Father Files from Mel Cooke's personal journal
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
I am an old hand at this business of being a father, but very new at fathering a son. I have always heard that it is a very different experience from raising daughters and, truth be told, I suspect it is. I say suspect because the very earliest daughter experiences were so long ago (close to a decade) that I do not have a direct day-to-day comparison of the finer details.
Plus, Ayele-Ali will be all of 16 months old on Wednesday. Chances are any striking differences will come up when he is about three years old and heading off to school. At the moment, it all seems the same to me - feed, change, bathe, tickle, read (a couple sisters pitch in with that) run around behind, put to bed.
Speaking of put to bed, when Yele was about eight months old (I think), I was required to send this squaller off to shut-eye land. Others had tried on that occasion and he refused to go gently. It was a hollering and a wailing, fake tears and all. Lying down on a bed, I tried finesse for a little while, rocking and talking, but the boy was determined to stay awake.
Parents, you know the putting-baby-to-sleep breaking point, where you either give up and just let them cry, no matter the consequences, or you seriously consider dispatching them forcefully into orbit? I reached that point once at Cornwall College, Montego Bay, St James, about 11 years ago with biggest sister and when I stepped outside with babe in arms, Aunty C ran out of her home with arms outstretched and said "gimme har!" It was a very timely rescue, trust me.
I was not even close to that point with Yele, but I have enough Daddy experience to know when cajoling and coaxing won't work. Another approach was required and I took it. Away with finesse, it was time for brute force. Not in the sense of paddling the diaper with two fingers, or going into a vocal volume contest with him. Trust me, no adult can beat a determined baby.
The brute force was to put him cheek to chest in the classic beddy bye position and, every time he squalled and tried to get up, keep him in place with a firm left hand on his back. In other words, hold down the kid. Up he tried to get, turning his head and meeting me pleading-baby-eye-to-implacable-Daddy-eye before succumbing to the pressure and putting his head back down. Yele strained with all his tiny might a couple times then went back down one last time. His body relaxed against mine, he sobbed and sighed a couple times and then the breathing pattern changed.
It got slower, deeper (well, as deep as baby's can get) and he was off. After that first experience, it has been pretty easy to get him to sleep. When he wants to sleep as soon as I put him in the cheek to chest position, most times within three minutes he is off.
However, it works only for me. A couple days ago, bigger sister said, "Daddy, you are a miracle worker!" She had been struggling with him for a while and I put him to bed in less than five minutes.
But it is not only in going to sleep that Yele responds differently to me. Biggest sister sometimes says, "It is the deep voice, you know, Daddy." Whatever the reason, when I say he should not do something he does not - or, at least, he thinks really hard about it. Like he is a climber (As, it seems, all babies are. Biggest sister was the climber of all climbers). One of his favourite routes is over the wooden arm of a chair on to the cushions. I told him no, as he can hurt himself - and, of course, he tried it again. When I said no, he froze in mid-climb, wailed a couple times with one leg up and then went back down. Another time, he started climbing and looked at me, expecting the instruction to descend - which came and he did without a fuss.
One day, we were at home, waiting on Aunty M to turn up. He was beside me on one of two little chairs C bought many years ago for bigger and biggest sister, watching a video on the computer. When she came in, Aunty M said Yele would never sit like that with her. And it is not the only time.
There are some funny moments, though. Like when Yele, Aunty M and I were in the kitchen and I was talking to him. He was standing in front of me and wanted to go, but I said no. He was looking me in the eye and when I looked away for a fraction of a second, when I looked back, he was off to Aunty M in a flash.
I have always heard that women can't truly raise boys alone and these brief experiences are leading me to believe that it is true. I suspect that over the next many years, there will be other instances that will confirm this. I now also wonder about the many little boys raised in households with none or intermittent adult presence.
However, while I insist on discipline, I certainly don't want a docile boy. It is a fine balance that I will have to learn to strike as I feel out my way in this new territory of fathering a son. One thing is sure, though. I don't want to be the bad guy. I was that for his sisters when Aunty M would take up the phone and threaten to call Daddy when things were getting out of hand.
And my dream is to not have to slap Yele. Let's see if that one will come true.