My last blog entry was over six weeks ago. Seems parenting doesn’t leave much time to blog. Who’d have thought it? Well I’m back with a vengeance – armed with wet wipes in case of any ‘interruptions’ - and I’d love to tell you what I’ve been up to in my first few weeks as Gayby Daddy.
I'll get the cheesecake, you get the ice cream, now lets begin.
We left off with me about to spend my first night in the hospital in Houston, Texas, with my son Felix. I’d been given a room reserved for mothers after labour. It was a pokey little room with a fold-out bed, a TV, a shower, a loo and not much else really. My sister, Suraiya, was staying in the hospital that night too having just had Felix by C-section as surrogate for me, but she was in a different part of the hospital, so I’d be thrown in at the deep end with no bikini. The nurse told me that I’d be handling everything – the feeding, burping, nappy-changing and keeping a close eye on oxygen, heartrate and other vitals using the monitor he was hooked up to.
Everyone left. I looked at him lying there in the cot. He was pretty quiet but the monitor was beeping constantly. The beep would occasionally drop out which was scary, but after running screaming to the nurses a couple of times I was told this was normal and sometimes due to the wires becoming loose when he moves. They had told me to feed him every three hours to begin with and change his nappy whenever needed. I’d only ever changed one nappy before (my nephew’s) and I’d put it on the wrong way round so that the back looked like a thong. This time was more of a success though thank God. After changing and feeding Felix he dozed off. I really should’ve slept while he was sleeping but my brain was still in pre-father-Salim land, and in that land its fun to stay up late, so I decided to go and visit my sister in her room. I walked briskly down the hall with the pace of a person blissfully unaware he'd just had his last full night’s sleep. My sister was with her friend, Josh, having the drink she’d waited nine months for.
I joined them for a bit but didn’t drink as I was in Mother Teresa mode. I then went for something to eat in the cafeteria before going back to my room to sleep. The rest of the night was pretty tiring actually. Felix wasn’t as settled as before and I had to jump out of bed every time he moaned or cried. Also I jumped up whenever the beeping from the monitor dropped out, even though the nurses had told me that most of the time it meant nothing. Have you ever heard one of those things flatline?? As if I’d hear that and think “Oh I’m sure he’ll be fine” and go back to sleep. It happened so often I dragged the bed closer to his cot so I had less space to stumble through. Whenever I woke to feed him I’d be so tired my eyes would be half shut. My head would be so heavy with sleep that it kept dropping down and jolting back up again. I looked like one of those bouncy toys in the back of a car. But hey-ho, first lesson learnt – next time he so much as blinks I need to run to my bed like there’s no tomorrow.
The next day we checked out of the hospital. I was a bit nervous leaving the monitoring machine and all of the nurses to go it alone, but also kind of excited too. I was a dad now, beginning my new life with my son. I waltzed out of there carrying Felix in the car seat like the latest must-have accessory.
Josh drove Suraiya, Felix and me home where we were greeted by congratulating messages written in chalk on the garage door by my mum. We laughed as we pulled into the driveway. She’d been so excited about our arrival and wanted to tell the world. It was really sweet. This was the first time she’d met Felix as she’d been housebound looking after my sister’s three boys (one aged 4 and twins aged 2) throughout the whole birth, so she was over the moon when I walked in with him.
From then on in it was business as usual really. Felix had two doctor’s appointments, received his birth certificate, social security number and US passport. I began the application for his British passport and researched into the necessary paperwork for international travel as a sole parent. It amazed me how much admin was involved in a new baby!
He made some friends and I tagged along for the ride. My sister’s colleagues arranged a baby shower. They bought such cool gifts and really splashed out on decorations and food. I couldn't thank them enough. The best part was that they put a cowboy hat and boots on him and did a little photoshoot. It was so lovely to see how much effort they put in.
As the weeks crept by, Felix began learning about the world around him and I continued learning how to be a father. Feeding became more regular. He slowly started to drink more and would stick his tongue out when he was hungry. Waking up through the night became routine. I bought a baby carrier as he liked to be held. I perfected my burping technique. He grew into his looks – his eyes went from blue to brown, his skin darkened and he found his smile. And what a smile it was. The whole thing was, and continues to be, a wonder to behold.
In general, life moves slowly here and I love every minute. I play the part of the Texan family man without the shotgun. As well as a father, I also get to be an uncle, brother and son. I take my mum to garage sales, I run errands for my sister, I play with my nephews and I go to the gym. I drive my sister’s 4x4 blasting country music with the windows down and the warm breeze in my face, I chat to the staff at the local Dunkin Donuts drive-thru who know my daily coffee order, I do my shopping at the Hispanic supermarket in Pasadena, and so on.
A few years ago my sister came here on holiday, met a guy and started a long distance relationship before getting married. She’s now divorced but has continued living here and my mum followed sometime after to help with the kids. Because of this, I’ve been coming to Houston to visit my family every year for almost a decade, but this time it feels even more like a home away from home. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it. Its not hugely cultural, its ultra republican, its super patriotic and its SO hard to stay slim, but for all its 'shortcomings' it has its charm. You can’t fault that southern hospitality and I enjoy the fact that its so different to London. I’ve always enjoyed dusk here. I know that sounds strange because dusk is everywhere, but there’s something about it here that really reminds me I’m far from home – the red night sky, the humidity in the air - it transports me to another place and I love Texas for that.
So that’s it – the halfway point of my three-month parental leave. I’m dreading it ending and going back to London in April. I can’t help but think I’m in a bubble now, one where a man really gets to dedicate himself to his family and isn’t tainted by the stress of a job, bills and other commitments. Will it feel the same when I’m back on the tube travelling to work everyday in a grey, rainy rush hour with eight hours till I see my son? Thankfully, I have a few more dusks to enjoy before that question is answered.