When his new son came home, DAVID BOWKER moved into the spare bedroom and sank into a deep depression. So what changed?
From the beginning, the baby was Jane's idea. As ideas go, it seemed reasonable enough. We'd been together for 13 years, she was my best friend and we slept together. More to the point, Jane had only one ovary. The other ovary had been destroyed by an attack of endometriosis. Jane's child-bearing days were almost certainly numbered. The prospect of not having children depressed and terrified her. So I agreed.

I did not arrive at this decision lightly. We didn't have a great deal of money, and I earned what little we had. I worked from home, and the prospect of working within earshot of a wailing child struck me as neither practical or desirable. But when I shared my fears with Jane, she promised that she'd do everything in her power to ensure that the baby didn't interfere with my life. It was naive of her to make such a promise. It was even more naive of me to believe her.

When Jane conceived, my misgivings grew. I remember counting down the months and the days to the birth, not with excited anticipation but with growing dread. I realised, too late, that the existence I was about to leave behind was rather pleasant. I spent my days writing at home while Jane, an artist, worked at her studio. We lived near Kew Gardens, where I walked whenever I needed a break or was stuck for ideas. My life was filled with silence and light. The baby's expected birth date, ringed on the calendar in red pen, signified the end of that life.

I asked other dads whether I was worrying needlessly. As one, they laughed darkly and made remarks like: "Put it this way - your life'll never be the same again." "I know that," I'd answer. "But will it be better or worse?" "Just different," they would say, then laugh again, as if party to a joke they were unwilling to share.

When the baby arrived, a serene, wide-eyed boy we called Gabriel, I wondered whether I'd been worrying needlessly. Admittedly, I didn't weep for joy at the sight of him. Yet when I saw him lying in his hospital cot, I did feel a faint stirring of fatherly pride. Mainly because Gabriel didn't resemble the babies around him, who all seemed to have bulging eyes and ears as big as dinner plates.

But visiting your new-born son in hospital is one thing. Taking him home is quite another. A week before the birth, we'd moved to a two-bedroomed house in the Bedfordshire countryside. Once the baby was present, the house, already small, seemed to shrink to half its original size. As we sat together on our first night at home, I clearly remember thinking that I'd made the biggest mistake of my life.

The next day, I moved into the baby's nursery and moved the baby in with Jane. So in addition to taking no part in feeding, bathing or changing my son, I elected to sleep apart from him and his mother. Looking back now, this seems callous to the point of madness. But at the time - and this is an indication of how disturbed I was - I imagined I was behaving reasonably.

It was the loss of solitude that hit me hardest. Since childhood, I've always loved being alone. It came as a terrible shock to find myself living in close proximity to a small child 24 hours a day. Other fathers might not recognise my symptoms. But then, other fathers go out to work.

One of the strangest decisions I made during the first weeks of my son's life concerned James Bond. I suddenly decided to re-read the complete works of Ian Fleming from beginning to end, poring over the pages with slavish attention to detail. In difficult times, we take refuge in the familiar. I lost myself in 007's world of Martinis, taut breasts and fast cars, mainly because it contrasted so gloriously with my own world of breast milk, floppy breasts and pushchairs.

Unable to work, I slept almost as much as the baby, haunted by a recurring dream about Jane in which she went out alone to parties and didn't come home. The dream made little sense to me at the time. I now realise that it signified my unconscious jealousy of the baby. It follows, therefore, that my withdrawal from Jane was intended as a kind of punishment. I was in mourning for my lost freedom, but I was also in mourning for Jane. It was her I'd wanted, not a baby. Now, most of her love and her energy was reserved for the small interloper in her arms.

I honestly don't recall resenting Gabriel, or wishing him away. I never lost sight of the fact that he hadn't asked to be born, and would certainly never have chosen such a miserable father if he had. As babies go, he was obviously a stunner. The trouble was, I had no interest in babies.

To complicate matters further, Gabriel was far from well. When he was three days old, he was discovered to have a heart defect that would one day require surgery. A consultant at Great Ormond Street hospital had estimated that our son wouldn't need his operation until he was three or four. But when he was barely a month old, Gabriel had a breathless attack that turned his face blue. Our next month as a family was spent living in hospital.

I can pinpoint, with exact certainty, the moment that my feelings for my son began to change. It was a week before his first operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital. We were at home, enjoying a rare break from children's wards, and I was trying to rock him to sleep. Suddenly, he smiled at me for the first time. I felt an unexpected stab of joy, which was quickly followed by the first tears I'd shed for years. The doctors at Great Ormond Street had warned us that there was a one in 10 risk that the baby might die in the operating theatre. To paraphrase Dr Johnson, the knowledge that his child is about to face open heart surgery concentrates a man's mind wonderfully.

Before I became a father, the idea of men suffering from post-natal depression would have made me laugh in derision. Surely only women suffer from this complaint, and silly women at that? Such, alas, was the level of my ignorance. When I tried to confide in friends, good friends whom I'd known for years, they would inevitably ignore what I was saying and tell me what I felt - "Yes but you wouldn't wish him away." People exhibited the same eagerness to distance themselves when I mentioned Gabriel's heart problems, enthusing about the "marvellous things" surgeons can do before I'd finished explaining what was wrong with him. In short, my friends were useless. Ironically, the only person who understood why I was depressed about parenthood and was able to offer practical advice was my lesbian feminist sister-in-law, whom in the past I'd feuded with. (Thanks, Jill.)

Gabriel survived his operation, just as I survived the black depression that gripped me when he was born. The answer to my problems, surprisingly, was not reading James Bond novels, but spending time with my son. The more I did for him, the better our relationship became. It didn't happen overnight. One day I'd change his nappy, the next day I'd change his nappy twice. A week later, I might go really mad and get up with him in the morning. It was a painfully slow process. (As a solution, this sounds too idiotically simple to be true. But it really worked.)

Gabriel will be four on 26 November. By a happy coincidence, this is also the day on which the new Bond film is released. Gabriel and I are now as close as it's possible for a father and son to be. When I'm apart from him, I miss him, with a real physical ache that gnaws at my guts and weakens my knees. I love him totally and unequivocally.

My one regret is that I didn't love him sooner.

David Bowker writes about his son in `From Stockport With Love' published by Sceptre, price pounds 6.99.

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