Fatherhood, Day 2

Well, my boy is… Hang on, what’s 8:30pm on April 4 to now. Hmmm. Thirty-six-and-a-half hours I’d say. In one of the longest days of my life yesterday (and I’ve seen days chemically assisted into glacial epochs), we met him properly, fed him, saw him sleep, saw him poop, and so on. Baby Ray got grouchy (well, wouldn’t you if a big hand cut you out of your sofa and plopped you under a heat lamp?); he got a little sick. He slept; he stared at nothingness. Time marched on.

We left him in the nursery at about 8pm last night so that we could get much-needed sleep (this after consulting the Internet, which agreed with this strategy) but he wailed for the nipple and came back to us. At 2:30am he was returned to the nursery, and he is there now having been a little sick again. Rebecca is sleeping. I’ve had about 400 cups of tea and here we are. It’s 9:30am on April 6.

Rebecca is worried that she cares about baby Ray only in a compassionate sense, rather than a bonding, motherly sense. Me too, I guess: about fatherhood. It’s really hard to say: measuring human feeling is so clearly subjective that one man’s pork is very much another’s poop. No one can look anyone else in the eye and say: I am sure that this feeling I have is the same as yours. That is until scientists invent the feel-o-meter.

I do know that when I looked into baby’s eyes last night as I walked him around the hospital corridor, I felt a connection. Whether this is only because I am, in general, a sensitive, empathetic kind of person is hard to say. When he cried during his Hep B vaccination I felt wrenched inside, but also somewhat detached as I knew it was for his benefit. Oh emotion, how fickle thou art.

I also went back to my own early childhood in the past 24 or so hours to re-examine feelings and emotions. Raised well by parents that were not overly cossetting but also not overly remote, I feel somewhat normal.

I can say that my mum (God bless her and rescue her) is hardly sentimental, but I do remember her crying when I went to school one day, head hung low with another pretend throaty thing (oh, what a callous child). My dad isn’t demonstrably affectionate but then I wasn’t as a child either. We have a mutual respect for each other now that’s grown out of intellectual affinity, a shared bitter and wry humor and a love of great TV, music and film.

My own childhood was about 40 years ago, of course. These days, we are encouraged to share our lives with strangers, and many feel the need to divulge and expose emotions with strangers, almost as if to validate them. Now it seems that if a “feeling” can’t be expressed in an open and obvious way, it is questionable or un-normal.

This topic is hackneyed so I won’t dwell on it. But I can imagine what my mum or her mum would have said. Back in the day there was no time to ponder bonding or anything else intangible. The reality was that you had a baby: you dealt with it, or it died. I can’t help but think that life was easier back then. Not better; just easier.

Ray, a drop of golden sun.

Ray, a drop of golden sun.

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On family, friends…

Way, waaaay back, to almost what seems like a thousand years ago now, Rebecca and I visited our family and friend in the UK. The trip was notable for many reasons, chiefly among these being that it was the first time Rebecca had met “the fam” on home turf, and for being possibly the last time I see my mum in a fully functioning state.

There were other notables: a lovely blessing of our wedding at Romsey Abbey, a rainy and cold trip to London, and a wonderful Christmas day. But I am seeing the trip more and more through the lens of what could be the last time I see my family “as was” notwithstanding the fact that my sister was (and is) recovering from a life-threatening illness. And that same illness has clutched its fist around my mum since that time, and has recently led to complications that are ongoing and possibly irreversible.

Time will, as always, tell.

On the Christmas trip itself, well it couldn’t have been better overall. Our flight was with Singapore Airlines and so was made somewhat humane with decent grub and good movies (and during the transits between JKT and SG, we were treated to excellent service courtesy of the ground staff, with Rebecca six months pregnant at that time).

