context. Current GMC requirements are very rigorous and anyone who doubts a Nigerian or Indian doctor’s professionalism is reading from a Daily Mail script of misinformation.


Virgil, Dante’s “Sweetest Father”

I finally finished Dante’s Purgatory, the second canticle of the Divine Comedy. I suspect many of us get rather stuck with the Inferno and I certainly don’t know of any video games based on Purgatory or Paradise but, much to my surprise, I found the mountain of Purgatory a much more compelling journey than the long descent through Hades.

Initially, its a tougher read. We are in the heart of the medieval Christian mindset here and at some level, one needs to suspend disbelief, as it were, and surrender to the idea that man can only be saved through grace. But Dante’s vision is also an optimistic one – the sins of Purgatory are all sins of love misdirected and demonstrate man’s natural potential to be good. Further, the sinners are there, gladly, to be purged, to be made ready for Paradise. Quite literally, the souls of Purgatory needed only to ask (or ‘knock’, as the Biblical exegetics amongst you might note).

But Dante also realises the relationship between Virgil and the Dante of the poem in a wonderfully subtle way. Virgil, his mentor as a poet and as a man “lost in [the] dark wood” of his middle years struggling towards some kind of maturity, is ever at his elbow – encouraging, cajoling, instructing. For Dante, he becomes the ideal father figure for a man in the doldrums of middle age and as the poet travels through Hell and Purgatory faced with spirits, devils, centaurs, angels, and much else, he grows to depend on Virgil’s firm-minded kindliness and good counsel utterly.

As such, the point in Canto 30 when Virgil silently departs, his mission done, is the most quietly devastatingly moment I’ve encountered in Dante’s poem to date. They have reached the River Lethe, on the borders of Earthly Paradise. After various marvels are revealed to them, Dante realises that, waiting across the stream, is none other than Beatrice, his long lost love, the motivating force for the whole of the journey and the promise – and the threat – of his regeneration. Stricken with awe and a kind of rapturous terror

I turned left – as a little child will do
wide-eyed and running over to its mama
when he’s afraid of something or he’s hurt
To say to Virgil, “Not a drop of blood
runs in my veins that isn’t trembling now
I know the traces of the ancient flame
But Virgil had deprived us of his light
Virgil, the sweetest father, Virgil, he
in whom I trusted that I might be healed*

Virgil has returned to Limbo, the outermost circle of the Inferno, doomed to dwell with the ‘good pagans’ even beyond the resurrection. The author Dante’s treatment of Virgil in the Comedy remains puzzling when the suicide Cato and the later poet Roman Statius are saved. Dante gives Virgil primacy above all other poets and draws on the Aenid again and again. Still, Dante expresses the loss of Virgil as one might feel the loss of a parent and reading these lines again, I think of the loss of my own father. Though the loss in my case is a selfish one, full of might-have- and should-have-beens. But still, there were moments. And there is always that moment on the banks of the Lethe that awaits all of us, Virgil or Dante.

Perhaps that’s why Dante’s Virgil had to leave, was unable to travel further with the man who’d become as a son to him. The hardest thing for a father is to realise that one day his children will have to travel on without him. And that’s a law as immutable as the divine judgement of the God of the Comedy.


Gateways

Dudelet is digging into his bowl of Hoops and humming to himself. I have the same habit.

“How do you feel about Year 3?” I ask him. He’s only got a week and a bit of Year 2 left.

“Well, I’m a bit worried because we’ll be the smallest in the playground.”

He’s not joking. All this year he’s been one of the biggest – the Year 2s tower over the Reception class and amiably lord it over the Year 1s. But next year, he’ll literally pass through two gateways into the Big Playground where the mysteries of Years 3 to 6 lurk, tooled up and ready to rumble. Also, how typical of my son to say ‘smallest’ instead of ‘littlest’.

“How do you mean?”

“The Year 6s are really big! Even bigger than you!”

“Well, some of them. People are sorts of sizes at that age.”

“I’m a bit nervous.”

“Hmm. I know it’s scary but there are always going to be those gateways. Like when you went to Reception or when you go to High School. I can’t remember my first day at primary school – your Year 3 but I still remember when I went to High School.”

