Five years ago, almost to the exact hour, I was left holding the baby.
This was not entirely unexpected given I had been an equal player in the initial act and, despite being relegated to a prominent supporting role during the seemingly endless (and drug free) final scene of actual labour, I was fairly certain I’d be giving the new bundle of joy a quick cuddle (after it had been suitably hosed down). I also assumed I’d shortly thereafter return said bundle to my wife before becoming an irrelevance in its life for at least six mum-filled months.
That’s not quite how things went down.
In fact, not very long after Rhys was finally out-stubborned by Captain Ventouse and the Suction-Cup of Justice it was just him and me. T was taken to theatre with a fused placenta and so the all important skin-to-skin contact baton was passed to yours truly.
As I presume would be the case with many first time (at the time) fathers, much of the labour and post labour time is something I recall through a veil of adrenalin and emotional exhaustion. Except for one crystalline moment. I can picture myself lying on the bed with Rhys on my chest. The room was chaotic but for the first time all day it was empty, and it was silent. And then it hit me.
My wife might not come back.
Thankfully, that scenario did not play out. My wife came back, my son went to his mum and my relegation to person-of-utter-uselessness-to-child-for-period-of-time swiftly followed. I am convinced however that the hour or so we lay on that bed forged a peculiar and magical bond between us two boys of the house that remains five years later.
So Rhys Daniel Eveleigh, let me take the opportunity to tell you a few things on the occasion of your fifth birthday.
You give me joy on days where I’m convinced there is none to be had. You do this in so many different ways and each year it’s different, but the crux of it is that you make me laugh even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to.
You give me reserves of strength in ways I had not even considered, or considered possible. Sure, this is sometimes the strength not to put you up for free on eBay when you are testing me to my limits but more often it’s the strength to strive to be better in everything I do so that I can be a worthy father to you and your sister (she’s more likely to go up on eBay than you are but don’t tell her).
You make me do things despite myself. Like dancing on the pavement between the car and the school gate. Like walking like robots along the hall at home. You make me forget about feeling stupid and make me have fun, and I’m a better person because of it.
I don’t always give your Dad I’ve got a GREAT ideas the attention they deserve and allow myself to become distracted by mundane, pointless tasks that could easily wait a while. I shout at you too readily when you dawdle in the mornings and I’m probably, already harder on you than I am on your sister. I also make the mistake of forgetting that you are still a little boy, because you are so smart, and so grown up in so many ways and I’m harder on you because of it. I’m sorry for all of these things.
I’m also sorry that you look so much like me. You should have been lucky and got a bit more of your mother – or at the very least a skin tone more suited to Africa.
And while I’m busy apologising I’m also sorry that recently I’ve been treating our make-up-a-story time before you go to sleep as a burden rather than the piece of magic it truly is. If you want to have six chickens called Zung, Ding, Fung, Eng, Dwing and Zub rather than my three with more chickeny names then go for it. If they inexplicably get stuck in the snow in every adventure and end up rewarding you with eggs (which you don’t even like) then that’s how it is. Deep down, when I’m not being an impatient arsehole, I love those chickens as much as I love Boris the bee (and Bella, Beatrix, Horace and Boju), Sbu the engine, the spiders that saved Father Christmas and all the other tales we’ve worked out between us. In fact I love them as much as the extra cuddles, last cuddle, last-last cuddle, last kiss and extra-cuddle-after-mummy-says-goodnights that I moan about and rush through for no good reason.
At five you are well on the way to becoming your own person and you are already someone that your mother and I are immensely proud of. Our relationship will change this year as it has done every other year. You will probably stop winding your window down when we get stuck in traffic on the way to school so that you can talk to anyone who walks past. You will probably become less excited about the rubbish truck on a Tuesday morning and will not run outside to wave at them. You will not, however, become any less perfect in my eyes.
Happy Birthday my boy. Thank you for putting up with me for another year.