Dad’s World with Jonathan deBurca Butler

MYSELF and the littlest of my two little fellas were up at the crack of dawn the other morning.

He is sleeping better now. Occasionally (fingers crossed), he’ll wake up once in the middle of the night and, even then, you just have to grab his legs, give him a good tug down the bed, and he dozes off like a sentinel in an old Loony Tunes cartoon.

The other Saturday was different, however. For some reason (I think he knows when it’s my shift), he decided he’d get me early. My turn, my bad luck. That’s just the way it goes.

I could hear his little sobs, through the monitor, and as I pictured him feeling around for his dodi in the darkness of his room, I put on my slippers. I got up, and Ciara turned over with the smug enthusiasm of a person who knows they’re getting the whole bed to themselves for the next two hours.

I crept into Luke’s room and heard a little, lispy whisper saying: “What’s that?” It’s his catchphrase. There would be at least a couple of hundred ‘what’s thats’ through the course of the day.

Down the stairs we went, keeping our fingers to our lips, looking at each other and giving the occasional ‘sssshhh’. At 18 months old, he’s very good at saying ‘sssshhhh’.

Eventually, we got to the kitchen, where, in between more ‘what’s thats’, I flicked on the kettle, put on some toast and eventually got his porridge together. While all that was getting ready, we went over to the window to look outside.

“What’s that?” he said, looking up at a fading, silvery crescent.

“That’s the moon,” I told him.

“Mooooo?” he inquired.

“Yes, the moon,” I confirmed. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding like a little wooden puppet. A smile broke out on his face. I gave him a little peck on the cheek. Bed was now a distant memory and I was fine with that. Most mornings, when I wake up with this fella, I’m fine with that.

After Luke had his porridge and I had got some washing-up done, we went into the sitting-room for his bottle. It’s all part of the daily routine that the two of us know only too well. We like it that way. It seems to work.

We were sitting on the couch when we heard a noise upstairs.

“What’s that?” he said. “Wanna see Feeeeeeeuuuuunn.”

I was taken aback. We had been trying to get him to say his brother’s name for quite some time. We felt that if we could get him to say his brother’s name, then his brother would be more accepting of him.

Turns out we don’t really need to worry about that; they’re doing fine without too much intervention from us. I was delighted. I had remembered my mother telling me that she once got a hole-in-one while playing golf on her own, but nobody saw it. I now knew how she felt. (By the way, she has had something like 10, so she didn’t have to worry — 76-year’s-old now — still plays off six.) But if that was good, what came next was even better.

“Daddy,” he said, looking up at the photos on the mantelpiece. “Mummy.”

“That’s right,” I said. “And who are you?”

There was a pause, as the little man took his finger and slowly tapped his little chest.

“Loooooouuuuuuukkkk,” he said with the most incredibly exaggerated mouthful of vowels.

“Very good,” I told him. A smile broke across his face and he looked at me. He was proud of himself and, maybe more than anything, aware of himself. Whether that was his first time realising that he was himself, we will never know.

It was now six o’clock. Outside, the dawn emerged slowly from its dark cocoon. Luke won’t remember the day he identified himself for the first time, but I will never forget it. It is those little nuggets that make the early mornings all worthwhile.


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