Dear Andy and Kim,
Before the congratulations, an apology. I am so sorry for failing to make it to the lovely Cromlix Hotel in April for the wedding. Honestly, the post round here is terrible. I’m sure the invite will turn up some day soon. You surely wouldn’t have gone ahead without wanting your greatest fan to be there, would you, Andy?
But, hey, well done, you two. That Olympic gold medal in 2012? The US Open a month later? Wimbledon 2013, and the joyous easing of 77 years of hurt? They might make you a sporting god, and Scotland’s most successful son. But all that glory, all those millions? That lovely glossy hair, Kim? They are going to be absolutely no help in this one, I’m afraid.
There’s little enough I – a jobbing hack in mid-life crisis – could advise a superstar like you on, Andy. Maybe you could be a little quicker to get to the barber’s sometimes, if you don’t mind me saying. But, young man, I’ve been where you’re going three times, and have 18 years experience on you. And, boy, do I look it.
Having a baby is the great universal leveller of life. Sure, if you’ve got millions, it’s no doubt that much easier. But money won’t allow you to skip over the minefields of parenthood. The years ahead are packed with Rumsfeldian unknowable unknowables, and you will be required to take quick decisions in areas where you have no expertise whatsoever.
Don’t kid yourself, either. Having Maggie May and Rusty is no preparation whatsoever. Dogs are no kids’ substitute. Nothing will ever be the same again. But because of all the happiness you have brought us over the years, Andy, I am prepared to pass on what I have learned since 19 December, 1996, to ease your passage to fatherhood.
The millions of decisions – mostly made blindly, cack-handedly, desperately – begin with whether you both want to know the sex of the baby in advance: if they’ll tell you, of course. When the consultant turned to ask us, my wife said: “Yes” exactly as I was saying: “No”.
This will be the hallmark of the years ahead. You think you’re all grown up now – you might secretly believe you’re the first people ever to have a baby – and you will believe that you’re smart enough to work out the important stuff in advance. Sorry. You’ll find yourself busking it all the way.
Upshot was we were expecting a boy. I’m ashamed to say I thought this was quite funny, but, with my wife being Catholic, I thought Billy might be the perfect choice for a name. Not William, but the fully abbreviated Billy. There and then, I named our son, never expecting it would stick. It did.
Now, this was fine for a lad growing up beyond sectarian borders. And, in London, Billy even carries a slightly hip brio. But I was posted to Belfast six months after he was born. Shouting his name across a pub as he began crawling across the floor highlighted the flaw in my self-indulgence.
Never let the wife drive. Now, I don’t know how good Kim is behind the wheel, but my missus almost wiped out the son and heir twice before his fourth birthday: once in Cuba, where she had inexplicably taken him on work assignment at four months, and once in Edinburgh.
For six months, she had been happily driving through a Stockbridge junction without realising she had no right of way. In the inevitable smash, our little Rover careered across the road and was crushed into a lamp-post. Had that impact been six inches further back, he wouldn’t have escaped with an operation to remove glass from his face.
Birthday parties? A nightmare. I shudder at his fourth, when I was in a new job. My solution was always to invite others and get quietly sloshed. My boss was there, standing next to me as a rival newspaper phoned her to ask if she was being sacked and replaced with her deputy – me. Awkward. The next call was to me: the same reporter, the same question.
If there is one area where your best resolutions will go out the window it will be with education. All those things you’d never do – single-sex schools, going private, playing the religious card, sending them an hour’s trip each way, even boarding, for God’s sake – you will consider them all.
Sport is vital, and not because his or her father is a world-beater. Hard one this. You’ve got to push them, but not too much. My boy played as a goalkeeper for a very good London side for a long time, and I never got around the ambivalence of wanting the ball to come his way so he could show what he could do, and being terrified when it did, in case he lashed up.
Girlfriends – or, to channel Harry Enfield’s fabulous Liberal Dad character, boyfriends – are a worry. As I type this, my 18-year-old son is upstairs with his glamorous, older, German visitor. I don’t suppose they are discussing Germany’s approach to the euro crisis or Nietsche: as long, I suppose, as he is up for the dentist at half two, teeth being another constant source of worry.
Crucially, if you can, have a couple of spares. Billy gets his A-level results on Thursday and then he’s off for good. That’s got to be a killer. Having two younger daughters will help heal that heartache, and, of course, you’ll find you’re just that little bit more relaxed with the nexts-in-line.
Guard against the dangers of complacency, and being goaded into a false sense of security by your relative success in getting the first to adulthood relatively intact. I fear I have taken the foot off the gas too early, and worry that she may yet be in the jail before she leaves primary.
Use all the help you can. Judy will love it, but if you find the baby fist-pumping with a grimace before he or she is on solids, maybe she’s too intent on passing on the winning mentality.
You will make mistakes. You will feel overwhelmed at times. There will be tears and snotters before bedtime most days. And that’s just you.
You can never be quite as single-minded again, and that will be difficult for a sportsman. But the joy of parenthood outweighs anything titles can bring you, and I say that confidently as one who has never won anything.
Congratulations, Andy and Kim. It really is the greatest gift of all. Good luck!