Becoming a parent is a surreal experience at the best of times. What happens when you add a global pandemic into the mix? Ed Cumming reports from the front line of lockdown fatherhood
Some men are born to be dads. When their first child arrives, it becomes clear that their whole life up to that point was nothing but sensible preparation. Out pops the kid and there they are, ready and waiting with a steady job, sturdy shoes and a garage for the Audi. All the things that looked boring and square in their 20s — early nights, Sunday morning jogs, weekends of DIY — were just training for the big event.
I was not one of these men. This time last year, with my wife Lara in the final stages of pregnancy, I was doubling down on a rudderless lifestyle that I thought was the whole point of living in London. As a freelancer, I congratulated myself on having achieved, through the committed avoidance of office jobs, the freedom to take life as I found it. I would stroll, dictating paragraphs with a coffee in hand, interviewing people by the canal, and generally acting the iPhone flâneur.
There were endless meals: ‘business breakfasts’ at The Wolseley; lunches at The French House that ended at midnight; dinners of olives and gin with a handful of Twiglets for roughage. Holidays were easy-come, easy-go. It hardly took more planning to be in Dubrovnik than it did to be in Dorking.
Wiser heads tried to warn me that this existence might be incompatible with parenthood. In his father-of-the-bride speech at our wedding in 2019, my father-in-law mentioned that our lifestyle was about to come ‘juddering to a halt’. There was wild laughter, except from me. After hanging some new curtains in the baby’s bedroom, our handyman chuckled at some naive assertion I’d made about my post-natal freedoms. ‘I think you’ll notice the difference,’ he said, nodding at the cot. I was gripped by a sudden terror. Was it possible that this baby would prove disruptive?
“Instead of missing out on things, we were blessed with the ultimate lockdown task. Others had banana bread; we had a human”
“for all the hardship it brought, lockdown has also been a social experiment on a scale nobody could have envisaged. Almost inevitably there have been upsides, too”
“Until Lily was born, I thought 5-7pm was two hours. I now know that it can feel like anything up to five or six”