Growing up, I’d never really thought about becoming a father. I never saw any dads who, like me, also had cerebral palsy, which limited my own expectations. Besides, my younger self was way too selfish to look after a child. The most he’d ever managed was a cactus - and that died of dehydration.
But when I first met my wife Adele, she said I’d better be prepared for the fact she wanted babies, which was a pretty strong opening line. Anyone who knows her will confirm she is baby mad. She’s forever watching TV shows like One Born Every Minute. I don’t get it, you always know how it’s going to end: “Oh look, it’s a baby...” Not exactly Game of Thrones.
Years later, when we were having our second son Jamie, we agreed to be filmed for a programme on BBC1 called We Won’t Drop the Baby. I naively thought that making a fly-on-the-wall documentary would show the world that disabled people like us can be great parents. How wrong I was.
Recently the programme was uploaded to YouTube and we suddenly became clickbait, alongside celebrity plastic surgery disasters and those quizzes to find out which Disney princess you are. This meant complete strangers would look into our family home and share their considered, well-informed judgements on our parenting skills. Like most people, I’d normally deal with this kind of crap the same way I’d treat Daily Mail headlines and PPI calls. But comments like this really got to me: “Their wish to have another baby was probably bigger than their common sense, because having kids in their position is just irresponsible.”
Being accused of irresponsibility was a bit of a low point. Besides, if it was irresponsible of me to have kids then it’s got nothing to do with me being disabled, and probably more to do with things like balancing my wife’s crutches on my son’s baby walker to make him look like a Dalek.
Some of the comments were downright bizarre: “How did they even make the baby when he’s in a wheelchair and can’t hold anything properly?” How did I make a baby? Same way as everyone else - got pissed, forgot the condom and welcomed in a lifetime of regrets! By the way, I didn’t actually make my babies in a wheelchair, because for someone like me that would be really impractical. I do, in fact, get out of it sometimes – I’m not a Transformer.
But some of the comments were even more ignorant: “Their son’s still carrying the cerebral palsy genes and his kid could be born with it. Genetically that child is screwed.” Of course there’s no such thing as cerebral palsy genes, but this misconception is more common than you’d think. When Adele was pregnant with our first son Tom, a qualified doctor asked us if cerebral palsy was hereditary. They’re meant to give medical advice, not ask for it. But two can play that game so I asked him for some jokes. To be fair, he knew loads - mostly about childbirth. I think my wife may have preferred us to wait till he’d finished the C-section.
It’s tradition to pass a newborn baby straight to the father, but the midwife took one look at me after my son was born and thought better of it. Although in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have worn my League of Gentlemen ‘dole scum’ T-shirt (see here). You know you’ve failed when your child is better dressed than you in a onesie.
By the time we had our second son Jamie, we didn’t get any of this crap from the hospital. In fact, we got five star treatment, possibly down to us being filmed by the BBC every step of the way, which was a damn sight cheaper than going private.
As the old saying goes, don’t get mad, get even. So now, I’m performing a stand-up comedy show called An Irresponsible Father’s Guide to Parenting where my kids and I go through these and many other ignorant YouTube comments and, once and for all, set the record straight. I’ve even filmed them reading the comments for the very first time and their subsequent reactions to include in the show.