This is it. This is when everything changes. When emotion swamps reason, displacing priorities and rendering my previous identity pale and indistinct.
I want to feel like that. I really do, but as I look upon the child writhing on the cold scales there is nothing. It is mine; I know that. It is mine. I slept with my wife – here we are nine months later. And yet what does that ownership really mean? Every waif, every stray, every child, everywhere, has a father somewhere.
A tapeworm of doubt has been growing in my stomach, feeding upon baby name lists, nursery themes, and breast-is-best dogma. I have hollowed out and shrunk whilst my wife has swollen and bloomed.
A plastic tag is placed around an ankle. ‘FERGUSON’, it is labelled, like a calf at market with its velvet ears punched through. The waif is already owned, restricted, subject to rules. Its bonds are physical. That is where we differ. There are no tags on me; no ties of responsibility fastened around my legs.
I wouldn’t of course, but if I chose to I could walk away from this room and never look back. It’s not like we live in the third world, after all. If I were to leave right this second, that child would still get caravanning holidays, video games, and a council house. You might argue that I’ve already provided for it, anyway. I’ve been a taxpayer all my life; never taken a penny that I haven’t earned. I’ve provided education, healthcare, and even dentistry. I’ve also fed and clothed its mother through nine months of morning sickness and baby-brain. What I’ve done isn’t nothing; maybe it’s time for someone else to take a turn in the traces. That baby is a person in its own right, by law even, and it can damn well start to pull its own weight, all seven pounds two ounces of it. Not asking much is it?
A needling cry reaches my eardrums but doesn’t penetrate any deeper. The answering call comes from across the room – my ruined, tattered, torn wife, bleating for her offspring. She’s better off where she is, though. They both are. Just let the medical staff do their jobs.
Speaking of which, a midwife is prattling in my ear. She’s suggesting that I offer the baby a bottle. I decline. They will know how best to do it. That’s what they are there for isn’t it?
Never mind, because my once-beautiful wife has been bolted back together and wants to breastfeed her baby. Mother and child are duly reunited and the midwives engulf them, giving advice on latching and bonding and first contact and throwing out maternity buzzwords like confetti at a wedding. I start to gather our things together in the corner; we’ll probably be moved to the ward soon.
As it happens the baby needs no encouragement to feed. Why would it? The something-for-nothing relationship starting already. It lies there like a tick on a horse, sucking youth and beauty from my wife, hands exploring like a deviant’s. I’ve been down that route and it only leads to trouble.
Photos! The word is uttered by someone and the cry is taken up around the room. Suddenly I am remembered. I have a task to complete; the first of many. The camera is in my trouser pocket, but I lie. I tell them that in all the excitement, amidst all the love – so much love – I have left it in the car.
In a moment which feels prophetic, I am shooed out of the room to retrieve the camera by midwives, a ditzy father smitten with his child. My wife tells me to hurry and the child screeches again, inconvenienced by the interruption. I am an aside, a beast of burden.
I feign speed as I push through the delivery room door. It closes behind me with a satisfying suck – an airlock sealing. Suddenly I am free, away from the noise, the mess. Away from two decades of need.
It is still early, and the corridors of the maternity unit are quiet. Outside, the car park is bathed in early morning sunshine. I could be on the motorway in ten, at the airport in twenty, gone by tomorrow. Plenty of dads do it; I’d just be another statistic lost in the crowd. I hand the camera in to the receptionist. It seems like the right thing to do.
Matthew Richardson is a thirty-two year old who lives in Stewarton, Scotland. He has a Masters degree in Leadership and Innovation. A lucky husband and proud father, he has previously been published in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, and McStorytellers. He is a member of the Glasgow Writers Group and has studied Creative writing at the University of Glasgow. Matthew’s blog can be found at www.matthewjrichardson.com.