Stephen Clements writes about fatherhood before tragic death
Stephen Clements wrote this special feature on life as a modern dad exclusively for Sunday Life. Today we publish it for the first time:
I'm not sure what a modern-day dad actually is. I mean I know what being a dad is. I found that out the hard way.
Well, when I say the hard way, I mean it was not what I had been led to believe it would be.
You see, I blame The Waltons.
Growing up, it was one of the only shows on on a Sunday that didn't feature sheep being chased around a field by a dog that was being remote controlled by a farmer with a high pitched whistle - or antiques, or hymns. Plus it was AMERICAN!
We loved anything American back then. I guess, in many ways we still do, but back then, we only had limited windows of opportunity. When McGyver was on, it was ON, and if you missed it, well, there was no catch up, you just had to go into school and listen in envy, as your mates relayed how he'd built a nuclear submarine from an oil drum, two fishing poles and a timing belt.
No, when something was on it was on, and on Sunday, The Waltons was the only option.
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The thing with The Waltons was, that despite living up on Blueridge Mountain, and having about 14 members of the family in close proximity within one dwelling, the dramas in their lives came from outside of their house.
Jim Bob borrowed the truck and it broke down on the way to the shop. He didn't come back for three hours and the whole family had to go find him.
They laughed and hugged with relief when they found him.
The reality in NI back then was that if you weren't back before the street lights came on, you'd be going to bed with a sore behind.
This idealistic family though, were, by and large, what I envisaged a family to be. The dad looking cool as, mum always smiling, the grandparents busy being old and the kids all laughing their way through life (when they weren't stealing trucks with no fuel in them).
So imagine my surprise when the first baby came along. I mean, not the surprise that the baby arrived, we were well prepared for that. In fact, we'd created what was akin to a Disneyesque wonderland in our house. What had been my office was suddenly full of soft material, nappies, wipes, soft music, soft lighting, you name it, we had it. This baby would NEVER want to leave this room!
Or so I thought.
Shortly after our daughter Poppy was born, the RVH staff, who were incredible, checked that mum and daughter were ok.
"Right. You've got your car seat ready?"
"And you are feeling ok Mrs Clements?"
"Great! Here you are (hands baby over)……take care….byeeee."
Aren't one of you coming with us? Are you sure this is right? It seems too soon? We've got a spare room!!
One of you can stay over!! It's no problem at all!!
Are all things I thought but simply said, "Right….ok…..that's…..well…..ok….thank you by the way."
On the drive home we stopped twice.
First time, Poppy sounded like she was breathing really snuffly or something!!! Was she ok?
Check nose, mouth, what the hell is that smell by the way?!?! We couldn't be sure as all three of us were nervous. We'd wait until we reached the Disney showroom.
Second time, "Did you clear her wee nose out there, because she has gone really quie…..PULL OVER!!!!!"
"She's grand….just sleeping as far as I can see."
At home that first night I remember nothing. Literally not one thing.
The next day though, just as the midwife called at the house, I vaguely remember looking around as my wife opened the door thinking, "Oh no…..someone has broken in and ransacked our living room, and the midwife is going to think we live in a tip! How could I not have heard men breaking into our house? I've failed as an alpha male ALREADY?!?"
Of course we hadn't been burgled, and she didn't think we lived in a tip, she knew because she'd seen it all before…..we had spent our first full night alone with a baby in the house.
We held off on sleep.
We held off on eating.
For long periods we held off on breathing just so we could hear our daughter's breathing.
Nappies everywhere, wipes everywhere, sterilisation equipment everywhere…..
Already I knew, I hated The Waltons……..