The journey of life takes many paths.
Some are staging posts, where you perhaps fulfil personal ambitions, form friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life, or even meet that special someone who sets off the fireworks within.
Others bring fleeting moments that can come and go in the blink of an eye, but remain resolutely lodged in the brain.
Then there’s the life-defining moments; the ones where, if a timeline of your existence was to be rolled out in front of you, would represent the main destinations.
And for those of us lucky enough to become parents, the moment your son or daughter enters this world are, I would argue, journey’s end.
Sure, there’s the actual ‘end’, where (hopefully) enough people turn up to see you off into the next world as to make the exit actually worthwhile (even if that’s via Zoom, if the new normal is anything to go by!)
But metaphorically speaking, what is the journey of life, without creating new life?
Life simply doesn’t get more magnificent, more blood-rushingly exciting, than seeing a tiny human being thrust into your arms; with all the pride, the relief, the anxiety, and ultimately the responsibility of building, nurturing and shaping a family.
Fatherhood has visited me on two occasions, both earth-shatteringly thrilling and providing me, unquestionably, with the most unforgettable, adrenaline-pumping, heart-achingly memorable days of my five and a half decades.
And they have perhaps been made more special because I readily take on that weight of responsibility later in life.
Harrison, our first son, was born in 2014, as my body clock ticked relentlessly from forties towards my fifties.
I was about to turn 49 and as it was indeed a life-changing moment for someone who has always felt destined to be a dad, but through a series of circumstances, including the heartache of several miscarriages, felt the moment was passing by.
Being a new dad in his late 40s was actually something to be recommended.
For many months I bore the demented grin of someone silently and rather ridiculously proclaiming virility, and all the while proudly clutching - and displaying at every opportunity - the most precious of cargos.
In one of those fleeting moments I mentioned earlier, I’ll never forget taking the infant Harrison to the local Children’s Centre for a play session and taking down the grandparent who looked at me in that knowing way before stating: “you’re on grandad duty too, eh?”
The look on his face following my response will stay with me forever.
In truth, I half-expected more double-takes, and was surprised, and probably a little relieved that the assumption didn’t occur more.
However, I had pre-empted some of those concerns and for a while during pregnancy and infrequently after the birth, I wrestled with the emotional pang of realisation that when Harrison was set to leave school, I would be in the throes of retirement.
Equally, that I may never grow old enough to see him fly the nest, make his own mark on the world and, perhaps, create a family of his own.
Such thoughts were inevitable and it took a while to come to terms with those realities, but the fact I feel much younger, allied with the fact I have a younger partner and that Harrison never considers me anything other than “daddy”, eventually helped my mind win those particular wars.
And so, having settled on that trade-off, to the latest (and, I can assure you, last) addition to our family.
Jack Oscar was turbulently thrust into our lives at the escalation of the Coronavirus epidemic of 2020, and had his own fight with a virus before, with the incredible help and support of the NHS staff at Burnley General Hospital, he came home to complete our family.
Now nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the momentous shift change that a second child brings into your life.
With Harrison, we’d settled into a routine as he grew older, cheekier, funnier and became the sweetest of young men.
Now, the dynamic was altered irreversibly. As anyone who has a newborn can testify, they unwittingly devour hour-upon-hour of your life. Minutes of restlessness turn effortlessly into hours of arm-aching and room pacing, while feeding times becomes such a blur, often running into each other, that we often forget what time we last poured milk down the throat of what can only be described a wailing banshee.
All the time, you’re reminded at regular intervals that your firstborn demands a regular and, always inconveniently, a steady supply of a) affection b) attention and c) Babybel/chocolate/juice.
The trick – and it’s a delicate balancing act – is to make it appear to child number one that the scales balance perfectly, when in effect through necessity they invariably fall heavily in the newborn’s favour, mainly in those early months through a relationship-testing combination of crying*, full nappies, sleeplessness and dummies falling from gaping mouths.
(* work through the following solutions: hunger, trapped wind, cuddles, needing to poo. Rotate until calm is eventually restored).
Parents with two or more young children, I salute you. I truly do. You deserve awards.
As a result, your own sleep patterns are tossed to the wind, to the extent that you would absolutely, 100% sell your own granny for the merest snooze.
Other pitfalls of being a dad in later life? Well the lower back pain that used to kick in around 16 holes into a round of golf, is now a permanent fixture.
It takes a few more seconds to get off your knees after the umpteenth nappy change, or impromptu floor fight.
And while other men of a certain age seem to have an eternity of free time and social interests, time stands still as you juggle the demands of work with the demands that two young children inevitably bring.
These are, however, easily counterbalanced by the sheer exhilaration of getting through another day intact!
I do worry. The afore-mentioned age, the need for a bigger house and therefore mortgage, while your working days are whittling away, the potentially altering dynamic of the relationship with a younger partner as time passes, and the uncertainty of what your kids will become in adult life.
But then I remember; I’m a dad. First and foremost and above everything else life can throw at me.
The journey of life has been good to me so far. I can’t wait to see where it takes my family and I.