With a 39-degree difference in overall temperature comfort, the UK was its usual dreary self, but somewhat brightened by Christmas cheer. I had forgotten that almost all houses would be warmly lit from the inside with tinsel and tat whatever the drear level outside. I had forgotten the spirit of Christmas; while I don’t believe that Christ was born on December 25, the spirit of forgiveness, of family and of friends and of celebration, should prevail, as should the spirit of giving.

I am especially happy that I was given the opportunity to see all of the four main women in my life in one place: my sister, my grandmother and my mother, all of whom are at varying stages of un-wellness (plus Rebecca, of course). And to see my dad, who, it turns out, is currently our rock—while he and I didn’t actually have a traditionally “difficult” relationship at any time, what we do have has grown much stronger and more personal over the past 20 years as we’ve realized that, indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

In the past few weeks, he has been called on to support the rest of our family and has not been found wanting. He is proving capable and caring.

Happy times late last year.

Happy times late last year.

I wish I could say the same for myself in other respects as regards the UK trip. When I visited there was some attempted manipulation of friends before I went and when I was there, to try to avert what I saw as potential conflicts of interest between friends and myself. Of course, there was no such conflict.

The other potential bone of contention is that I have found faith, while my friends, presumably have not, although for me, this is no deal-breaker since I am not anti-atheist and nor am I a Bible-thumping evangelist. And I would hope that they would know that I’m still, in essence, “me.”

This is why in the first paragraph, I put “family and friend” since I only saw one guy—my best man, whom I’ve known since I was 13. I wish I’d not been so worried about other people and just called them up instead of hiding behind email.

As it turns out, what with things being the way they are, I’m glad to have seen so much of mum and dad and my sister. But in a life in which I’ve seen two major upheavals that involve me changing countries of residence in the past 13 years, friends help to anchor you wherever you are by providing a sense of context and comparison in a life like mine. And without them, there can occasionally be a strong sense of being adrift in a distant land.

So, chin-chin to those reading this. I hope to see you again.

“Good friends are like stars; you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

Wife/Mother/Personal Assistant

I recently read someone’s blog, which said that the first day a woman becomes a mother is the day she conceives (or the day she knew she has conceived) because that’s the day she started taking care of the little pea inside her womb. My mother was sitting next to me when I was reading it and I asked her when she thinks a woman becomes a mother: “The day she got herself a husband,” she said with no doubt.

 

I think I know what she’s saying. For a long time I thought it wasn’t joke when people would say that a woman’s first child is her husband. When I observe married men around me, from different generations and colors, many of them do rely on their wives. And I’m not talking about things like cooking and cleaning: I’m talking about running their lives for them so that they only need to breathe and walk.

 

It may have something to do with their birth order and upbringing as young men. It may have something to do with when they flew out of the nest, if at all. For me, I think it also depends on the woman he is with.

 

Matthew is the firstborn of two and was brought up doing the dishes and making his own bed. However, he never really flew the nest until he was 27 (and subsequently moved across the globe when he was 29). He is generally clean, tidy, and a good cook [and not a bad editor, he adds in here].

 

He doesn’t need me to survive daily life. But every morning I tell myself to get up and prepare his breakfast and that day’s wear. I also pack him lunch and style his hair before he leaves. I do administration and planning for all of our travels and family finances. So yeah, all he’s got to do is breathe and walk.

 

I have to add that I can do all that because I work from home. I don’t have the stress level of big-city commuters. But if you think about it, I could also choose not to do anything at all. I could have said 50-50, partner! It’s very traditional of me to do all that for my husband without resentment—and I’m a feminist.

 

But hey: there isn’t just one formula to make things work in a relationship. Our formula includes having separate bathrooms and a joint account. This may not be necessary for your relationship. Nonetheless, there are things you cannot change in the equation: that women are the ones to get pregnant and that women are the mothers of the family, whether it’s a family of two or 20.

 

So when is the day do you think a woman becomes a mum?

Image

With my mum and baby brother when they came to visit me in Bali.

