On Dadhood: The Earliest Notions


I am sitting typing at the computer now while intermittently sucking and grimacing on an ice cold Hite Dry Finish. I have just put +1 to bed after battling with an increasing fever throughout day, alone I should add, because Herself had gone to Seoul and I was filling in as Herself was exhausted, not for the first time, and just had to get away for the day.

Any young or new parent will recognise this necessity. I’m fortunate enough to be home a lot due to my working hours, but Herself is home all the time, here, up on the twentieth floor. Opportunities for escape, to remember what it was like before all this parenting took control of us, are rare.

We have been parents for just over a year now. I haven’t written about it much, just a passing reference here and there to the joys of our daughter’s latest advances. It came to a head recently when I realised that I have basically been leaving the dominant factor in my life outside of my writing, and I think that if I can talk about it here comfortably and competently, well I don’t know but I think something better will come of it. Or maybe I just feel that now I want to tell my story of being a parent.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

Dancing with my daughter. September, 2013.

I suppose what I will say to start is that nothing prepares you for what is ahead. It amazes me that despite how little we knew and understood, we managed to learn quickly, and fortunately not only through our own mistakes. Despite my worst concerns I can proudly say that after 12 months we did not break it, and we managed to help it grow at a regular pace and for it to develop correctly. “It” is of course our child.

From the outset though, I knew that things would be a lot more different than everyone had already warned. Perhaps I misinterpreted their messages, or that in reality no one can explain how much having a child changes you. I wonder, because one half of the parents of our family is not a native of the country we live, would our experience have been any different if I was Korean, or if we were living in Ireland when we had +1.

In the run up to her birth I recall panicking regularly about the methods and means of preparation. The constant concern that they don’t do things the same here as they do in Ireland kept me constantly on edge. Of course I had the easy job, but as an onlooker I’m more in a position to come up with quack theories based on something I may have heard when I was a lot, lot younger. For all my fears about how things were done here and why we would be doing this and not that etc. I eventually just pulled up and thought, “Conor, relax. Look around you. There are families and children and babies everywhere, and they are all perfectly healthy and happy. Everything will be fine”. And guess what, it was. At least the birth anyway. Anything that happened after was up to us.

I haven’t had any children in Ireland, nor have I ever been married to an Irish person, so it’s kind of impossible to compare my experiences of being a dad here in Korea with anything else. I know that it has been different from what my friends experienced.

Cramming. December 2012.

Cramming. December 2012.

I started off trying to inflict my understanding of the world on the raising of our child from an early age. One thing that I still battle over is the heat in the apartment. It was always hot when +1 was first born, in fact it was so hot that shorts and t-shirts would have been appropriate wear. Meanwhile, outside it was beyond freezing. I couldn’t understand why the child couldn’t survive in a reasonable temperature, her being a human also and having the same physiology as every other human, but my opinion was not considered. This drove me up the wall, but I’ll never know if I would have been right. I

Fortunately for the arguments against me it really was incredibly cold that winter. My parents arrived in late February and I think by then the temperature had finally gotten to a point, at least towards the end of their stay, where one could be outside with a jacket half open. I didn’t realise how cold it was and argued about this with Herself as we tried to leave the hospital, and this was only in late November, until I stepped outside holding tiny little +1 wrapped up in a blanket and suddenly couldn’t stop apologising. But still, the heat had to be turned down indoors.

As the father I suppose that my understanding of child rearing is limited, at least from the infant stage. Now of course this is a stereotype, but in hindsight I certainly started off from the back foot, as Herself had been preparing for months. While I stuttered along trying to pick up a semblance of understanding, Herself already had everything prepared, mentally at least. I fell deeply into the stereotype of ‘a typical man’, and I feel that if it wasn’t for my broad shoulders and ability to rock the baby to sleep soundly I might have found myself banished to some dark corner of the apartment, kept on merely for my pay cheque and as a family driver when trips to the hospital were called for. If Herself heard me say this she’d be quite upset, but that’s how I felt a lot of the time, as I was trying to catch up on so much while our daughter was growing quicker than I could adapt.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

That belly finally came in useful. December, 2012.