“That’s funny! I was just going to ask you that!”

I look at him. He’s actually interested.

“Well, you know how teachers at your school, when you squabble…”

“Squabble?”

“Kind of argue or push or shove each other for some reason. You know how teachers tell you to be friends and perhaps make you sit in the thinking corner for a bit?”

“Yes. I suppose that happens. Sometimes.”

“Okay. Well, on my first day at High School, I got into one of those squabbles with another boy in a craft class and we got sent out. And the craft teacher – a really huge man who looked like he should have long fangs like a goblin – grabbed us and threw us out of the classroom. So we were a bit nervous and we decided that we’d explain to him that we’d made it up and sorted things out and so on. And…”

“And what happened?”

“He came out, whacked us both on the side of the head – it really stung my ear – and told us not to do it again or we’d be up before Brother X, the Headmaster and he’d give us six.”

“Six?”

“Look, you know they used to hit children in schools? And how they aren’t allowed to do it anymore?”

“Yes I know. Phew.” He shakes his head solemnly.

“So, anyway,” I finish up, a bit lamely. “Year 3 is nothing to worry about.”

“Okay. Can I watch telly now?”

“Okay.”

I sit down for two minutes to eat my toast (I can hear that little elf, who is a complete grump in the mornings, just like her mother, is in-bound). I don’t want him to pass those gates any sooner than he has to. But here they come.


Three things I tell dudelet each night

Warning: Contains parenting. And sentiment. And a teeny bit of very un-Dad Who Writes-like slush.

Something which supermum and I noticed a while back (and continue to struggle with) is how a bad day with dudelet (nearly seven years old at this point) can overshadow all his many wonderful qualities, actions and general all-round fabulousness.

So, much to my surprise, I introduced a little positive thinking practice into our bedtime routine. The last thing we do before “lights out”* is for me to tell him three things he did during the day that I loved. I’ve set myself a few parameters

  • No reference to anything bad that’s gone on, like particularly naughty behaviour
  • No comparison with his little sister
  • No use of something I’ve heard from supermum – they all have to be from actual, real, concrete interactions I’ve had with him.

On work days, this can be tricky. But I manage it. If I forget, he reminds me. Ands recently, he’s started asking me to add three things that I’ve done during the day that I think where pretty good or worthwhile (I’m paraphrasing). So I suppose he’s now reforming me a little.

Is it working? Who knows? I suspect all parenting techniques are essentially homoeopathic, if you see what I mean.

But at least we both remind each other that every day, he’s given several new reasons to love and value him so it’s probably doing some good somewhere.

*It’s actually “Lights turned down a bit” as dudelet often reads himself to sleep


Resisting fatherhood

Well, that’s a weird statement, isn’t it? I mean, I’m undoubtedly a father and whether I like it or not, I’m going to carry on being one. Resistance, one might say, is futile by definition.

Yes and no. Becoming a father is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Becoming a ‘father’ or a ‘daddy’ in a public, socialised sense is more of a mixed blessing.

‘Dads’ are expected to behave in a certain way to a far greater extent than men who aren’t fathers. Men in general have had their options opened considerably over the last ten years. We can use cosmetics without being laughed at (mostly), cry, express feelings, be vegetarians, artists and many other things without even the Daily Mail raising much of an eyebrow. Sometimes, we’re even allowed to be gay without it being tattooed across our foreheads. Most spectacularly of all, men are even allowed to be intelligent and thoughtful in public with a lynch mob gathering. You can even do some of the former and like sport (easy, now).

Where things still need a little work are the expectations ascribed to ‘dads’ which have remained tied to as similarly rigid a social discourse as that mothers or ‘mummies’ are fastened to. Or fasten themselves to (that’s another story but I commented the other day on Noble Savage’s blog on the infantilisation inherent in the ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ blogging).

I just used the word ‘discourse’ didn’t I? And a blizzard of knowing quote marks.

Lets get the quote marks out of the way first. If I put ‘daddy’ in quote marks, I’m not trying to be sarcastic or ironic. My point is always that you personally might read ‘daddy’ one way but society normally reads it another. And the norm exerts a kind of gravitational pull over you, whether you like it or not. That’s where discourse comes in.

