ANDY MURRAY is trying to do the right thing in a world in which modern parenting is a balancing act, writes Aidan Smith
When my first child arrived I instantly placed myself somewhere in the middle of the league table of new fathers. You didn’t know such a table existed? It doesn’t, not officially, but what’s a man to do during all that waiting except think of sport and - when there’s no actual sport available to watch - compile imaginary championships and ponder the placings?
This one was based on anecdotal evidence drawn from maternity-unit testimonies. “You’re interviewing the midwives,” my wife would say between gas-and-air gasps. “I know, but their stories are so good.” Now, mid-table might sound a bit safe and boring but it was exactly where I wanted to be.
It was far enough away from Exhibitionist Dad and nowhere near Idiot Dad, both of which were expertly described for me by hospital staff. Idiot Dad was something in property and had just returned from London. “Darling,” he said, “my meeting was excellent and wait until I tell you about this smashing fellow I met on the train.” The greeting was no different from the one he’d offer upon entering his own home; he didn’t seem to register that he was in a building full of pain and fear, a large portion of which was being endured by his wife. She simply groaned and ordered the nurses: “Get him out of here.”
Exhibitionist Dad on the other hand was actively engaged in the birth process - maybe too much so. When his wife went into the birthing pool, he jumped in too. She was naked for obvious reasons but there was no need for her husband to be. “We like the men to wear swimming trunks,” the midwife told me. This balloon then proceeded to “direct” the birth in the manner of an on-set movie-maker or a war general. “When the baby arrived he leapt out of the pool and marched round the room, feeling as delighted as any new dad should. I handed him a towel hoping he’d cover himself up. ‘Thanks,’ he said, used it to dry his hair and handed it back to me.”
I think all we men, when we become dads for the first time, would be happy with a mid-table placing. When my wife and I drove away from the hospital with our son, I kept the car steady at 22mph and screamed at the driver up ahead edging out of a junction, even though he was a safe 300 yards away. I was absolutely terrified of my new responsibilities. Exhibitionist Dad would have tied balloons to his bumper and not required half an hour to fit the babyseat.
Andy Murray, I would guess, is a mid-league dad, too. He’s trying to do the right thing, as opposed to the show-offy thing or the clophoppingly wrong thing. He’s trying to be a good father and be there to help as much as he can. Obviously his job isn’t nine-to-five; there will be advantages in that for dadhood as well as disadvantages. His work, though, needs levels of concentration way beyond mere mortals like you and me (especially you). We could stare blankly at our computers, zombified by sleep deprivation, and only perk up mid-morning over a third coffee without questions being asked about our productivity because it’s understood that men share the parenting burden now. By that stage, though, Murray could be two sets down.
Questions have been asked, apparently, about his recent poor form. Commentators have blamed this on the birth of his daughter Sophia. Murray, understandably, is having none of it, stressing how the important thing for him - the main thing - is being a good father. He said: “I’d rather be getting up in the middle of the night and helping her than winning every match and her thinking when she grows up: ‘Actually, you know what, he was a s****y dad but he won a lot of tennis matches so, you know, well done.’
“Becoming a parent is life-changing and if it helps my tennis, great,” he continued. “And if it doesn’t, that’s fine. That’s not a problem for me now. My priority is to be a good father first.”
If it could be possible for the tennis matrons of the Home Counties to love our Andy some more, to completely grasp him to their stout bosoms in a manner that never seemed likely in his pimply, wild-haired days when he cracked that joke about wanting England’s footballers to get thumped by Paraguay, then the moment is probably here.
But his remarks weren’t crafted for PR. He was simply stating his position as a parent, a new and occasionally scary role in which he’s still feeling his way and which he’s trying to fit round his occupation - that of a Grand Slam champion for what was a pretty useless tennis nation until he came along but still expects him to beat god-like genius and robot-like relentlessness and win even more titles.
The world has changed from the days when men could leave everything re babies, from the having of them right through to when they were old enough to be bought their first drink, to women. This is obviously a good thing. No more will a Scottish football stadium’s public-address interrupt the game with the important announcement: “Would Wullie McTavish try and get home at some point after the match - his wife’s just had triplets.” Now, from having virtually nothing to do with parenting, men are involved at every turn. Some get over-involved. A few have made fatherhood a competitive sport. But don’t think you’ve turned into Fred Flintstone should you ever feel like telling the guy who arrives at your playground with a tot’s survival-kit featuring a colour-coordinated muddy-puddle-ready change of clothes: “Hey, Superdad - you’re a big jessie.”
Andy Murray will continue to grapple with the pressures and conflicts of modern fatherhood while reaching for the wet-wipes. And then, as Britain’s greatest-ever sportsman, he’ll get back to tussling with Novak Djokovic.