The adventures of Pāpā Piripi #1: How not to prepare for fatherhood

Kia ora! I’m Piripi. I’m a writer and a fried-chicken enthusiast. I also used to think of myself as a husband, but marriage has taught me I’m actually just a live-in masseuse. Either that or a poorly stocked ATM. I’m also a first-time dad to a tiny narcissist – I mean beautiful baby boy. 

How NOT to prepare for dadhood

Everything was packed weeks in advance. I had all the baby stuff, my wife’s favourite snacks, seven changes of clothes and a secret stash of KFC waiting for me in the car, just in case. Although a hospital visit at 41 weeks led to us needing to induce labour rather quickly, weeks and months of preparation had paid off. We were ready.

I had even taken the extra step of intentionally sleeping in for as long as physically possible in the weeks prior. Some days I would wake up exceptionally well-rested at ten or eleven-something, look at the time, and then laugh greedily to myself as I went back to sleep for several more entirely unnecessary hours. I’d savoured and said goodbye to everything about being a non-dad I could think of, including flying home to Christchurch for one final dependant-free Friday night at Smash Palace, the greatest pub in the country.

All of this helped me feel like I’d even prepared myself emotionally. I was excited – especially for the moment I’d get to hold him for the first time. I did not believe it possible to be more ready or adequately prepared to be a dad. But then it happened.

I became a dad.
I was not excited. I was not prepared.

I remember it. The moment I peered over the hospital-green curtain they use for C-sections right as he was pulled up into the world, and I saw what could only be described as some type of gooey alien spawn in a state of intense distress (crying for his alien mother, perhaps? She would be dangerous! Was she close by? I did not know).

Entirely contrary to my imaginings of seeing my own child for the first time – the overwhelming sense of pride mixed with tears of joy and awe all at once – the only feelings I felt were those of a strange primal origin, which communicated four things to my brain and limbs:

“What is that? Why is it purple? That’s not yours. Run.”

Now, of all the situations where you want your fight or flight response to kick in, the birth of your own child is not one of them. Thankfully I chose the flight option. There are not many things as irredeemably shameful as getting put in a chokehold by the doctor who just delivered your son, even if he is weirdly sexy and looks like he belongs on Shortland Street.

In the end I resisted the urge to flee, and upon further inspection it did indeed prove to be a human baby, my baby, and a pretty standard one at that. And after another five or so minutes of devastating emotional bewilderment – partly due to the impending disappearance of evenings at the pub – I couldn’t have been happier to be holding my goopy wee son on my chest, singing his oriori to him and telling him how much his whānau and tīpuna loved him.

Over the last four months I’ve often thought about that first moment I saw him. Because that feeling of shock hasn’t been a one-off. Actually being a dad is different to what I imagined. It’s harder. It’s overwhelming some days. And some of those days – yeah, all I feel like doing is just walking out of the house and leaving my wife to deal with it.

A friend and I were talking the other day, and he suggested that maybe it seems extra hard at this stage because lots of us guys don’t imagine having actual babies. It sounds weird but think about it.

Being a dad isn’t just reading Scarface Claw to a toddler, building epic huts with a seven-year-old and then teaching them to drive four years later (somewhere safe and abandoned of course, like a carpark or anywhere in Invercargill after 6pm).

It does involve finally having a shower and then immediately getting peed on. You’re not allowed to teach them to drive, they don’t understand sports yet, they suck at talking about fun topics like politics and WWII history and it involves actual babies. 

I’m only three months into this tough, epic journey, but it keeps getting better. He’s already noticing so much about the world. If he’s on my chest, he sleeps perfectly through 90’s apocalypse movies and his farts are louder than most ten-year olds’. Legend.

What it’s taken me about three months too long to learn is this: the more nappies you change, the more massages you give and the more KFC you keep stashed somewhere – the better. You can’t be prepared for everything, but how could you ever be fully prepared for the most important job of your life?

Just keep going. Babies rule.

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