 

 

Further father musings

Well, D-day draws ever nearer. Or B-day, I should say. And our pregnancy has been largely uncomplicated it seems (likely because I keep watching extreme pregnancy shows like 29 Cats, 13 Dogs, 27 Kids and Counting My Secret Pregnancy Fat Body).

There have been some worries: we found out that our baby has an abnormal heartbeat this week, for example (it beats like a speeded-up waltz—sort of) but the doc says that this is normal—it will right itself and is nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Then there’s my concern that I’m somehow not planning properly, or that I’m not pre-bonding, or that I’m not supporting Rebecca enough. Again, this is common for dads-to-be, apparently (so says the pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Apropos of this, the latter fear is a little like a recurring nightmare I used to have: I’d find myself at school (possibly in my dinosaur pajamas or naked) only to find that I have an important exam that day, and have done absolutely no preparation. This, I’ve been led to believe, is also common for insecure people. (And nothing to worry about, nor, ironically, to be insecure about.)

So I do hope I’m baby-prepared; I do know that I am somewhat baby-competent already, having helped a few friends baby-sit here and there over the past 20 years.

So, tick tock: time moves ever onwards, such is its nature. These last fleeting weeks of being just a couple have been increasingly precious. We planned to do so much (the canceled Bali pre-babymoon, for example), but in the end, it’s just being together that counts, be it slumped in bed watching gloomy, clunky US cop shows, or slumped in Starbucks, post-shopping.

I only hope the increase in slumping conserves the time and energy needed for the post-baby chaos.

And on this point, for me there’s been an ongoing and very necessary readjustment of some deeply ingrained personality traits. I am a neatness and routine freak to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. I have my bedtime routine, my waking routine (and more), and a very strong need to be in control of what I am doing, and in my surroundings.

This can lead to antisocial behavior and attitudes: I don’t like people coming into the apartment and neither do I like being in large crowds. I am a man of few friends. I am at my happiest staying in with Rebecca and a cup of tea and a good movie. I turn my phone off at every opportunity and only reluctantly check email.

(How much of this is a converse reaction to some very-hard-partying in my 20s is arguable, and best argued with a shrink or pharmacologist. That said, I do swim and sunbathe and work out: I’m not a hermit, just a loner.)

So having a baby, with all the baby baggage, thousand-strong relatives, chaos, sick and poo and wee, and sleepless nights… All will require some considerable effort on my part—and so it should.

But I am making great strides already, I’m happy to report, at ease as I am now around Rebecca’s family with much-improved language and social skills, and with a sunnier disposition than I’ve had for many a year. I’m also enjoying talking to Rebecca’s tummy.

I am going to miss my “me time,” of course, and we will miss our “us time.” But in April there will only be “we time” for forever more. A daunting thought, but hey: just how hard can it be to be a parent?

Wedding Planning (the sequel)

This week, a year ago, Matthew and I were in massive stress. We were in the middle of a big art exhibition that we were both working on. His company, which held the event, hired my company to manage the media coverage. ALSO, we were at D-4 of our own engagement dinner, which means we had Matthew’s parents coming down from the UK that week. And this is all happening while I was still living in Bali and Matthew just recently moved to Jakarta.

We never (before and since) experience that level of stress and that jam-packed of a schedule. That one only confirmed my decision to quit my job and move to Jakarta, both of which were not desirable at all.

I landed in Jakarta two days before Christmas 2011 and I immediately dived into organizing our destination wedding that was scheduled in 3 months. With the help of three teams of wedding planner (from the chapel, the reception venue, and Bella Donna, bride’s professional little helpers), the party of 200 was a success. Everything went beautifully despite my sudden onset of severe urticaria.

And guess what, this week, I am doing it all over again: destination-wedding planning amidst business trips and events!

“But why? What for?” some of you ask just like my parents and friends did. Well, Matthew’s parents attended the engagement party but had to miss the wedding due to being elderly and frail. They also had to be on stand-by for Matthew’s 95 year-old grandmother since Matthew’s sister and her son will be travelling to Bali with us. So, to be fair to both sides of the family, we decided to do another wedding in Hampshire, UK, next month.

