And twelve years has seemed a day

The past is messy; a woman determined to get pregnant and hang onto a man fresh from his first ever gay lover, my fleeing the breadth of the continent, unwillingness to commit, four hour long circular phone calls (three a week for months), emotional coercion to abort, paying for legal advice on how to become worst enemies.

An oasis of fairly calm discussion when she is seven months pregnant. In a spartan upstairs hotel room in the heart of Canberra I massage her, and in so doing, lay hands on the tiny shape that is to become my son.

My son. I feel connected to him - it - for the first time. No, not quite the first. I had known as his mother and I had sex one night. I felt the twinge of cosmic energy that was his arrival; his choosing to take on flesh. I knew. And I flew faster and further.

A Monday morning at work; I answer the phone. "How does a little boy sound?" she asks. My stomach back-flips. "Sounds fine" I joke. Leave applications, packing, seven hour flights. I walk through a ward: women's turf, women and babies.

The name at the foot of the bed means that this red, incredibly screwed-up crying face is the one, but let's pretend I didn't see him. A woman in another bed says "She's smoking on the balcony." I walk out, an Oscar-winning picture of nonchalance. "Have you seen him?" "Sort of." And cliche of cliches, he is put oh-so-gently into my hands. His mother weighed 60kg when she was nine months pregnant with him; this is one tiny person. I have big hands, they dwarf him. Even the hospital's smallest nappies envelop him from the chin down.

Bewilderment and joy

I feel - nothing. Maybe bewilderment. We are locked together this being and I; in signing paternity on his birth certificate I have locked us into a sixteen year contract.

And I thought gays were footloose and fancy free. Oh my.

A friend drives us home and says "You are not leaving this lounge-room until you have named that child." He is three whole days old and we have not named him. There is a volume of Shakespeare in the room; he comes perilously close to being named Ariel, but sanity prevails. I recall an Aboriginal name from my days as the spotty clerk in an Aboriginal department. And Kiah he becomes. Twelve years on. I refer to Kiah as the most important man in my life, and mean it. I am single by choice; I genuinely enjoy his company. I have chosen to go from being an every second weekend typical access Dad, to caring for him full-time, to our present arrangement where he lives with me exactly half the time.

I enjoy his company, he shares my delight in bad jokes and word play. We joke a lot, sometimes so as not to talk about heavy stuff, mostly for the fun of it.

December: Christmas day

My son dives too deeply into the pool and suddenly he's standing in the water, looking at me with a frightening intensity. "Dad" he screams. He's hit his head, hard, on the concrete bottom. As I rush to hold him a thought skitters across my mind that there are other fathers watching and they'll think we're wimps if I hold and comfort my boy. Conditioning dies hard. I hold his shaking body close as he gulps great sobs. It's the first time I've seen him cry in years. Conditioning dies hard.

A flash: I'm at an animal park years earlier with my boy and we're walking along the path. Another boy runs past us, trips on a tree root and lands Y-shaped on his hands, face and front in the hard dirt. I step forward to help but he's already up and running again, face set harder than the stone path, no tears. A though skitters across my mind, admiring him. Truly, conditioning dies bloody hard.

December: Saturday morning

I walk into town. A neighbour's boy child, wet and dressed only in Speedos is walking up the middle of the road, crying his heart out. Something is horribly wrong for him, and he is walking towards his father, trying to form words through the sobs to describe what's happened. His father, 200 metres up the street, yells "Go back and get your towel." Still the boy walks wailing toward him, unable to hear the command.

Walking toward the child, and in an escalating scale of threat the father repeats and repeats "Go back and get your towel!" I'm never a father like that, am I?

I don't want to see what happens when these two meet. I scurry on.

December: Tuesday

My son and I are discussing him watching a movie on TV called "Masters of the Universe", a sort of high-tech sword and sorcery mishmash with the main hero called He-Man. He scoots into his bedroom and returns with two figures which he says are from the TV cartoon series. Kiah hands me the figures, which have muscles the size of footballs erupting all over their bodies. They are in poses which I presume pertain to battle-readiness; they simply look constipated to me.

I place them in a ballroom clinch and waltz them around in the air, humming a Strauss waltz, alternating with camp dialogue from the pair: "You dance divinely." "Thank you so much. May I lead for a while?" "Be my guest." "Lovely music, don't you think?" My son looks at me. "I don't play with them like that," he says dryly. And twelve years has seemed a day.

First published in the magazine XY: Men, Sex, Politics, 3(2), Winter 1993. XY, PO Box 4026, Ainslie ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1993.