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.

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.