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.

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!)

Old Man Syndrome


On Friday morning at around 6.40, while many were still in bed or still only waking up, I was standing in the delivery room of the maternity hospital in Dongtan where myself and Herself have been frequenting on and off over the past nine months. Staring right in our faces was a tiny, screaming child, whose skin was still blue and covered in quickly drying blood having just being removed from the womb of my beloved wife. I will not lie. I cried at that very moment, but I did my best not to show it.

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Our little girl, otherwise known as +1, is perfect. She is tiny, delicate, confused, but still she is part of both of us and just thinking of her makes me smile. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of parents out there who have felt exactly the same at this moment. It’s this happiness and pride which is coercing me to share this news with you today.

I think that, right now, my biggest challange is accepting the fact that the rest of the world is moving on around us, oblivious of this moment, one which is probably irrelevant to many. I think tomorrow morning when the world restarts with work and appointments to meet, we will click back into gear somewhat. but for now, I don’t really care.

I really can’t go into enough detail about much now, as I am too riddled with emotion to account for myself adequately, and even if I could it wouldn’t represent my state of mind, because it is basically just full of mesmerised questions!

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These are just some of the thoughts fleeting around my head at every second:

How can a person’s skin be this soft?
What will she actually be like?
I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
A smile really does make one smile in return.
All communication is a language which needs to be learned.
The future has just become a whole lot more daunting.
For all that we imagined, we could never have imagined this.
It is now less of a wonder why people believe in God.
We are not the first people to have a new baby and we will not be the last.
The human body is more amazing than you think, and when you look at women you really have to appreciate this even more.
My mother, who had five sons, really is a tougher nut than she looks.
My daughter looks like my mother.
How should I react? Herself’s friends and family, as well as hospital staff have congratulated us over and over again because our daughter resembles me. If this was in Ireland I’m fairly sure people would be consoling Herself… (maybe not the hospital staff but definitely my brothers and friends).
I think that the occasions where I’ve been happier, or equally happy, have been few and far between.

And as I tweeted earlier…

Over the past three days I have turned from a skeptic and a cynic to an idealist and an optimist. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Life has changed this weekend, and I hope to be a better man because of it.

Letter from Korea, October 2012


Suwon, South Korea
October, 2012

Dear Ireland,

It has been a while, but as much as I want to blame others I don’t think it would do much good. Some people are just poor at maintaining a schedule. I wish the same could be said for a woman’s womb.

As you can probably imagine the experience over the past few months has been mostly revolving around the fact that in less than a month myself and Herself are going to be parents. It has gone beyond the stage where we can feign shock at the end of youth, as there is no escaping our fate now. Not that I’m complaining.

It’s a strange feeling as we roll into the final month of the pregnancy. We know that we will have a little screaming, kicking, and shitting little baby right here in the living room I’m writing from now. We know that, as has been explained over and over again, that sleep deprivation and all sorts of other non-childless phenomena await, and you know I think we’re no longer worried about that. I suppose it’s what comes with the job.

If anything what is of greatest concern to myself and Herself is that we are going to be more responsible than ever to someone other than ourselves for almost as large a portion of our lives as we have been alive already. You think of it that way and you can understand our real concerns.

One image that comes to mind is that I was talking to someone recently who told me that after his first child was born he recalls not understanding why the hospital staff were allowing him and his wife to take their child home, and did they not understand that they had little to no idea what they were doing with the tiny, vulnerable human being in their arms. I think many young families start this way, especially if the usual safety net of experienced family members is either on the other side of the country, or in my case, a wet and windy island off the coast of the far end of the Eurasian continent.

However, Korea can be an incredibly convenient country to live in, and pregnancy definitely falls within this category. Over the past few months Herself has been availing of a plethora of free (or incredibly affordable – cheap is a different category) classes ranging from caring for child/baby in the home to aqua aerobics and yoga. Many of these are provided by our maternity hospital which even goes as far as to send a mini-bus out to collect her. We also had a breathing exercise class, which basically told us how Herself should be breathing as the labour progresses.

This was, I suppose my first introduction to the world which Herself has been inhabiting for the past few months. In I walked to a room full of youngish men, many around the same age as I am and all looking equally terrified, and their pregnant wives. Much of the class’s contents went over my head as the instructor appeared to inform us things we could have read about easily enough, along with a few things I found odd.

One thing she mentioned was that if the father talks to your baby while it is in the womb it will become more intelligent. I asked for the peer reviewed paper supporting her reasoning. She looked and smiled and continued talking. Another piece of advice included you should have a natural birth because it’s good for the baby, which is fine, but all I could think of was that she was guilting women who may actually need to have a C-section. I may have been wrong but that was the impression I got.

The real fun came after the breathing when she wanted to demonstrate the posture and methods for what can be only described as the final push. The instructor wasn’t very good at demonstrating to the class (she was a bit ould so I suppose straddling a table and showing us an example may have been beyond her). So when she described the position and the action, my 36 week pregnant wife wasn’t at her most flexible for turning around to see what to do. When our lovely instructor, and she is actually quite nice, then decided that the people who were past 35 weeks should do a demonstration for everyone else, well you can imagine how delighted we were to find out we were the only people that far gone. The whole room watched as herself lay on her back with her knees pulled up to her chest, whilst we were instructed to pull and push, as one would do if one was struggling with bathroom issues, all preceded by a deep breath and heavy squeezing grunt. Hilarious stuff indeed. I know what you’re thinking; sore thumb syndrome to beat the bad.

So that was grand.

What’s also really beneficial about having the baby here though is what I’ve discovered to quite a treat and one which is not a regular attraction in hospitals of the western world, and it’s called a joriwon (조리원). This is essentially a nursing home or convalescent centre for women after they have their baby. It is where we will stay for a week and where the baby will be gently coaxed into our existence, where they will cook for Herself, where they will have daily yoga and massages for herself, where they will take the baby off our hands and feed it or look after it if we need a little extra sleep, and mostly where we will avoid the true reality of screaming, kicking, and shitting for at least seven days after we leave the hospital. Yes I know it’s cheating, but I’m sure there are plenty among us who would leap at a chance for something like this.

So basically that’s everything about the pregnancy and everything worth talking about this weather. At least everthing worth saying, right. Much of our time these days is spent watching the calendar and perusing the internet looking for more ideas on something or othe to do with the pregnancy. You can call it study.

Oh, me mammy sent over loads of lovely knitted stuff – revelling in her role as Grannius-Maximus (I’m dead now).

And it’s Autumn, which is always enjoyable in Korea.

That’s as good a conclusion I can offer, as I don’t have much of an opinion these days. It’s all about existing and getting on with it. Opinions are slowing me down.

 

 

 

P.S. Actually what’s probably slowing me down is the agonisingly slow death of my five year old laptop. If anyone would like to donate a new one, I’ll let you know where to send it. Sound.