Daddy diaries

Last Shot and feeling useless as a father

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For the last few Father’s Day, I’ve gotten my dad a Star Wars card along with his present. It’s become a tradition, and will no doubt continue in the years to come. But this Father’s Day was different, so as well as getting the requisite Star Wars card (complete with bad food pun) I was watching over my own kid.

That first Father’s Day as a newly minted dad is the first of many milestones legitimising this new life of mine. After three months, the reality of being a dad has – more or less – sunk in. But life is a reaction to my daughter’s needs and I’m still very much adjusting. I’m writing this while simultaneously keeping an eye on Lorelei and bopping her bouncer with my foot. For every little victory, it feels as though there’s a hundred little failures.

This quandary forms one of the key character threads through Daniel José Older’s Last Shot which, among other things, sees Han struggling as a new dad. With a two-year-old son at home, Han has no idea what he’s doing and that everything he does is wrong. I finished reading the novel this afternoon on a day where I’ve been racked by many of these same doubts.

Elisabeth had come down with some stomach bug or other. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say she was in no fit state to look after Lorelei. So I took the day off work to feed, change and generally watch over the little one. In theory, the idea was that I’d keep Lori fresh, fed and entertained. The reality was another matter altogether.

While the changes and entertainment (read: pulling silly faces and pretending her feet were drum kits) went swimmingly, the inevitability of her hunger came upon us like so many sand people. Having poured over the instructions of the bought baby milk like sacred Jedi texts, I made up a bottle and tried to feed my daughter. Now here’s where things went pear-shaped, or baby-screaming-her-head-off shaped.

Whether it was the taste, the teat or the lack of her mum’s heat and heartbeat (or all of the above), the bottle just wouldn’t cut it. No matter what I tried, her screaming only intensified, tears streaked her cheeks, and all the while I felt useless. Even exhausted and out of it Elisabeth fed her daughter in between the intermittent naps, play sessions and changes. At least those last last two I could handle.

In Last Shot, Han is a stand-in for all new dads, with the same anxieties as the rest of us. Finishing the novel in between looking after my three-month-old as her mum recovered from illness put that in perspective. It’s not that being a dad is easy, sometimes things just fall into place, instinct takes over and love sees to the rest. But other times it feels as though fate itself is conspiring against you, and you’re doomed to failure.

But tomorrow is a new day and then another. Lorelei’s getting older all the time and things begin to get easier, just before a new set of challenges present themselves. She’s crying out for attention again, so this is as good an ending point as any.

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