Last Night's Viewing: A Dad Is Born: A Wonderland Film, BBC2
On the face of it, Greg Secker did not look like a promising candidate for fatherhood. He drives a Lamborghini Murciélago with a vanity plate that reads "PRO5PER", he shouts "Yeah, baby!" at moments of triumph (apparently without irony) and he already has one broken marriage behind him, which meant that he could talk fondly about his first son in Kira Phillips's A Dad Is Born: a Wonderland Film, but had received lawyers' letters forbidding him from actually appearing on screen with him. He's also a motivational speaker, pumping out You-Can-Be-As-Rich-As-Me bombast at expensive seminars for wannabe Gregs. I wouldn't say I took an instant dislike to him, but that's only because my reactions are getting a little sluggish with old age. And yet by the end of Phillips's film, I felt almost fond of Greg, so genuine did his responses to his new baby appear.
It wasn't the only prejudice overturned in this lovely film, which looked at the subject of childbirth from an exclusively male perspective. I wasn't initially sure about Viktor, either, a Hungarian cab-driver whose confession that he felt a sexual entitlement to every pretty woman in the world was strong on candour but a bit short on gender diplomacy. "A woman is not a real woman if she doesn't cook," he added winningly a little later. "I cannot take any girl serious if she doesn't cook." Fortunately, his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Melinda, does cook... and even more happily Viktor turned out to be something of a diamond in the rough, rather than just a Mittel-European sexual fossil. Finally, there was Jamie, apparently the very model of a modern liberal dad, but so effectively self-tutored in the hazards of infancy that he very nearly gave himself a nervous breakdown.
As One Born Every Minute proves every week, the raw material here is 40 per cent proof stuff. You might also argue that it's over-covered already. But by concentrating exclusively on the male experience, Phillips produced something genuinely new. There was a telling sequence filmed during the final stages of Viktor's girlfriend's labour, in which the camera never strayed from his face to the A-list event taking place just a few inches below it. It was simultaneously hilarious and moving, as he unconsciously mirrored every groan and heave, looked nauseous to the point of fainting and then finally burst into uncontrollable tears as his daughter slithered into the world.
Greg was networking his birth within minutes of the delivery, posting a photograph of mother, child and mobcapped father on his Facebook page. And Jamie was still pacing around anxiously waiting for the big moment: "I feel immensely proud, I feel immensely happy and I feel immensely terrified all at the same time," he said halfway through labour, a sentiment that would have been familiar to almost any father watching. In the aftermath, most seemed to perform well enough, though with different degrees of comfort. Greg, who'd naturally hired a maternity nurse to cover the tough stuff, was caught blissing out with his newborn son sleeping on his chest and confessed that it was a relief to briefly give up the pantomime of market-place supremacy that is his chief product.
Viktor spoke so sweetly about changing his daughter's nappy and supporting his anxious, depressed partner that he brought tears to your eyes. And Jamie, oppressed by his new responsibilities and depressed by lack of sleep, simply did the crying himself. He'd revealed at the beginning that his workmates thought he was a big softy for swotting up so heavily in advance. I think he'd better brace himself for a bit of teasing this morning, though he may still be far too exhausted to care what mere adults think. Phillips ended her film with footage through the windscreen of a car driving into thick fog, as good an image of the unpredictable journey of fatherhood as anything I can think of.
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