I became a father nearly a year ago ago and have learnt much in that time about surviving in my professional life now that my personal life has become coiled tightly around a podgy wriggle-creature with hyperactive salivary glands.
Here are my recommended pre- and post-baby rules.
Pregnancy: Colleagues whose names you don’t know or whom you actively dislike do not have special dispensation to touch your belly or talk matily about the potency of your spermatozoa.
Birth: The word “we” has absolutely no place in describing or announcing the birth. One partner goes through 8 to 30 hours of unrelenting agony before forcing a juvenile member of the species through a very small bodily opening. The other stands bedside, grimacing, patting, squeezing, cooing and offering ineffectual help – “Do you want to try the gas again?”.
There is no “we”.
First weeks: During this period you’ll develop techniques for discreetly checking whether a very still human is alive. You can count this as intensive first aid training and ask for a pay rise when you return to work.
Back to work: Don’t be shy when it comes to demonstrating how tired you are. Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of exploitation. Shout declarations across your office like ‘I’m so tired I don’t know and don’t care if I have any clothes on!’
Also slump theatrically at every opportunity.
The office showcase: There will come a time when your workmates will demand that you parade your baby around the office.
Tactic 1: tell them to get stuffed.
Tactic 2: buy a small Roman chariot, a pony, and fifteen litres of non-toxic gold paint and really parade your baby around the office. You can use the gold paint for the chariot alone or the pony and baby as well – it depends on your ethics.
Or, better still, do what I did when I became a father and create a papier mache blue Batmobile like the one Angry Anderson drove round in the back of at the 1991 AFL Grand Final.
Now, I don’t like to be prescriptive, but it’s as simple as this: we must either follow these rules or rethink our collective desire to perpetuate humanity.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
You can read the column – ‘Benign to Five’ – in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online.