My son, Cooper, is 22 months old. This week just gone I was alone with, him for various reasons, and he contracted impetigo. It’s all over his mouth, lips and gums so swallowing has been very difficult and his mouth looks like something from the Walking Dead.
I work as a writer from home but usually his mum is here too. It’s been a week of having to wash everything he touches, keep him distracted from his pain and watch him screaming in agony every meal time, while working full time, with just me and him in the house for a whole week.
I’ve had easier weeks. He can’t find any comfort. He’s on Calpol and antibiotics from a syringe that he hates and, again, every spoon he uses, every time he puts his hand to his open sores, I need to get everything cleaned with warm soapy water immediately. Bedding, sofa covers, toys, books, clothes- it’s all being washed several times a day.
Anyway, here’s my point. My wife called one night and said, “If you’re having trouble coping, my mum is willing to come over and take him off you for a bit.” It was an innocent enough suggestion that I should have taken up, but the idea that my own son could be something with which I can’t cope, turned my stomach and instantly made me a defensive, stubborn fool.
As a dad, you see yourself as the end of the line. There can’t be a situation, regarding your own child, that you can’t cope with because, that’s what dads do. If Cooper was to suddenly turn into a fifty foot, fire-breathing dragon and start torching the south coast, I’d still be thinking, “I have to cope with this because that’s my son.” There is no ‘impossible’ with kids, there is no limit, no line to cross. The responsibility is infinite. I could give up on myself before I could on him.
I used to see bad people: murderers, rapists, even Donald Trump, and I used to think, their parents should disown them. I don’t care how much you love someone there’s no way you could still love someone who has done that. You’d see the parents of serial killers being interviewed, knowing the whole world hates their child, that they too hate what their child has done and must want nothing more than to make it not true but, what you don’t see, is them saying, “He’s evil, I hate him, he’s no son of mine.” It even makes some parents complicit, as their evil offspring take advantage of this devotion for everything from money to lies. Parents of drug addicts still handing out money while everyone looks on, tutting, like they’re some gullible simpleton who lets their child take them to the cleaners time and time again. They’re not fools, they’re parents, caught by their own love and an inability to turn away.
Cooper’s not even two yet, his worst crime to date is throwing a strop at the local soft-play. I’ve no idea what kind of man he’ll become but I do know that whatever it is, however dark his life becomes and however far he falls, it may become a desperate, no-win situation but I’ll always be the one to stick around and try and cope with it. Because I could no more decide to stop breathing than decide to step away from my son.