After the initial shock of Sam's birth had started to wear off, things began to slow down. There were a few calm, almost peaceful hours where Cat was transferred to a labour ward, somewhat ironically at this point, and we just sat in stunned silence, unable to comprehend what was going on. Was any of this real? I've got to be dreaming, surely?
We were not.
Eventually we were told we could go to the neonatal Intensive Care Unit to see Sam. He'd been put in an incubator, had a ventilator in his mouth and I couldn't even count the number of wires he was hooked up to. I can't compare the mix of emotions we went through looking at him. We weren't allowed to hold him, just put our arms through a small window to touch his tiny palms.
4lbs, 9oz he weighed, remarkably big for a baby they estimated was about 10 weeks premature. He wasn't even the length of my forearm. We stayed next to him for as long as we could but it was nearly morning at this point and a decision had to be made: whose parents do we call first?
As you might expect, I took the bullet and volunteered Catherine to go first. We had tried calling them when we went into hospital but could only leave a voicemail. Needless to say they were very relieved to hear Cat's voice and let's just say, there were a lot of tears on both ends of the phone.
I had thought that letting Cat go first would give me time to think of what I was going to say to my dad, but it made no difference. I still remember the trepidation of dialling his number at 7am. At the time, having often been away at uni, we were used to going a while without calling each other. We'd become accustomed to the philosophy of 'no news is good news'; so it was no surprise to me when I rang him this early on a random Monday morning that he greeted me with ever caring,
(For clarity, this did NOT help.)
"Hi dad," I squeaked like a mouse. The rest I don't fully remember but I struggled to sum up the events of the last 12 hours and managed to garble that, "Cat had some stomach pains, only they weren't stomach pains and basically - I'm a dad."
Now how would you react if your son told you this? Would you explode with rage? Would care and comfort and say something like, "Everything will be alright"? Whatever you said, your reaction would surely be highly emotional in circumstances as rare and strange as this, right. At least, that's what I expected.
"... basically - I'm a dad."
What does my dad say?
"Oh, is that all?"
"John are you still there?"
"Is that all!?" I cried. "Is that all!? Dad my life has changed forever! I have a child, I'm a father now, I have a son, I have MY OWN son!"
I'll never forget what he said:
"Yeah... so have I."
"Shit," I thought to myself.
It was that simple. Why on earth would I be panicking? What have I got to worry about? I'm just like him now - and that was it. The sudden realisation hit me that I was no longer responsible for my own actions, but somebody else's too. I was the one who would have to say things like that now. I couldn't just take advice, I would have to give it too - how on earth do I become like that?
It knocked me for 6. I was on another planet at this point. In 3 words he'd managed to not only simplify all my problems into nothing, he'd achieved something even bigger. He made me realise how much I'd needed him throughout my life and how I'd somehow have to live up to his 'level' of Dad. He managed to 'Out-Dad' me.
I couldn't go on, I just handed the phone to Cat and let her do the explaining. I think it turned out that in my garbled greeting I'd not managed to convey that we hadn't just found out Cat was pregnant, Sam had actually been born and his reaction became more appropriate thereafter.
Looking back, I like to hope I'm not as useless as I was then, it that moment. I'm just glad Sam wasn't able to see me look so pitiful and helpless. When Cat eventually passed me the phone back, my dad said he would come down after work.
Needless to say, the trepidation picked up again.