What struck me at this early stage was how pointless it all seemed to be. Here we were, both infatuated and madly in love with this tiny being which came from my wife, but it just lay there doing nothing. There was no reaction, no understanding, no conversation, discussion, or indeed volunteering to cook dinner. This little tenant was here on a free ticket and we were there to bend over hand and foot for it, this completely dependent little lifeform.

It was around a month into this journey that I started to nourish a new found respect for my own parents. Not only because they did all this, but also more importantly they were humble enough to leave these stories out of their childhood tales.

Perhaps I could learn from this and realise that regardless of what happens this is part of the journey, and one which I will not be the first to have taken, despite what I believed for some time during +1’s early days.

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Letter from Korea, November 2013


Suwon, South Korea
November 2013

Dear Ireland

If you had asked me at this exact time and date one year ago if I could imagine how my life would be in one years time, I certainly would have described something completely different from how it is now. In fact, to the best of my knowledge I have no idea how I imagined my life to be at this time, but what imagination I did have lacked the drama and dalliance which filled in the other 364 days that filled in the space between.

The reason I’m dwelling on this is because at around this time, about 9.45pm, myself and Herself were resting at home after a meal of grilled eel (good for stamina, you know) in a local restaurant, from which we walked to and from, it being a warm and pleasant evening for late November. We were preoccupied however. The next morning we would go to the hospital and Herself would have her labour induced, having reached her final nine months of pregnancy. The doctor was worried about the size of the baby’s head.

We had read reports of the effects of the inducement on the baby and had hoped for a natural labour. But this is the twenty-first century and we were thankful that whatever would come about would be for the best, and having a happy and healthy baby was the most important thing.

We ended up relaxing a little too much until we realised that we actually were going to have a baby the next day, and started to get ready, half arguing about why we’d relaxed so much and that we should be prioristising. We threw a few things together and promised to finish the job when we got up in the morning, and both of us went to bed.

I fell asleep promptly, while herself was restless, being nine months pregnant and all, and sat up reading. At around two or three o’clock she elbowed me awake and told me that she had a pain in her abdomen. Earlier she said she had cramps but she passed them off as exactly that, cramps. She pulled back the bed clothes to get up and go to the bathroom, and her entire bottom half was soaking wet, like as if she had sat in a bath and just stood up. We looked at each other in the eye with realisation, thinking for a half a second in both fear and wonder, so that’s what your water breaking looks like.

Within thirty minutes we had dressed comfortably, grabbed what was required, and were making our way down in the lift to the car. Dongtan Jaeil Hospital was waiting.

I suppose we were lucky that our doctor was on call that night, herself two months pregnant, and that we lived a mere fifteen minutes from the hosptial. In many respects we may also have been lucky that Herself’s labour only lasted around four hours. But then we were unlucky that her contractions were especially difficult, and this was made more difficult by my desire to get to the hosptial as quickly as possible, and the fact that a good stretch of the road was made up of potholes.

I don’t know about other fathers, but I thought about it the other day and wondered if the cultural stereotype brought on by ‘we’re-having-a-baby’ type films hadn’t forced the notion that the hospital can only be reached successfully if one drives over 60 miles/100 kilometres an hour, perhaps that night would have been a little less eventful. If that is possible.

Even when we were on the nice flat recently paved streets before the potholed chicanery and four wheel drive like antics ahead, breaking suddenly terrified she’d have the baby in the actual driving street was probably just as bad. Still when I drive down the same road to the same hospital it is that stretch over bumpy potholes where I feel a little shudder run up through me, and I thank myself that I didn’t in fact make a complete mess of it.

To cut what is becoming a long story short, little +1 popped out of her mammy’s womb at around 6.40am on Friday, November 23, 2012. Since then I don’t think I could say I am the same person. I don’t think any parent would even bother comparing their life before kids and after.

