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Dear Harry, what you really need to know about becoming a father...

As Prince Harry is negotiating his first few weeks of sleep-deprived fatherhood, two of our writers, John Laverty and Jonathan Bell, offer the royal dad some advice on just how the new arrival will change his and Meghan's lives for ever

Proud as punch: a beaming Prince Harry with his newborn son Archie
Proud as punch: a beaming Prince Harry with his newborn son Archie
John Laverty with baby Soley
Baby Soley
Demanding role: Jonathan Bell with first-born son Odin
Jonathan with son Conan

John Laverty is married to journalist Claire McNeilly and they have a daughter Soley (4). Here, he dispenses some advice to first-time dad, Harry.

Dear Harry, Of course Meghan got to hold her first. That's only natural, right? You'll know now that those two had, clearly, already bonded over the previous nine months. When do you get a hold?

Like me, you were probably pacing around like… well, like an expectant new father as the midwife and nurses fussed over the new mother. Like, why's she getting all the credit?

I remember feeling jealous, anxious, proud, unspeakably happy, excited yet strangely bereft; already missing someone that, to all intents and purposes, I hadn't actually met. A maelstrom of emotions, and the wee mite wasn't even 10 minutes old!

It's been said by many that this is the best moment of their lives and let me tell you, Harry, they're not wrong.

New life has just begun - and your old one has just ended. It's never gonna be the same again. Within seconds, however, you've probably realised you wouldn't want it to be.

You transmogrify, instantly, from someone who found it impossible to grasp what being a parent would be like, into another, completely different person who cannot envisage, or imagine, life without the newcomer.

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Thought you already knew what true love was? God, compared with, and prior to this, it was clear I only vaguely liked other folk.

My Soley cried - a tiny, kitten-like mew - when the nurse gave her the post-birth injection then reached her over to me, a clueless neanderthal who subsequently handled her like the finest, most fragile porcelain. It was her first real cry, but New Daddy had already got there.

It won't be long, however, before pragmatism and practicality augments the raw emotion that emanated from that delivery room.

No one tells you about the shock element; for the first day or so you're cocooned - a little like Soley had been since conception - in the safe environs of the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital.

Then that warm, cuddly, beautiful little bundle of joy suddenly morphs into a hot potato the moment you leave.

What do we do with this terrifying thing that's been handed to us? Which of us does... what?

It was oh so simple in the pre-natal days of the hypothetical.

Welcome to the world, little one; welcome to the real world for the rest of us. Born and reborn fused together.

It will be another two or three years before you're bombarded with actual questions, but I'm sure you realise that figurative ones are already being asked.

The existential one: how on earth has this creature, not even seven pounds in weight and capable of little else beyond sleeping, crying and filling nappies, suddenly become your boss, deciding on where you go, when you eat, how much sleep she'll deign to allow…

In days of old, a father was deemed to have 'done his bit' in the bedroom; nine months later, he'd be jarring with his mates and waiting for a phone call.

If I got to a pub now - chance would be a fine thing - I'd be espousing the theory that nothing tests your masculinity (never mind your wallet, although that won't a problem with you) more than being a new dad.

You want to feel important; not easy when everyone brushes past you to get to Mummy And The Little One.

And does the missus even need you any more? Maybe you really have fulfilled my role already.

She has someone new to love and feed, a little princess to fret over, a mountain of baby clothes to sort out.

At times during the ‘newborn era’ I felt more of an assistant than a bona fide partner.

That all changed at night, though.

The only advice worldly-wise daddies seem to dole out is this: royalty or a regular guy, get as much sleep as you can, when you can.

Thing is, I could snooze on a spike, whereas my wife is a light sleeper.

It was a no-brainer that I’d rise in early hours for feeding and changing duties. And I absolutely loved it; relished the infant needing me, bonding with Daddy, just the two of us together as dawn approached. It was wonderful.

I’m sure that led to the never-to-be-forgotten, triumphant moment when Mummy couldn’t stop her crying but she fell silent in smug Daddy’s welcoming arms.

A pyrrhic victory, but it felt like a Champions League winner back then. Still does.

Take my advice, Harry — just be patient. With Mrs W, with the little one, with yourself. You may find you’ve woken up in a parallel universe, but think of how Archie feels, surrounded by giants who don’t speak his language and can’t fully understand what he wants or needs. Not at the moment.

But soon you’ll find your natural rhythm. You’ll be a daddy fit for a king, trust me.