Anything could be considered a discourse: clothes, newspapers, a TV programme, a tattoo, names, laws, forms and corporate policies – they’re all discourses. The one thing they have in common is that in some way they express an ideology, generally the prevailing one. Most perniciously, they often express it most stridently when seemingly in opposition to the ‘normal’ way of seeing things.

Lets take an example. Go to the Times Online. Put ‘Fatherhood’ into their search box. The first link that comes up is a sponsored one for Sainsbury’s parenting club – “Join Our Baby Club for Articles & Advice + a Free Mum & Baby Pack!” That’s the first lesson the discourse of the norm of fatherhood has to teach us – fathers are invisible to most retailers. ‘Mums’ are targeted.  Bit tricky if you’re a single parent and still a bit irritating if you’re part of a couple. The ideological campaign to keep you separate from the business of parenting until the ‘mans’ stuff like football and punching each other comes up has already begun.

The first search return proper is for Damian Whitworth’s article about the Evolution of Fatherhood. “We look at the evoloution of fatherhood and ask if guys are really ready for it.” Note the term ‘guy’ and how embedded in the article’s related links we find ‘Why fathers don’t need a day of gratitude.‘ It’s a thoughtful article but at every point it reinforces the idea that change is ‘thirty years away’. Our children might one day be fathers who can act like…well, mothers, apparently. One writer interviewed describes being ‘crucified’ on Mumsnet for struggling with fatherhood and writing about it. The drift of the piece, as it concludes, is still that being a father is somehow something that remains alienated from parenting proper and that change, real change, is deferred indefinitely.

Now I don’t know about you but we seem to have been discussing changes in the role of the father for decades and yet the most thoughtful media pieces still seem to position it as as far away as ever. The next article listed trumpets that “Many men, it seems, give less thought to starting a family than they do to choosing their next car.” Next up, hysterically, is Tiger Woods in an article from 2008 discussing his discovery of the joys of fatherhood. What’s the message? Well, you can be a great sportsman and an engaged father. But you have to get your cardio in first. The difficulty, apparently, is balancing the demands of family life against those of work (or the other stuff we now know about Tiger. But moving on…)

There’s any number of points one might pull out of this – the inherent conservatism of the model of Tiger Woods and his nuclear family, the continual positioning of men feeling complex emotions about fatherhood as somehow a bit abnormal, the deferral (I keep coming back to that as it seems a key point) of a kind of parenthood which routes around the cliches expected of ‘mummys’ and daddys’.  They’re all vectors from an ideology which requires fatherhood in one box and motherhood in the other. Parenthood doesn’t really exist in this ideology – it functions almost invariably (cf. the Sainsburys ad above) as a synonym for motherhood.

Think I’m exaggerating? Go try the same exercise in the Daily Mail – but read attentively.

Okay, resistance. Wherever there is power, you’ll find resistance (I’m taking that and a lot of the basis for the foregoing from Foucault if you’re curious). Resistance doesn’t mean fighting something or avoiding it. The best kind of resistance to a pesky kind of discourse like being a ‘dad’ is a long, hard, critical look at how one is being positioned and an informed, knowing choice as to the kind of self one wants to be. Discourses are functional, useful even. They accomplish things. They get you through the day (or night). More worryingly, the discourse of ‘mum and baby’ versus ‘dad’ (how many dad welcome packs do you know of? Leaving aside the worrying content of the mummy ones, of course) functions very well in enabling the prevention of equal rights in maternity leave or assuring that people don’t ask too many questions about the continuing deferral of that particular legislation (deferral again). It keeps fathers productive and mothers in their place. It keeps the dangerous idea of ‘parents’ as something more meaningful than a legalism at bay.

So I take a good hard look at being a dad and the social expectations involved in being a dad every day. It’s an act of resistance that keeps me closer to being a father and a parent as opposed to a ‘dad’. It informs how I act at work when someone wants time off to go to a scan or a colleague on a KIT day wants to bring her baby in.

Resistance. It isn’t futile. It’s what we do to stay alive as thinking beings as opposed to geometrical points the forces of discourse act upon.

P.S. I’m doing a walk for the Joseph Salmon Trust with a bunch of other bloggers. More about this on my  Just giving page,


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