July 7th, 1993 was a very, very special day in my life. On that never-to-be-forgotten Wednesday morning, after a lifetime of waiting and to my immense delight … I heard that Leeds United had signed Brian Deane.
No, no, no. Strike that. Just my little joke. The 7th of July 1993 was, of course, actually memorable for an infinitely better reason. Two weeks later than advertised (she never was that punctual, my wife) I became a Dad for the first and, to the best of my knowledge, the only time.
It’s exactly twenty-three years ago now, and whenever I see the beautiful young lady currently making a life for herself with her partner Liam in York, it amazes me how time has flown by since she made her first entrance. And I was there, as modern convention permits – indeed, demands. There were times during that long (especially for poor Tracy) period of labour when, believe me, the craven coward never far below the surface in me envied those yesteryear Dads-to-be. They were complacently uninvolved, able blithely to pace the carpet on the comfortable, clean outside, instead of sharing the hot and foetid atmosphere of a frenetic delivery room.
Kate was a planned baby, a wanted baby, a loved baby. But she probably has no idea, even today, of how she owes her very existence to my lack of precognition. If I’d been able to look ahead, when we decided it was time to present the old folks at home with a grandchild, things may have worked out differently. If I’d been granted a preview of some of the scenes that unfolded in that torture chamber of a birthing suite, I doubt very much whether Kate would ever have been considered, never mind conceived.
Thankfully though, the future is a closed book, and the human race was not to be denied a spectacular addition. So, we made our plans, happily envisaging the crib at home, the cot in the back room, the muddy football boots in the lobby cupboard and the toy goal net in the back garden. Oh, yes – I forgot to mention. Kate was supposed to be David. David Michael Kenneth, in fact; we generously honoured both Grandads in second and third place as well as settling on our favourite boy’s name as the winner. Because we knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that we’d have a boy.
The fact is that the Atkinsons had had a bit of a thin time of it on the distaff side over the previous fifty years. The last girl in the male line had been my Aunt Sheila in the 40’s; after that it had been boys all the way. My Dad sired three of us, despite always aching for a daughter (whom he’d have spoiled silly). My brother collaborated in the production of two more, and the received wisdom was that the Atkinsons could only churn out boys. I secretly wanted a daughter – having grown up as a truculent male teenager myself, I didn’t fancy handling the other side of that situation. But we both happily subscribed to the popular (and sensible) “doesn’t matter what we get as long as it’s healthy” line.
Once the supposedly tricky business of “dropping on” was accomplished – we struck lucky almost immediately, and one of my more irreverent friends dubbed me “one shot, one coconut” – our fever of speculation over what gender we might end up with grew apace. We actually resorted to an old superstition of dangling a wedding ring over the expectant tummy, and seeing which way it rotated, as this was supposed to be a sure-fire indicator one way or the other. We took care to eliminate any draughts which might set our experiment off to a false start, and Tracy lay down while I held the thread with the magic wedding ring attached. I swear on my soul that, with no outside influence at play, the damned thing suddenly jerked and started to rotate slowly clockwise – a sure sign that we were expecting a girl. So that was that particular old wives’ tale exposed as mumbo jumbo…
For the most part, Tracy’s pregnancy proceeded uneventfully. There was that one time when she felt some slight sickness, and fainted prettily on the upper landing, causing me to charge upstairs, snorting with alarm. And she seemed to exist almost entirely on milk and chocolate digestives, which transformed an ethereally-slim and insubstantial girl into a solid mass of obdurate flesh. On previous occasions when we’d collided in our tiny kitchen, I’d always ended up in fits of laughter as little Trace spun away through the door and glowered resentfully at mighty me. Now, it was my turn to bounce off and ricochet against the wall. And I was always getting edged out of bed by this brooding, broody lump of double humanity. It was a strange time.
In the end, Tracy was late delivering the goods – nearly two weeks overdue and showing no real signs of getting on with it. So, the decision was taken to get her into hospital, and “induce” her. This involved bed rest, a cocktail of hormone-based drugs, and subsistence on soup and ice cream. I spent a lot of this time visiting, and trying not to mention my own more interesting diet, for fear of provoking a hungry woman’s rage. When the time finally arrived, we realised that it was going to tick over on to the same day as my Dad’s 66th birthday and we still clung to hopes of presenting him with a grand-daughter – a gift that could never be topped.