Yours, John

Jonathan Bell is married to Anna and they have two sons Odin (5) and three-year-old Conan:

Dear Harry,

Welcome to a world of awesomeness. Being a royal may be fun, but being a dad is the best thing that can happen.

That may not be all that apparent as you change a nappy for the ninth time in a minute, wake up to the sound of constant wailing, utterly confused as to what’s happening, or you stub your big toe in a late-night jaunt to make a bottle. But trust me, almost six years down the line, and having done it twice over, I can say with certainty you will miss it — however fleetingly so.

You’ll know by now, of course, that birth itself is all shock and awe. Shock for what’s just happened and your new-found responsibilities, and awe for the new mum.

As you said in that first dazed interview, hours after Archie had arrived, just how do women do it? Everything pales into insignificance at witnessing that biological feat. Don’t forget that because there will be tough times ahead and it will be good to have some perspective.

You may have more help than the average new family, but you’ll not experience a tougher time than the first weeks with a newborn, especially your first.

Our first was a feeding monster and while his demands haven’t subsided in his five-and-three-quarters years, now he can be left to his own devices to a degree — or handed an iPad.

Savour every moment — and learn to bite your lip.

Remember Mum has had 40 weeks of bonding with little Archie, but you’ve just been introduced. It may take time to properly bed in the enormity of who this new person is — someone who commands your affections unequivocally, without question, having only just appeared on the scene, but it’s a nice, warm feeling.

I’ll never forget how in one of the first days I swore at our new addition. It was involuntary, very tame but totally unintended — he had just peed on me, but I always regret my reaction. 

You’ll learn a bit more appreciation for your parents and what you put them through. And likely cringe at some of your past behaviour.

Being a parent is demanding. Wills was right when he said “welcome to the sleep deprivation club”. I’ve not had a decent night’s sleep since one incredible, daunting and scary night in August in 2013. When they aren’t there or you’re away, you wake wondering what they’re doing.

You may be so frazzled you forget your lunch for work, but their needs won’t ever be overlooked.

The fear for their safety is like nothing you’ll have experienced. Wait until you lose sight of him for the briefest of moments. It’s a full blow to the stomach. There’ll be ‘just in case’ trips to the hospital aplenty, but everyone does it.

And there will be a stage when it’ll all become automatic. Archie will always be there and you’ll be going through the motions.

Indeed, as a result of this approach, my eldest has a permanent gash on his cheek, which is often mistaken for a “cute dimple” but in reality it was dad’s absent-mindedness in allowing him to plough the living room floor with a side table.

Suddenly things like people carriers become very practical and sensible. You’ll flick through all the photos on your phone — and every one of them will be just of one little man.

The days of picking up the keys and dashing out for a night out are over. Okay, you’re a royal, but grand plans are forgotten in preference for time with your little one. A swing set can be the best thing. Your ratings of soft-play areas may differ to my own.

In your 34 years on this planet, you will have had days that wallowed and sagged and went nowhere. Minutes passed as hours and you could easily kick a day into touch without deviating from a sofa/fridge/toilet routine — no matter how far away they are in one of those palaces.

But not anymore. Hours, days, weeks, months and years pass in the blink of an eye. You’ll wonder what you did with the time in the past. Things won’t feel right unless all three of you are together. Today you have a wee being totally dependent in every way on you and Meghan, a little fellow that can’t even support his own little head. In a week or two that will change to him looking around at you.

And then all those ‘firsts’ will start to come at a frightening rate.

A roll, a crawl, a bum-shuffle, the first step... and then the words. You’ll find yourself smiling endlessly at the simplest things they do. You’ll want to tell everyone what he did. You’ll be that new parent.

Then, before you know it, there’s playgroup, nursery, school and the birthday parties. Soon, their social life will be better than your own.

There’ll be sadness when they forge relationships outside your own. When folk call them by a nickname, it grates. Says someone who rarely gets the full-blown ‘Jonathan’.

Life is now hectic, it’s tough and there will be times when you will just want a break, but that’s not an option.

You’ll replay the good times over and you’ll forget the bad in an instant.

And no other child can touch your Archie — at least so you’ll think.

He’ll be photographed more than any tot ever, but you’ll still not have enough pics.

Our first wanted to walk from a very young age of around four months. You’ll think no child could be as smart as Archie, but you’d be wrong. Just come and see my boys.

You’ll not know what you’re doing most of the time. As you should know now in life, most, if not all, adults just bluff it.

And finally when you’ve got the knack of it, the second one arrives and the game changes again.

But I’ll tell you this, like everyone told me, it gets easier with the second.

Yours, Jonathan

Belfast Telegraph


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