This month, our Dad Diary is written by photographer Gerrard Gethings
all about bringing up three year-old Jarvis
Being a parent is like nothing I could have imagined. It’s mind-boggling that something such astonishingly hard work, with absolutely no wages or thanks, could be so rewarding. It’s so rewarding, in fact, that in many ways, much of my previous life feels a bit frivolous; lots of memories that I can’t really remember. I should have started breeding years ago: by now I would have an army of cuties. My house would be filled with tiny shoes. There’d be really low scuff marks on all the doors, and on every hook, a pint-sized puffa jacket.
I know that every parent feels like this, but I do secretly believe that my boy is just a little bit nicer than everyone else’s. He’s funnier, cleverer, cuter, can run faster, has better tantrums, wears nicer trousers. His name is Jarvis, and he is amazing.
Jarvis started nursery the other day. I prepared for this by feeling sick for a week. I’d never understood why my own mother cried on her doorstep every time I left after a visit. For twenty five years she waved and wept. Like I was going off to war. Most of the time I was going to Stoke Newington. It all seemed so unnecessary. I concluded at the time that my mother was a softy.
The day Jarvis started nursery we woke around 6.30am. It has become a habit to all climb into the ‘big bed’ and have morning drinks. It’s the best part of the day. We wake at a civilised time and chat about our plans. We read books, play games, make daisy chains, stuff like that. Or at least that’s what anyone who follows my social media would think. It’s all high jinx and megalolz on there! In the real world, like everyone else, we mooch back under the covers and stare mindlessly at electronic devices: iPhone, iPad, iPhone. The difference today was that I couldn’t drink my tea. I felt sick. Proper giving-a-speech, big-presentation, getting-married sick. It occurred to me that I should probably panic.
I had gone through the baby-planning stages in a fairly casual way because, to be quite honest, I didn’t really want a baby. Being 43 years old, I wasn’t quite ready to start my own family. At 37, my wife felt quite differently. So in the spirit of fair play, I decided to take a more active part in the conversation.
‘Fine,’ I would say, ‘as long as he/she won’t take up too much time, or cost too much money, or interfere with our social life, or nause up our spontaneous weekends away; or the wine, remember how we love the wine; or make a mess, or interrupt our sleep… I’m in!’ This conversation went on for about five years. Eventually, Katherine tried a different approach: ‘How about we stop trying to NOT get pregnant.’ It was suitably confusing that I agreed we should implement this new system immediately. Being in my early forties, I suspected that there was a fairly strong chance I wasn’t up to the task anyway. We would give it our best shot, then when it didn’t work out, console ourselves with a nice mini-break! The perfect crime. This conversation took place on Boxing Day 2013. By the first week of January, Katherine was pregnant.
Planning for the baby was a lot of fun. It involved online shopping for lots of tiny shoes and miniature contraptions. It also involves a fair amount of being sick. Unfortunately, this responsibility falls squarely at the feet of the pregnant person. Despite this, the next six months were brilliant. Katherine was eating for two, and I have to say did an admirable job. Towards October, things were so great, and Katherine was coping so well with all the eating, that I became a bit concerned that when young Jarvis finally arrived, he may actually ruin our perfectly enjoyable pregnancy. I still wasn’t 100% looking forward to owning a baby. Not in the way that some people seem to. Certainly not in the way that I’d looked forward to picking up my dog eight years ago. When we went to get Baxter, I could hardly breathe with excitement. I insisted Katherine drove so that I could concentrate on nibbling his ears all the way home. I feared the baby’s arrival would be different.
I had prepared myself for the birth as best I could. Knowing that in many ways I would be useless, I imagined myself as a boxing trainer. Standing in Katherine’s corner, shouting encouragement and tightening her gloves. It all seemed a bit grisly; an exhausting hurdle to be overcome. Worst of all, at the end of it we would have to invite a little stranger to come and live with us.
In reality it was one of only a handful of truly remarkable days I’ve ever experienced, all of which have been shared with Katherine: my wedding day, my mother’s death and now the birth of Jarvis. The whole thing was a whirlwind of pain and tears and love. Jarvis Baxter Gethings arrived in a speedy six hours. He lay on the scales all naked and brazen, squinting at me like a mean jockey, and he changed everything.
So: Jarvis started nursery the other day. We took him down there together. It was heartbreaking and hilarious. I couldn’t stand the thought of him not being with me any more. Fortunately, as I was trying to hold myself together, I was distracted by the sight of Katherine, hobbling across the classroom with a coat over her shoulders, led by not one but two members of staff. She was walking like James Brown in that old concert footage. In absolute floods of tears. It was one of the funniest and nicest things I’ve ever seen. She was in good hands. Nursery staff are experts at administering cuddles. I think the other parents, who obviously don’t like their children so much, thought she was having a nervous breakdown. I assured them that we probably didn’t need an ambulance. I’d take her home, put her in the recovery position and feed her tea.
We left Jarvis there, happy as a pig, completely oblivious to the fact that we’d gone. He was playing with the kids that will become his first friends.
I pick him up almost every day and it’s like a scene from a corny Richard Curtis movie. He runs across the playground beaming and shouting my name (not my real name) and I scoop him up. He hugs me with his arms, legs and head. I carry him as much of the way home as my age will allow. He tells me his lovely, nonsense tales, and I worry about everything in the world.