Half of Matthew's entire family!

Half of Matthew’s entire family!

Funny thing is, three of my friends get married these weeks, which means busy weekends for us on top of church activities leading up to Christmas. Also, two of my closest friends recently got engaged and are constantly calling me to consult about their 2013 wedding. So basically, I cannot run away from the whole wedding business.
Again, this wedding is a destination wedding. I am choosing and checking venues, menu, etc. from a far. My in-laws help, of course.

So far I have the church and reception venue booked. We’re going to have the blessing at Romsey Abbey, followed by lunch at The White Horse hotel.

Romsey Abbey exterior

Romsey Abbey exterior

The White Horse Hotel exterior

The White Horse Hotel exterior

My custom-made dress (for pregnant bride) is being made as we speak. The satin white gloves I bought from Amazon arrived at my in-laws house last week.

I will do hair and face myself. (I decided that Caucasian make up artist will not know what to do with my mixed Asian face and complexion)

The photographer is booked and we will just buy the hand bouquet at a local florist. What did I miss?

Oh, right! I need a long thick coat because this is going to be my first proper winter and I am not going to be my own “something blue” 😛

Thoughts on impending fatherhood

Rebecca said something unexpected to me the other night as we settled down at our somewhat geriatric bedtime of 8pm. She said that she feared I was not or would not bond with our April arrival.

Neither is true, I hope, but detachment is something a lot of to-be fathers feel, as I’ve found out in my extensive Internet studies into the matter (done in between researching ailments, conspiracies and news about cats).

Despite appearances, I’m not detached, though. What Rebecca sees in me is, to some extent, the classic English reserve. To another extent it’s that I somehow don’t believe it and/or my mind is mashed from all those stellar days at the office from Mondays to Fridays.

Actually, I’m over the moon; I just don’t shout it from the rooftops. But it has brought on a number of odd realizations and feelings, and it’s these I’d like to share. Well, if they weren’t odd, you wouldn’t want to read them, would you? Hmmm. As I thought.

1. Mirrors reflecting mirrors
Ever stood in a mirrored lift and seen your reflection going backwards right on to infinity? You can achieve the same effect with a handheld mirror and a wall-mounted mirror, but it’s awkward and somewhat rubbish.

So I see my future now, in a forward arc of smaller “me’s”, but getting less like me as time goes on and my genetic information is diluted. Behind me, my father, my grandfathers, and so on and so forth ad infinitum, only getting less like me. The result is a feeling of humility but also one of dwindling importance overall.

To illustrate some of the above, Rebecca will take a snapshot of her with our unborn child in the same pose / dress as one of my mum, with me inside, from 1969 before I even tasted the April 1970 daylight.

2. The biological imperative
So, for better or worse, I’ve now done what drives us humans to have sex (if it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t do it, and no children would be born). I’ve passed on my genetic material to a new generation. This has essentially made me a useful human being when it comes to population growth, and it means—at least to me—that I’ve done the thing I was meant to do. Which begs the question: what next? Fatherhood, I suppose.

3. Memories of my parents: am I too old / young?
My dad was 30 when I was born. My mum was 26. I am now 42 and remember being 12 (and 11, 10, 9, 8 … 4). This means I was 12 when my dad was as old as I am now. Back then, he was juggling a job he hated, as well as the family. Mum worked, too, and I clearly remember them being stressed out. Sometimes I was the cause. Still am, from time to time.

Now without getting all psychoanalytic on this point, I don’t feel 42. I don’t even feel grown up sometimes (Rebecca would concur that I am not, I’m sure). It’s not that I feel young, young at heart or any other clichés. I just don’t feel that I’ve reached the point where I can say, while beating my chest: I am man.

At the other end of this is the feeling that I’m somewhat late in this particular game. When our child is 42, I will be 84. And that really is old.

