I don’t think men are ever ready to have kids.
When I told the father of my children I was pregnant, he went off sailing for a week with zero contact (whilst my mother fretted and my father went ballistic). In that time, I thought seriously about having an abortion because I had already been accepted for medical school. He, in the meantime, contemplated running off to Paris to start a new life.
Looking back, I don’t blame him. He was in his twenties, enjoying an exciting, selfish life to the maximum. He worked enough (rather than climb the career ladder) to feed his hobbies. Feeding kids certainly wasn’t on his agenda. He lived out of a suitcase in his friend’s back room, spending all his money on his three boats and alcohol.
I told him the news at Langstone Harbour, England. I had walked there, to make it more dramatic. He was about to set off for the Olympics Trial. He was ranked 21st in the country for the Finn class sailing, and was filled with optimism and excitement for a bright future ahead. Getting the one-night stand pregnant certainly wasn’t on his agenda.
But he came back, and came through strong for his child and I. Beneath the hellraiser was a decent, honourable Catholic boy. He came back after a week at sea. Though I freed him of all obligations, he wasn’t going to let me bring up his child on my own. He wasn’t going to allow me to have an abortion. He believed in the sanctity of life, that life is a gift whatever the circumstances.
Of course he wasn’t the perfect partner. To start off with, we are so different from each other, with nothing in common except animal passion. He wasn’t excited the way first time dads are supposed to be. He didn’t want to attend parenting classes or go shopping for baby things. He couldn’t understand how I changed from a fit, sporty person to this hormonal, weak woman. He just didn’t want to know.
But when his first son arrived, there was just the biggest smile on his face. Those startling blue eyes softened the way I have never seen them soften. His big hands cradled the new life we had unwittingly, accidentally, made. He came to his firstborn with such reverence.
My mother said she will never forget the smile on his face as he walked down the path to my house at 8am on the unforgettable April morning to tell my parents the news in person. He walked, with pride and happiness radiating from him, my blood and amniotic fluid still on his jeans. My mother said she often sees that young man walking down the path, almost three decades later.
He was the perfect father the moment he held his firstborn, and he continues to be the perfect father for all his children. He is the one who read to them every night and kissed them with gratitude every night, more so than me.
And that summer, standing on Langstone Harbour, we saw his beloved Fireball sailing out in the Solent with her new owners. The sail was billowing, and someone was on the trapeze on the boat, skimming the waves, cruising at speed.
“There she goes,” he said with emotion, blue eyes crinkling as he stared at his beloved Fireball setting off. We were leaving our much-loved Portsmouth, where I come from, to go to Manchester, where I will be starting university, to an uncertain future, far from the life that we had originally intended.
It’s August 2014. In 18 months’ time when we return to England, I will buy him a Fireball so that he may sail in these waters once more. Though the years have aged him, the blue in his eyes never changed. He will always be the man I love, the father of my children. Looking at our big brood of beautiful children, I know I couldn’t have asked for more, because what is life, if not family?
And so, with learned wisdom and experience, here’s what I think: men are never voluntarily ready to trade in their carefree life for fatherhood. It’s just too scary, and if you read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, it is counter-intuitive biologically. You just have to pick a decent one to give your womb space to, that’s all. Tip: Spanish genes and Catholic upbringing are strong bets.