In the name of the father

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Eighteen months ago Alan Perrott was a reluctant first-time dad - kids had never been part of his life plan. With a second child on the way, does he feel differently now? Here, he reveals how fatherhood has changed him - for better and for worse.

Theodore has well and truly won his way into his father's heart. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Theodore has well and truly won his way into his father's heart. Photo / Sarah Ivey

"Ummm honey ... I'm pregnant. Again."

Whaaat? As with last time, it had been on the cards. And despite a lifetime of ambivalence, the moment our original little man - Theodore Stanley Charles, thank you very much - popped his head out in late 2009 to the strains of Be My Baby, I knew he'd be needing someone younger to oppress. As an older brother myself, I know how the natural order works.

All the same, and even as we joined in an "oh, that's great news honey" hug, I couldn't help thinking "shit, that was fast".

I'm only just able to recognise the little bugger four times out of five from a line-up of randoms and now I'm expected to learn a whole new face, name and birthday. After all, my mid-40s brain is atrophying rapidly and it takes all my concentration not to follow every sneeze at work with an infantile "aah-choo, says Daddy".

I've discussed my past ambivalence toward childrearing in Canvas before; just one month after his birth in fact.

As I said then, babies have never been my thing. But I do make a large exception for ours.

While he fails utterly to grasp that just because the square block fits through the square hole it doesn't mean all the other blocks will fit through as well, he's an oncer. And what are the odds of getting two oncers?

Look at my parents. First they got me. Well done. Then they got my brother. Hmm ... moving right along. The third, a ginga, was a marked return to form.

For starters, he never reached for a hammer during disputes over my benevolent rule, an improvement that only highlights the role luck plays in breeding.

Then there's that whole parental bonding thing. Sure you hear about this stuff all the time, but the reality of it was a shock. I'm dead soft and considerably less self-obsessed now; luckily there's a fair bit of slack in that area, so I've still got plenty in reserve.

I even understand what The Daily Show's Jon Stewart meant when he said there are two kinds of people, those with kids and those without.

Whereas I once read about child abuse or infant death with a cosy detachment, even a veiled headline can now bring on an uncomfortable sense of horror. Maybe it's down to losing my youngest brother when I was 9. I know how quickly and inexplicably these things can happen, and have even had to look away from an old engraving of an eagle flying off with a nappied infant. It's just not an image I need in my head while rocking him just before bedtime.

Which begins to explain my new worry. Can that lightning hit twice? What do I do if I don't like the second one as much?

This stuff is real. There's no Donald Trump boardroom to sort everything out once buyer's remorse kicks in.

On the other hand, there's no way you can be Mum, Dad and the kids with only one kid. Sticking with one somehow seems like an affectation, like milking one cow and calling yourself a farmer.

Then again, if this biggie-sizing is like moving from the outhouse to the penthouse we all know which one is easier to maintain. And cheaper.

So yes, there is much freedom to be found in keeping things small and I well remember my days of living alone. I may have been living on tinned soup, but that was because I chose to, just as I chose to paint much of my flat orange. Fatherhood has already consigned soup in a can and orange paint to the same box in which I keep my memories of black and white telly and jelly pies.

But let's back up a few months. I've had several other reluctant dads asking me how it's all working out, so there are a few issues I must address.

First off, this bonding thing isn't anything like having a pet. This is a way more bewildering connection than you'll find between a crazy cat lady and her animals. It simply doesn't matter that all you ever do is give, that the only response you can reasonably expect is "more", or that the attention-seeking never ends.

It also doesn't matter that all the tat you've collected is gradually being destroyed by a creature impervious to reason and utterly lacking in conscience. In fact, given the right look, they are quite capable of making you help out.

Why? It's genetics. That crusty nose, dribbly chin and noisome nappy gurning back at you is you.

Okay, that's not entirely correct; that's several yous. Because kids change.

I can remember looking at him in his first week and seeing both myself and the missus in his face. A year and half later, he looks and behaves completely differently, yet he's still me. If there's any problem on this front, it's that he's grown so fast and so tall he looks at least 2. I'm getting used to the sympathetic looks when he starts spouting gobbledegook: "Oh, isn't he special," they croon.

Secondly, clichés are truisms:

* The only personal time you can count on is on the loo. Put a lock on the door now.

* Relationships change. Not in a bad way but you do become more child-rearing tag team than a couple, if that makes sense.

* You'll forget how to sleep in.

* Your life will never be the same. Gig guides are now only for absorbing my tears.

* You'll wonder how you used to fill your days.

* You have to check yourself. The other day my surprise over the absorbency of nappies led to the wee man running around saying "Jesus", which, given my usual language, I consider a win.

Thirdly, your life is public property in ways it has never been. Given your parents' experience is now useful in ways it hasn't been for ages, you'll be telling them way more about your doings than is healthy. Which your mum will then pass on to everyone she knows.

Fourthly, children's parties. They're like prostate exams, you'd rather not but they pay off in the long term - especially when you need an emergency babysitter. Have a slug of something strong, then work the room and make nice.

Okay, lastly but nowhere near least - and this is an ugly truth never mentioned at antenatal class: you'll never be more crook. If the All Blacks ball distribution was up with how babies pass bugs around, we would be undefeatable. Last year lies buried under snotty tissues and 2011 hasn't started any better. I'd love a nice, relaxing man-flu. For old times' sake if nothing else.

Which again raises the bonding thing. Aside from child abandonment laws, it's the biggest reason you keep sucking it up one day at a time. On the bright side, I'm sure it will pass. I've only got one relationship of constant affection spanning several decades, and that's with Star Trek. This new one is barely out of the blocks. Actually, it's not even that far, we're right back to the pre-race kneebends and groin stretches as we build up to the next arrival in September.

At least I won't have to hide behind the couch to avoid birth videos this time. We may even be able to skip the mantras and whale song during the performance itself, although I expect I'll have to crack on with the birthing pool at some stage. Oh yes, science has gifted us the stars, but my missus still wants to deliver babies in a puddle by my record collection. But don't you worry, I put down plenty of blankets, so they are perfectly safe.

Anyway, I'm guessing that my account is hardly the most glowing endorsement for getting knocked up.

Don't go fretting though, when not-so-wee Theodore is wobbling at the gate on those enormous feet of his and waving me off to work while pointing out every car, tree and "ear-pane", everything else is just stuff.

I'm Dah-dee now and that's a word I'm only beginning to get my head around. Being Daddy brings great power which, as Spider-man's own dad told us, comes with great responsibility. Bollocks, I say.

I've been handed the blankest of blank slates, a creature that doesn't realise blankets make him warm or that rain is wet, so until he's old enough to grow pimples I'm God and he is my clay. If Mummy's not looking, anyway.

Already, little Ted is convinced music comes only from my turntables and sees nothing at all dodgy in dancing to German easy listening. We've even found a working Fisher Price children's turntable to train him on until he's about 30 and able to pay for any damage.

All going well, he'll get to school with his understanding of the world locked in the mid-70s. I'm sure he'll thank us for it.

As for what happens to him when Theo 2.0 comes along - and he is most definitely another little fella - I think he'll be just fine.

I've hidden all the hammers.

- NZ Herald

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