You sometimes hear stories of fathers performing superhuman feats to help their kids. Lifting up a car to free a stricken child pinned underneath it. Moving absurdly quickly to pluck their offspring out of harm’s way. A stray javelin whizzing towards a little’un and god-given paternal super-instincts helping dad snatch it effortlessly from the sky – that kind of thing. The sort of behaviour that makes for really good, inspirational GIFs.
The most superhuman feat I achieved in my early days of fatherhood was less Hollywood but, as far as I’m concerned, no less impressive.
A week into my paternity leave, I found myself on exhausted autopilot, changing my daughter’s nappy. I was barely coherent, which has been the case since she was born, really. I was experiencing strange new levels of tiredness: weird fugue states, drifting in and out of reality, crying on buses – behaviour that, to anyone who didn’t know of my new fatherhood, would be seen as concerning. It’s a difficult time, and a really steep learning curve for the whole family.
There I was at the changing table when, suddenly, my daughter’s bottom said “BRAP”. It was like a really awful, misaimed version of the make-up gun from
I don’t wear a lot of clothes at home – it’s my house, damn it – so this was a hideous turn of events. I’ll spare you the details, but I have a reasonably hairy stomach, and that was at best the fifth most disgusting part of my body.
We’re talking full-on horrendousness. The scene would have made a good GIF but absolutely not an inspirational one. Now, if anyone else in the whole world had caused me to be graced with even one per cent of the ordure I was now laminated in, I’d have thumped them with my filth-covered hands. If they were a close friend, that friendship would be over. If I worked with them, we’d all be looking at tribunals.
And yet my priority wasn’t to run shrieking from the room, try to find an industrial hose or climb into a kettle to boil myself clean. My priority was looking after this tiny crying person, who had a sore tummy and sore bottom and needed a wipe and a cuddle. It might not be the same as summoning superhuman strength to protect my offspring from danger, but had you been there, you would have deemed it pretty impressive, thank you very much.
That day I learned that parental love transcends even basic rules of human decency and hygiene. And twenty long minutes later, I had the most necessary shower of my life.