The early hours of that July 7th were a riot of readings, tubes, examinations and just about every medical intervention you could imagine. Tracy was in a lot of pain, and I felt a miserable mixture of guilt and helplessness. Every five minutes, so it seemed to me, some new person would stride into the room, stick another wire, tube or implement somewhere about my poor, spread-eagled wife’s person, and bustle out again. Tracy gulped at gas and air in between times, and demanded either an epidural or a section, in increasingly strident tones. The epidural was granted at last, but took two tries to work, amid instructions for me to hold my wife VERY steady, as she’d surely be paralysed if the needle missed its mark. Thanks, Doc.
Then, all of a sudden, it was action stations in earnest. I was hastily retrieved from a waiting-room where I’d tried to catch ten minutes sleep on two pulled-together chairs, and peremptorily ordered to grab a leg, and keep out of the way. I surveyed the scene at the business end, and immediately knew that I was going to do that awful, clichéd thing, and faint. This filled me with horror – I’d be the deserving object of scorn in that overwhelmingly female environment, with my wife stoically suffering away. I’d never live it down. Mumbling an excuse, I dived for the adjacent bathroom, and splashed ice-cold water on my face, gulping massive breaths of air and feeling the muzzy sensation and the hissing and rushing in my ears fade away. I tottered back out into the delivery room, and resumed my station at Tracy’s left ankle, by which time the baby’s head was crowning. I stared again, fascinated now. We two were mere moments away from becoming three, and yet still we didn’t know the single most important fact about our child: boy or girl?
All those doubts seemed to vanish as matters accelerated towards a conclusion. With a courageous, fantastic effort, Trace had managed to deliver herself of a head, and was well on the way to producing a couple of shoulders. I gazed at my child’s mop of raven hair, and then marveled as a muscular upper torso began to emerge. I’d seen that thick black mane before, and those lithe and sinewy shoulders and limbs, oiled with unspeakable secretions and glistening in the harsh light. I’d seen them in Westerns galore, they were unmistakable. We were having an Apache.
The head and shoulders, unsurprisingly, are the hard part. The rest of my offspring fairly hurtled out, and with an exclamation of delight I squeaked at my wife in the high pitch of emotional release, “We’ve got a girl, Trace! And she’s bloody gorgeous!!” (Sensation, and sustained applause)
Now, another new-fangled tradition played itself out, as I was given some scissors and ordered to cut the cord. I ballsed it up, of course, getting three quarters of the way through, the scissors out of control in my shaking hand. But I somehow managed to saw my way past the last bit, and then I had my daughter in my arms for her first ever cuddle. 4:38 am. Welcome to the world, Kathleen Abigail. Happy birthday.
I don’t remember too much after that. The rest of the day was a confused blur of phone calls; my Dad being fooled into thinking it was a boy before we told him he had his grand-daughter, a lift home with my delighted parents while Trace was ushered off to a bath and a well-deserved sleep, and then celebratory bacon sandwiches at our house, courtesy of Mum. We stopped for a pint of milk and the scum fan who kept the sandwich shop down the road saw me and was taking the mick over Brian Deane. I told him I’d got a far bigger story, and so it came to pass that one of my earliest congratulations on new fatherhood came from a scummer, forsooth. He was a good lad though, as it goes.
I do remember later, my Dad saying during the first visit how he was so pleased to have a grand-daughter for his birthday, and Tracy snarling that she “hadn’t done it for him”, as my Mum laughed in the background. And cameras were popping all over the place, everyone but my poor, tired wife lapping up the star treatment. Kate-who-was-supposed-to-be-David slept beautifully through all this, giving an entirely misleading impression of how she would comport herself during her noisy first three months. And then it was back home for us non-combatants, leaving Tracy to feeding lessons, and more blessed, welcome sleep. Kate Atkinson had arrived, and things would never be quite the same again.
And Brian Deane? Well, he had his moments at centre-forward, and even got Leeds into Europe one year with a virtuoso goal at Spurs. Beyond that though, his main claim to fame is that he arrived in my life on the same day that my only child did; but there, the comparison ends. Kate is now twenty-three, this very day – and continues to confound, amaze and delight us as she lights up our lives. She doesn’t share her birthday any more, her grandad having passed away early last year. But the stories of her childhood are many and memorable; they’re the treasures we still hold now that she’s making her way in the world.
And, if I live to be a hundred, I’ll never ever forget the day I first met my daughter. Happy birthday, Kate. And all our love, as ever.