I feel now that after a year everything that happened before didn’t happen, or that it happened but +1 was always there with us. I look at her now, sleeping in some haphazard cruciform pose on the bed beside me, and if I try to think how my life would be without her, it is impossible. It has only been one year, but perhaps it is one which I will remember the most, and I can’t wait for more of the future we are unfolding together.

Happy first birthday little +1 (a.k.a. Maggot!)

A Letter to My Seven Month Old Daughter


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Dear +1,

Look at you with your smiles and shitty nappies, you are the world too me. You may not realise it as you are undoubtedly focusing on something you just saw and must now touch, but it’s true, you mean so much to me.

I am writing to you today as I wish to part with some advice. As you are young it is hard for you to understand much, and as you are young it is your natural inclination to believe that you are 100% correct about everything. If the truth be told you will not learn the fallacy of this until you are, well probably close to your own deathbed many years from now.

You see little +1, as your father it is important that you realise that while you could reasonably argue that I know sweet fuck all about anything, other than knowing when I’m hungry, tired, or need to go to the toilet, I do indeed know a lot more than you. One day you may indeed know more than I, but first of all I beseech you to learn to speak.

Myself and your mother do our best in this world to not educate you the wrong way and I hope you will trust us when we direct you towards so-called child friendly paraphernalia. But I realise knowing the difference for you is difficult, so please allow my lifetime’s experience to know that not chewing those shiny scissors is the best option. And the hot teapot is best left on the table, because it is both heavy and hot.

It is unfortunate that in life you will have to learn to understand what is hot and what is cold yourself, as we all have our own levels. But let me give you a pointer: when your skin hurts from touching something, hot or cold, generally that means it’s bad. There are other signs which you can look out for in advance, such as is their ice on it, or in fact flames coming from it, is stuff melting nearby, is there steam emanating from some orifice etc. In fact anytime you feel pain it doesn’t promise to be beneficial – except for massages, and possibly tattoos, if that’s your thing.

There are other things which you don’t really need to touch, such as the dark coloured damp residue inside the nappy I just removed, my armpits in summer, the floor underneath the couch, and everything about ten centimetres outside your immediate reach. What you need in life will come to you with the right application, and while I appreciate the need to seek much out, searching in ever corner of your immediate world will reveal little for now.

Your youth, and I really sound like an old man now, is your greatest obstacle. Please give it time, as you have so much to experience and so much seems so new, which means it’s strange, which means that is the reason that you are probably complaining about it. Again, take our word for it, it’s for the best.

For example, when we strap you down in a cushioned seat with a nice soft head rest and sides inside a large self propelled two tonne piece of steel and plastic full of highly flammable fossil fuels, which then competitively attempts to travel at high speed with a plethora of other such devices, often around bends and over bumps, and even in poor weather with sight seriously reduced, it is, believe it or not, considered safest for you to be harnessed in, and not free to wriggle and squirm as your young body sees fit.

While I’m discussing this I should also advise you that I’ve also found that it is easier to fall asleep at night when you sit back, relax, and just wait for your sleep to find you. Incredibly, worming, squirming, and shouting in my arms does not work. I worked this out a few years ago when I was a bit of a night owl, and the more I socialised with others late in the early hours I found it more difficult to fall asleep, but if I sat on a plastic chair outside a convenience store or the likes, sleep soon came to me quite easily. It’s a strange phenomenon I know, but like much of my advice in this letter, time will help you realise so much more.

I trust that you will take this advice to heart and do your best to apply it to your forthcoming years. Soon it will seem like second nature not to try to eat your faeces or the nearest scissors, among other revelations of age, but remember that until that time I will be standing over you applying my care in a way that may seem intrusive, and equally like I am trying to ruin your appreciation of life. This is not the case, I am merely attempting to guide you through your early days with as few physical threats to your self as is possible.

For now, please trust me that I am right, because one of these days you will be just like your mother and I will never have this opportunity again. Until then allow me the glory of being somewhat correct.

