That's my boy: a dad's diary of the first 4 months

"I already miss the way he was. So small."
"I already miss the way he was. So small." Photo: Bruce Wiilliams

Unbearable anxiety, unspeakable joy, constant exhaustion and bouts of frustration ... The many shocks of first-time fatherhood resound in Bruce Williams' diary of his son's early months.

Birth to one month

The first time my boy gripped my finger, he was still connected by blood and sinew to his mother. In the grey, labour-ward light, his pasty little fingers barely spanned my left-hand pinkie. With my right hand I pressed my wife's hands together, pale and cool, as she lay still and blood-spattered, almost too tired to breathe.

Here was something new. I was in love with two people at the one time - and it was a good thing.

The first time my boy breathed was too long to wait. I'd just cut the cord with the blunt shears handed to me by the midwife, when he was removed to a plastic crib. I stood over him with a nurse on my left. Another came and stood to my right. Then a doctor, who soon pushed to the front. Suddenly I was peering over shoulders, relegated to the cheap seats. I wished I had brought a milk crate to stand on like they do at the Mardi Gras parade.

In a strobe-show of glimpses, I watched a nurse fasten a plastic mask over my boy's face. The doctor pumped an airbag with his hand. Then removed the mask. Then replaced it again. Pumped again. Another nurse came. Nobody left."We're bagging him," said the nurse on my right. "It's still fairly normal." Still? Fairly?

At last my boy cried out. And, better still, breathed in. The air of the world was in him.

It's like every day you throw a pebble into a dam. For eight months I'd known this day was coming. For eight months the water level had been rising, one pebble at a time. Expectation. Dead-end corridors of worry. Circling and doubling back, but always heading to the time when she would need me most - and I could do the least. Your head just fills with worry, without your knowing, growing day by day.

The first time my boy saw the light, the first time my boy breathed in - the first time I looked away from my boy - I saw my wife shock-faced and shattered, but healthy.Then I looked from one to the other: mother (tick), child (tick). Dam (burst).The first time my boy latched onto my wife's breast was three days ago. The syrupy flow that came then was good stuff, but hard work for a little sucker. Midwife fingers kept the two together, keeping the angles aligned like a fleshy house of cards.

Our baby sucked and stopped, as he held my trusty left pinkie in his right hand. To wake him and remind him he had work to do, I pumped his arm back and forth. It worked, and soon I could see his lips tugging again at my wife's breast.

The following morning we did the same at feeding time, now just the three of us. And all through that day and the next.

Then my wife's milk changed, flowing easily. And there was plenty of it. My boy drank and drank, and all I did was watch. Three days old, and already there was something he no longer needed me for.

I can change a light bulb and oil a squeaky door, but Mr Fix-It I'm not. Why then do I expect to calm a cranky baby? He's unhappy in his skin, chafing at the world. And we brought him here. What comfort of mine can bring back the good times - his months as a mother load?When he wriggles, squirms and squawks, it's as if I've forgotten how to hold him. My softest words and gentlest touch - my coos and caresses - all sandpaper coarse. The love I try to pour into him is rejected cold. Suddenly I'm a supplicant to this prickly little succulent.

With a winter baby, it's always night-time. In the sunless dark, or with the curtains drawn, my wife and I move with slow care, as the heater clicks off and on, keeping the temperature close to constant. It's as if we've agreed to meet our boy halfway back to the womb.I leave for work in the dark, and return in the dark. Yesterday morning I tiptoed in to see him before leaving. He woke, and I was in big trouble, let me tell you.

From my desk, I ring my wife so she can tell me how the sunlight looks on his creamy skin.

For the first time my boy begins to seem a stranger.One to two months The first time my boy made me cry was with a smile. After a night of no sleep and a restless morning, he looked so tired, the poor thing. Like an old man.

I figured I could stand and rock him in my arms for about two hours before the aches got the better of me. If he slept, he slept; if he cried, he cried.I lifted him wailing from his bassinette. In a moment he was silent, soon letting his head relax against my biceps. He looked up at me and smiled. Then he sighed, and closed his eyes. Drowsily he looked up again, smiled again, and then fell heavily asleep.

Well, that did it. He was safe and at rest in his daddy's arms; arms that, this time a least, were as strong and sure as a boy could wish. His only danger? Drowning.

Man, I hate the nanny nazis. Everyone who's written a baby book should be taken out and flogged. Today my wife sat up in bed with a baby book in her lap. Two more occupied her bedside table, while another lay bent-paged on the floor."The only thing they agree on," she said, "is that what I'm doing is wrong."

