IT is a frightening thought, but I am now officially the father of three adults. Jack turned 18 last week, although I find it hard to think of him as a real man while he still uses hair-straighteners every morning before he goes to college.
Those 18 years have passed in a flash and I can still vividly remember the day Jack was born – largely because of the “TENS machine incident”.
I don’t know if it’s still used in the modern era but the TENS machine was a curious black box device designed to control pain during childbirth and it presented an opportunity for us dads to feel involved.
During parenthood classes at Darlington Memorial Hospital, I was told that it was my job to sort out the TENS machine when my wife needed some pain relief. I was given careful instruction by a nurse and it involved taping electrodes to either side of my wife’s spine. Every time she had a contraction, she was to press a button and it would magically help to take the edge off the pain.
When the time came on September 28, 1993, and my wife gave the order for the TENS machine, I sprang into action. It was my chance to be useful.
Just like I’d been shown, I soothingly stroked her back and said some encouraging words – you know the kind of thing, “Not long now” and “Nice deep breaths” – before successfully fixing the electrodes in place.
It seemed to work extremely well for a while. The contractions would come in increasingly regular waves, she’d press the little button in the palm of her hand, and I was able to carry on reading the paper in relative peace. But then the contractions became more violent and she suddenly changed her mind.
“Get the TENS machine off! Get the TENS machine off! I just want gas and air,” she screamed.
I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but manners tend to go right out of the window at times like these. I was sorely tempted to ask her for “the magic word” but I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been “please”.
Again, I leapt heroically into action but I’m adamant no one told me you’re supposed to switch off the TENS machine before you tear away the electrodes. The result was what you’d expect if you got the plus and the minus mixed up on a car battery – a bang and lots of sparks.
Quite frankly, it’s amazing how abusive women can be during childbirth, and I suppose an electric shock on top of the contractions didn’t help matters.
I remember the midwife running in, asking me what was going on, and giving me a withering look.
Anyway, it seemed to do the trick because Jack came into the world shortly afterwards.
We were given the option to use the TENS machine when number four was born four years later but my wife declined. To this day, I’ve never had an apology for the shocking way I was spoken to.
JACK’S 18th will be remembered as our first “Skype birthday”.
In case you don’t know, Skype is a software application that allows people to speak to each other over the Internet.
If you have a webcam on your computer, you can see the person you’re talking to – it’s like Star Trek in real life.
So, while Jack unwrapped his presents and cut his cake, Hannah, 19, was able to tune in and watch from her student house in Leeds.
I couldn’t help marvelling at how far the world of technology has come since those dark, far-off days of the TENS machine – but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
We started in the dining room, but a dodgy connection meant we kept losing contact so we had to lug the presents upstairs in search of a better signal. Hannah’s image still kept “freezing” and, for reasons I fail to understand, I got the blame.
“It’s when you move, Dad,” groaned Max, 14. “You’re an interference.”
My wife then suddenly remembered that we were looking after Dylan, a friend’s sheepdog, and told me to go back downstairs to make sure he wasn’t eating the cake.
JACK’S a lovely lad who makes me very proud but he’s contributed to a lot of the worries I’ve had during my years as a dad.
I remember the time I was stressing about approaching 40 and he was sitting next to me in the car.
“You know your Daddy’s 40 next week, don’t you Jack?” I said.
“I know, Dad,” he replied.
“Do you mind having a dad who’s that old?” I asked.
“Not really, Dad,” he sighed. “You could live another ten years yet.”
I’ll be 50 next April, so I’m still on target.