With best wishes for your future,

Your loving father/Dad/앞파/ould fella/

Letter from Korea, December 2012


Suwon, South Korea
December, 2012

Dear Ireland

There are moments when I completely forget that I’m a father now, and I lapse into my old routine, desperate for something which I used to think was enjoying. Things are a little different now. It’s not that those things which I used to be entertained by are no longer entertaining, as they are somewhat, it’s just that these moments where I forget don’t last long. I’m either jolted from a daydream into activity by a gurgle or yelp, a call from Herself (who seems perpetually busy), or I just remember.  It’s a nice realisation to have over and over again.

The change has been swift. Even the difference between when Herself was heavily pregnant and since we’ve brought little cute +1 home (yes I’m still calling her +1 here) is stark. But to anyone who has spent any amount of time with people with new-born babies, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I won’t deny that I was far from adequately prepared, especially from a psychological perspective. I think I’m doing better now.

Thankfully, Korea makes things easy on us new fathers and mothers. We had a week in what’s known as a jorriwon (조리원), which is an after-care centre for those who have just had a baby. While there were some who complained about the standard of care given in the place we stayed, I couldn’t actually see what their problem was.

Here is a place where you go to stay which has a number of programmes for mothers to help the recuperate, as well as cooking your meals, doing your laundry, and most importantly, helping you get used to your new responsibility, which is of course raising a child. And where these people helped out mostly was allowing you the opportunity to try and fail a few times at trying to feed and placate your child, and if you couldn’t hack it they’d take it off your hands and deal with the child while you got some much required sleep. This allowed us to ease ourselves into the whole new parent thing.

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I spoke with a few Irish people, and even when I mentioned the price, they sounded enthusiastic in their ‘fuck that’ exclamations, in the sense that the price was incidental and that a service like this is what Ireland could do with. Sure it’s a bit elitist, and for us it was certainly expensive, but it was just another item on the increasingly long balance sheet of payments.

We only stayed a week in this place as we considered it pointless to drag the process of getting settled into a routine at home. We both were certain that the longer we stayed there the more difficult it would be to get out of that level of comfort. More than anything though, we were also very eager to bring +1 home, which is where we’ve been for the past couple of weeks.

Up until Friday however, we had the help of the mother-in-law, who as I’ve said before, is some woman. She arrived and immediately began to clean, cook, and attempt to feed +1. Which was great as it took the pressure off us. I was in work up until recently (now on winter hols) so she would stay in the room with Herself and help with the night feed, while I was banished to the couch. Every so often I would join Herself and get myself eased steadily into the night process.

Being in work made my life easier, I can honestly say, as I was away for the day I missed out on five hour long marathons of feeding, dozing, peeing, shiting, changing, rocking, feeding, dozing, sleeping for ten minutes, and so on. I’d return home to find Herself and the mother-in-law in tatters with exhaustion. However this didn’t stop another table full of kimchi and seaweed soup being served up with regimental efficiency every evening.

The thing about the seaweed soup is, and don’t get me wrong I know it’s very healthy, my own mother had five sons and never touched a drop of the stuff and she never experienced anything adversely negative from the lack of it. Although, the obvious refutation to that is how would you know if you’ve never had it? I do know that Herself has probably had more of it that she has had in her life to date, and whether she’s doing better than if she hadn’t had any is irrelevant. She’s happy and getting stronger every day and that’s what matters.

But now I can hear +1 waking up so I will have to close. Herself will have to be woken up to feed her and I will have to be the dutiful go-for as we do our best to make this process as easy on everyone as possible.

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That is how things are going in Korea now.

The sun is going down outside. The snow was melted by the rain over the past few days. It’s chilly but more like a December chilly as opposed to the -15 freeze we were engulfed in last week. I have two months of holidays ahead of me. There’s a presidential election on Wednesday but what do I care, it won’t change much I suppose. Christmas is around the corner. Family will arrive to see the new arrival in February. I’m a father. A proud one. Life is good, I suppose.