It’s a stinking hot Melbourne summer afternoon, and I’m doing my best to clean out my mother’s shed full of junk. I’ve just broken the news to her that I’m following the love of my life to live in the United States, but it’s not my impending absence she cares about.
“I don’t worry about you moving away,” mum says with less emotion than I’d secretly like. “I worry about you not having a child, or having a kid over there and me being on the other side of the world from them.”
As her only child, and therefore her only possible outlet for grandchildren, there’s a fair bit of pressure on me to produce.
That was two and a half years ago, and having kids was not on my radar. As I do so often – too often, really – I didn’t take what my mum said seriously at the time.
'“I don’t worry about you moving away,” mum says with less emotion than I’d secretly like.' Brett's mother holds him as a baby. Image supplied.
I’ve never felt comfortable around babies or toddlers, but at age 31 and with the relationship with my partner as strong and solid as ever, I’m starting to feel the urge to grow our family taking hold.
Can I chalk it up to the seemingly constant stream of fresh new baby photos posted by my friends on Facebook? Is it the adorable way a toddler joyously reacts when they see my dog on a walk, or the cheeky kid who catches my eye on the train and forces me into a game of peek-a- boo before fondly waving goodbye as the child and parent get off at their stop?
I’m clucky, and my partner has noticed. “Aww, you want to put a baby in my belly,” she says, with mocking delight. She’s great with kids and we both want them at some stage in the future, yet I don’t feel quite ready for the responsibility of bringing a human being into the world.
I always assumed there would be a moment when you are ready to have kids. It would appear as obviously as the cartoon light bulb above a cartoon character’s head.
But now as the time seems to be approaching to take the big leap, this one question keeps circling in my head like a hurricane: how am I meant to know I’m ready to be a dad?
'I’m clucky, and my partner has noticed. “Aww, you want to put a baby in my belly,” she says, with mocking delight.' Image supplied.
Most of the obvious tick boxes seem to be checked. Loving partner? Tick. Both of us working and earning a good wage? Yup. Our apartment even has a second bedroom and we have managed to keep a new dog and a collection of herbs alive for months on end.
But the decision to bring a baby into the world isn’t as simple as filling out a form, and growing up an only child with no father in my life has dinted my confidence when it comes to interacting with kids. Yet I have an enormous desire to defy my genes and be a good and present father, unlike my own.
For every heart-swelling interaction with a cute kid, there’s a fear-inducing anecdote from a friend or colleague about sleepless nights or panicked hospital visits or valued property destroyed.
Events like the four-year- old who found his way into a gorilla enclosure at a zoo don’t help, either. It’s easy and en vogue to instantly blame the parents, but who’s to say that couldn’t or wouldn’t happen to a child in my care?
I still remember the afternoon I was at my best mate’s house and he was giving his first-born a bath. It was a tender, loving moment between father and daughter until my friend let out a desperate, anguished cry; his daughter decided to liven up bathtime by adding a big poo to the collection of toys floating in the water.
I know that every parent reading this has this kind of war story up their sleeve, and may wonder what the big deal is. But for the uninitiated, this kind of dedication looms as large in the mind as climbing Everest.
Perhaps what I really fear is not getting it right for the child. I have no doubt my partner will be the best mum on the planet, and I want to do as much as I can to be the best dad possible. I know it takes more than love; it will take a level of dedication and patience that goes beyond my epic PlayStation 4 game sessions have prepared me for.
How did you and your partner know you were ready to have your first child?