In the South
OPINION: I don't see him that often now but he's been a mate for about as long as I can remember anything.
I think we met in a cub den in south Invercargill about 31 years ago, give or take a few months.
It's probably my longest-lasting friendship although often I find myself scratching my head about how we've lasted so long despite being so different. And he probably does the same.
We ended up in the same intermediate class in the mid-1980s and went through high school together. We flatted together for two years at university and then shared some crazy adventures in London.
He's the sort of mate where it can be months inbetween conversations but that's OK. I think we provide an anchor for each other in a way, a point of reference. Despite the years, at heart we're still those cheeky little south Invercargill boys.
His life changed this week with the birth of his first child, a little boy. Some might say he's left it late, but I see it more of a miracle that he got there at all.
I'm don't think he really knows what he's got himself in for. So this column is for him, because this is what I know about being a father. So here goes:
Whether you want it to or not, the baby changes your life. You might say it won't . . . but it does. It's not necessarily a good change or a bad change, it's just that everything changes.
It's not a bad thing to want to spend time with them, even if it involves just letting them sleep on you. It's actually quite soothing.
They can never get enough cuddles. And you want to cuddle them because they're yours.
Parenting is a partnership. It has to be or you can lose it all.
The sense of responsibility takes a while to emerge. But at some point the enormity of it all will just hit you - a baby is for life. Then you tend to get the sweats.
Changing nappies isn't that bad. Sure, sometimes a dreaded double code brown might take two of you, but you should never shy away from it. Real men don't do that.
At the start it feels weird because I've discovered fatherhood doesn't come naturally to most blokes. Not everyone has that natural bond others talk about and it can take a while to find a connection because their time is usually spent feeding with mum or sleeping. But it does come and when it does, it's awesome. Honest.
You will get tired and you should. It's a passage of rite . . . or it could be a rite of passage. I'm a bit tired you see.
Reading is one of the most important things you can do with them. Well, that and a bit of wrestling. But there's something quite relaxing about lying on their bed and reading them books. One day we might even move on from Hairy Maclary and Dora and into some classics like Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson.
In the beginning, you focus on three-hour cycles. Then after a while you can look at things day-by-day, then it becomes weeks and then its months. And then you can't remember what the first three months were like.
You can't take enough photos or video. It's not for now, it's for when you need to look back to remind yourself what those first three months were like and what you did. Those visual stimuli bring focus to that blur.
You'll soon find out that a simple thing like a smile can brighten your day. It sounds cheesy but it's true. And when they call you "daddy" for the first time is probably going to be the highlight of your week.
It's never too early to expose them to the important things in life: rock music, sport and golf. But they have to become interested in it naturally, otherwise they'll just rebel.
Alcohol becomes less important to you. Mostly because of the hangover issue. You don't want a hangover when there's a little one about.
It might seem daunting at the start, but no-one really knows what they're doing. They just tend to wing it and let instincts take over. Short of dropping them, there's little you can do that can go badly wrong.
And it gets better each day. Honest.
Welcome to dad club, mate.
* Mark Hotton is a fulltime journalist/ fulltime dad who wishes he could spend more time with his mate. But he's also more than happy spending time with his children and their mother.
- The Southland Times