Two to three months

For my mother, my boy is grandchild number 10. When he was six weeks old, she picked him up and pressed her nose into the crook of his neck - neck at spew corner I call it at bath time. My mother held her face there and breathed in, long and greedily.

"I love it," my mother said, "that newborn smell!"

At seven weeks, she declared sadly that the newborn smell had departed, though my boy still smelled like my boy to me.

I was Mum's fourth child, with one to follow. Her eldest is pushing 50, and all five of us are still giving her grief. That's a lot to pay for 30 weeks of the greatest smell on earth.

There was a time - during the short afternoons that followed many, many long nights of beer and pool - that I thought that the greatest human invention was sunglasses. More often, my choices have been the conventional: fire, the wheel, that sort of thing. I've even dreamed of going back in time to shake the hand of Edmund McIlhenny, creator of Tabasco sauce. But, right now, I'd like to give a big, smacky, tonsil-tugging, gob-stopping kiss to the person who invented the dummy.

The first time my boy made my wife cry (rather than scream), I was home from the maternity ward, clearing voicemail and takeaway tubs, while back at the ward she and the nurses tried to unplug my boy's blocked-up nose with a vacuum tube.

The second time he made her cry, I was at work, staring with tired eyes at a computer screen. The time after that: at the pub, reacquainting my hands with pinball RSI.

Most recently, I lay dreaming as my wife fought frustration and raw exhaustion when all night, out of the blue, my boy refused to feed, sleep or settle in her arms. My wife stood and sobbed as I slept.It's true: as a dad, I miss out on a lot.

We had dreaded the first time my wife and my boy both had colds. For the second night in succession my wife's sleep, usually broken into two or three, has been splintered into a score of snuffling slivers.

I dress for work in as close to silence as I can manage. It's at times like this that I gain renewed respect for my wife's strength, stamina and commitment to the cause. For instance ... I hold my shoes in my right hand, reaching for the doorknob with my left. Dragging herself out of precious and healing sleep, my wife opens her gummy eyes, parts her pasty lips, and says: "You're not wearing that tie with that shirt, are you?"

Three to four months 

It's a great thing when they wake and don't cry straight off. Think of the difference between a buzzer alarm and the radio: my wife and I wake gradually to chatter, not instantly to screams.The first time my boy sang was to wake us. Falsetto, piping sounds: soft and toothless. He sang up and down some zany baby scale, as the light grew, just to amuse himself.

At one month old, it had been panic stations - for him, every bit as much as for us. For my boy, everything (including time) was happening for the first time. And who is to say that hunger, cold, fear don't last forever? And how would you tell him in any case. Man! We think our nights are long!

But, between three and four months, this song. He is hungry. His nappy is wet. There is a shadow slowly stalking the giraffe on the nursery wall. For a little while, my boy sings. For the time being, he trusts us.

Aren't you such a beautiful boy? Yes you are! Aren't you such a beautiful boy? Yes you are!

As a new parent, you find yourself asking a lot of questions. And answering them yourself.A lot of your relationships change - relationships with friends, with your parents and your partner's parents. After nappy change one million and one, I remove myself to the bathroom, where I apply an old toothbrush to the brown stuff under my fingernails, and it occurs to me that the greatest change of all has been my relationship with poo.

In the first month or so, we forgave him everything: he was so little, so frail, so new. Then, by the time I was just about ready to drop kick him out the window, he began to recognise me and give me his gummy smiles. And I was gone all over again.

Later, at four months, I looked down at him, helped him rise wobbly to his feet, and thought - it's been a wild and fun and sleepless time, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. "Now!" I said to him. "When are your parents coming to take you home?"

Four to five months The first time my boy rolled over was on a rug on the floor of his great-grandmother's lounge room. Watching were my wife, her mother, and her mother's mother. And me. My boy rolled over from his belly to his back. And it was no fluke, as he did it again and again. In a suburban living room, three generations watched the fourth as he taught himself how to turn the world upside down.

A gloomy thought. I remember the first time my baby was a boy, when he was born and the midwife declared: "He's a boy." That meant something, more than I thought it would. One possibility had fallen away: there was something he was, and something he wasn't. That's how life is. At the start, anything is possible. Then, one by one, the possibilities fail. When the very last deserts you, you close your eyes.

Read Bruce's diary from six to 12 months.

This article first appeared in the Good Weekend.