My heart melts when I look into my own baby’s eyes, and see her radiate love and joy towards me. Our six-month old now reaches out to touch my face as she smiles at me. She beams when I enter a room – and I dare not do so without going over to say hello. Her mother is her number one, of course. But I am pleased to be assuredly her second choice.
She reaches for me when she needs comfort, happily falls asleep in my arms, and will play with me and coo contentedly for hours.
With all my children, I’ve felt the enduring importance of the bond formed with them as small babies. In the past, fathers were often excluded from much involvement at that stage of the children’s lives. Indeed, sadly, fathers often remained somewhat remote figures throughout childhood. That was the case in industrial societies, at least.
However, in the more casual agrarian societies of the more distant past, fathers working the land rarely strayed so far from the homestead during the day. I imagine they would often wander home during the working day and would enjoy spending time with their babies, as time allowed. For all but the most hard-hearted are drawn to the company of a cherubic infant.
Now that most mothers work outside the home, fathers are once again becoming more involved in caring for their babies.
It is not always easy, but it’s a gift for us dads, in many ways. We get to be closer to our children than was possible in the past, because we become for a while a baby’s carer – the supplier of milk, the spooner of mushy food, the changer of nappies and the provider of comforting arms.
It is through thousands of such practical actions, done lovingly, that tiny children deeply learn who loves them, and who they can rely upon in times of need. I don’t think that is a lesson they ever forget.
Through this, the parent also develops an intuitive sensitivity about the child. Even by the age of three, the children will have forgotten all the events of their baby months, but I do not think they forget the emotional bonds formed at that remarkable stage of development.
Because my wife often has to do night shifts and weekend work, I’ve more experience than most of solo parenting as a father with one, two, three and now four kids in tow. It has always been demanding, often exhausting, but also some of the happiest days I can remember were spent hanging out with the kids.
I have bright memories of weekends spent loitering around Dublin with my then two toddlers, taking open top buses, cycling in the park, and then seeing the magic in their eyes as a bedtime story lit their imaginations, before they drifted off happily.
By the end of those weekends, I always felt I knew the kids much better – and they me. We always grew closer through the simple expedient of spending time together.
Now, with nine years between our oldest and our baby, I notice how much joy the older kids get from interacting with their baby sister. Hours are spent playing peekaboo, or singing her songs. They take delight at seeing her grow, and learning to wave, or to begin to murmur her first sounds. And that joy is reciprocated: her face erupts in joy when one of them comes to her.
She reaches out her arms and emits a special squeal of delight, which she reserves only for her siblings. Perhaps the greatest joy of all is seeing such love grow between your children.