Raising life

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"She looks just like you," says a friend flatteringly, searching our daughter's features for signs of familiarity. I accept the compliment and add it to a list of the many other relatives to whom the poor child has been likened. I've now been told whose chin, whose eyes, even whose hairline she is supposed to have. As if a child were some sort of genealogical construct.

It's best to take all this with a dose of scepticism. Likeness seems to be strictly in the eye of the beholder. In any case, it is surely better to keep a child unfettered with such associations. Then she can get on with being who she will be.

Yet who do I find myself thinking of as she's playing with her bricks? There's a person who invariably springs to mind at mealtimes, as tiny hands fiddle with chunks of food. And when I'm observing the calm of infant sleep, the thought is there again.

My youngest brother, the only baby I ever lived with before this one. Again and again, the memory returns from decades past, from a time when I was no more than three. It's not a likeness - the two don't look physically similar - but an evocation of memory. And I find myself feeling protective towards that brother, now a grown man. I ring him more often, care more about how he is, think more about him. Having a child has done more than make me a father. It has transformed brotherhood into something different. Something fresh and better has been added to the rivalry and anger of siblings.

It is almost a cliche to say that when you have a baby, you suddenly see babies everywhere. A world in which you rarely noticed a pram before seems littered with buggies. But I'm surprised to discover how much "babyness" I can now identify in other people. You can see it in the most unlikely spots, such as the drunk slumped oblivious to the world, so reminiscent of an infant just fallen off the breast. And it's also in the rubbery limbs of some teenagers, still displaying vestiges of the newborn. All over the place. And, once sensitised to these qualities, you can't help but feel differently towards these people.

But perhaps the greatest revelation is of my own time as a baby. It is a period of which I have no conscious memory. And yet, when I hold our child, bathe her and dress her, I feel deep in myself that I have been there before, that I have been that child. And I realise that you never know what your own parents did for you until you do it for another.