This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries.
It’s not easy to record thoughts that are bleak without minding how others see you and without scaring those who care about you. That’s why a long entry on how difficult it was to see Sunshine and the baby in pain shall be left unpublished. Mind you it was nothing alarming, yet it caused great distress to us all. Looking back now on the day of our fourth wedding anniversary, I cannot bear the thought of something bad happening to them.
Some context. In the intervening period since the last entry, the baby had two minor, unrelated operations, the last one about a week ago. He recovered brilliantly and everything is fine and back to normal – both were routine operations, as everyone was eagerly pointed out in sympathy. That said, both required general anesthesia. The first was quite traumatic as the baby had a bad reaction to the anesthetic and needed to be physically restrained (by us) for hours after the operation. The one of last week was easier; crankiness and sleeplessness are the only side-effects, which although diminished they still persist.
Sunshine was also involved in a big car accident. After a few tiring months and against my better judgement, I was persuaded to consent to a trip in India, despite my preference for, to put it nicely, more luxurious destinations. As none of us had time to plan a trip, we outsourced everything to a travel agent with whom we had a meeting. Once we were done with the travel agent, we left in the euphoric state of knowing that an exciting experience awaits ahead. Sunshine was in her car and I was following in mine. She called and we were chatting over the phone (bluetooth obviously) about the holiday. A couple of kilometers later, I heard a loud bang and heard Sunshine screaming over the phone “they hit me, I’m in pain”. I arrived seconds later and called an ambulance. In fifteen minutes the ambulance arrived, the paramedics got Sunshine out of the car, and we headed to the A&E. After an MRI, X-Ray, various doctors’ appointments and a lot of physiotherapy, Sunshine is now good as new and has made a full recovery.
Such events, trivial as they may be in the grand scheme of things, are triggers for the inevitable visualization of life without them. I know better than to say that such life is not worth living – I saw refugees who lost their immediate and extended families in shipwrecks, somehow finding the strength to keep on going, to persist and to persevere despite the unfathomable loss they endured. Less controversially, then, I can say that life without Sunshine and the baby would be infinitely less enjoyable and fulfilling.
Enter the coronavirus. Both Sunshine and I worked from home, which is not to say that we had less work to do, quite the contrary. The baby was sometimes hovering around but most of the time he was with my in-laws. The plan was to contain our interactions and only exposed ourselves to one another, thus isolating as a group. This way we could continue to meet and, crucially, Sunshine’s parents could continue to take care of the baby while we were working.
The isolation was very much like the first years of our decade-long relationship, which were marked with prolonged periods of silent co-existence in front of books and screens. In fact, our relationship emerged and largely revolves around books and screens. We met through a common friend and bonded over books, which was the excuse I used to ask for her number and make an initial contact. We got together during my undergraduate and her master’s degrees, and we studied together for the next few years, completing two PhDs and a professional qualification, only to find ourselves ten years later locked again in a room, in silence, very much like our years in the libraries of Cambridge, the lab in Sheffield where I was reading philosophy amidst human skeletons (literally), the coffee shops in London where we used to study next to each other for hours and all the other places where we sat in silence, lost in books, notes and drafts. Only now there was also a baby to entertain, chores to do, bills to pay and various life-sucking adult responsibilities (don’t get me wrong, the trouble is worth it).
The isolation was difficult not only because it is impossible to entertain a toddler in a smallish apartment but also because the pandemic triggered a sense of biological urgency to protect the young whereby Johnny’s safety somehow represents and signifies the survival of us all. And alongside the urge to protect him, there is an underlying fear of what could go wrong and how life may be if things go wrong. I despise that feeling. Fear is a toxic emotion and people who live by it and make (political) decisions according to it are to be pitied. I thus made a very cautious decision not to let it rule my life; to be mindful of protecting myself and others yet not to be defined by it. That’s quite different from “seizing the day”. It is not about saying fuck you to the future and living in the now. This is neither realistic nor smart. My rejection of debilitating fear is rationalized through the notion of trying to make the most out of a situation, realizing how fluid everything is and worrying only for what is in my control.
Otherwise it would have been tricky. It’s very clear that the value that Johnny adds to our lives is increasing as time goes by. He is now more aware, an independent little person, and our love and affection towards him is increasing, as does our bond with Sunshine. Fear should not pollute this. Factoring it in would be debilitating. Now it’s about enjoying each other and the baby before teenhood when we will become his embarrassing, lame parents who are so uncool and know nothing about anything.