4. Repeating past mistakes
Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes our parents made? Philip Larkin certainly thought so in this rather rude poem (not for kids). Kate Bush also had some thoughts:

Just look at your father
And you’ll see how you took after him.
Me, I’m just another
Like my brothers
Of my mother’s genes.

The whims that we’re weeping for
Our parents would be beaten for
Leave the breast
And then the nest
And then regret you ever left.

All we’re ever looking for
Is another open door.
All we ever look for–another womb.
All we ever look for–our own tomb.
All we ever look for–ooh, la lune.
All we ever look for–a little bit of you, too.
All we ever look for,
But we never do score.

Kate’s rather perceptive in a screwy sort of way. But we love her for it.

I do remember my dad telling me more than once that he hoped I wouldn’t end up like him, working in the media (he was in advertising). And here I am, helping to run a publishing company and it causes me a little bit of anguish from time to time (though it is successful and so on). I’ve also made some quite misjudged life choices in the past, oooh, 30 years. And while I may not be the man I am today had I not made those choices, I’d have done one or two (or 10) things differently.

There again, we’re the product of our histories, striding blindly into the future. There is no past: only an ever-folding succession of presents.

Anyhoo. Just some musings while waiting for Rebecca to come back and talk at me. I hope you’ve found them interesting. At least worth reading anyway.

Sweet Seventeen (weeks old)

I kind of realized that in my last post I wasn’t painting a pretty picture of my pregnancy. You must understand: for someone who lives in a fast-paced and carefully planned life, a sudden addition to the family could be overwhelming. If you ask Matthew and I, “If you could redo it, would you still want to delay the pregnancy?” we both would say “Yes!”

However, when we think about the many people we personally know who are having trouble conceiving or who have lost their babies, we could not be thankful enough for this. We conceived on our first “try.” Thus far, we’ve sailed through this pregnancy without any serious complication.

Would you look at that spine!

The lowest point by far was probably what happened a couple of weeks ago. Matthew and I woke up at 6am, which is incredibly early for us, feeling like going to the gym. I had been going back to the gym on a weekly basis since I regained my strength past the first trimester mark. Then I had rice for breakfast at 7am. Then we went to church for a council meeting. Six hours later we went and had kebab for lunch. I only had a few bites and urged to go home. A few minutes down the road, I vomited my entire breakfast up. It was still in food form — that is, not digested at all.

At home, Matthew gave me banana milkshake as I couldn’t and didn’t want to eat anything. At 7pm I was still weak, so we walked to the nearest Emergency Room (or, as Matthew considers it, a swanky hotel for Jakarta mosquitoes). I was given an anti-nausea tablet, which I vomited back up five minutes later along with the banana milkshake I had drunk three hours before. I then decided that I have to take both nutrition and medication intravenously.

We rushed by taxi (which took forever to arrive) to Brawijaya Women and Children’s Hospital, where I normally go for routine check-ups. On the way, I booked myself a room by phone. But lo and behold, they were fully booked.

Then I thought: no vacant taxis and no vacant room in a Women’s hospital? Of course! It’s November 10th, i.e. 10-11-12. It’s THE day people want to get married and give birth. Oh, Asians and your obsession with numbers… T_T

I then said goodbye to my money and got me a “presidential” suite at that hospital. It’s actually bigger than my old Bali apartment; it had a bathtub and a shower, as well as a sofa bed for dear husband, a living room with flat-screen cable TV, and a dining room. Eighty percent of total cost of this hospitalization was the room charge.

I could live here if only there were no crying babies next door.

Anyway, the nurses and doctors were surprised and a bit confused as to why someone who’s 17 weeks along could be throwing up. And there was really nothing wrong with me. No symptom of virus or bacteria or toxic or allergy reaction. My digestive system was just out of order and I needed an IV drip to stabilize.

I was discharged two days later. The following morning, my fetus turned 18 weeks and it was the first time I felt it kicking and punching in my tummy. Amazingly, I didn’t feel like throwing up 🙂