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Things I Have Learned

Gordon Moakes Of Bloc Party On Fatherhood
The Quietus , November 25th, 2008 02:57

Gordon Moakes, low end provider with Bloc Party, took time out of his hectic schedule to tell us how becoming a dad has turned his world upside down. Picture by Julia Corsaro

Proud dad Gordon with baby Scarlet. Pic Julia Corsaro

The rest of what you do isn't as important any more

Seems obvious, but working this out was completely liberating. When I looked down into our daughter's face for the first time I just breathed a sigh of relief: no longer would I have to run around justifying my place in the middle of the universe, no more need I try to lock horns with how things are and how I fit in. It takes all the stress out of life, not having to be defined by that stuff any more. Strangely though, the fact that I make my living playing in a band remains just as relevant as it was, if not more so. I can actually see all the better now how it fits into scheme of me and our family: now I go out on tour with a purpose, a job to do, a mouth to feed. I am here to provide, and it's okay for me to enjoy what I do too, because what better an outlook can you pass on to your children than being proud of what you do, of enjoying your work?

Babies and noise are compatible

This was something I suppose I hoped for the best with, since music is a fairly big part of our lives, and always has been. I think it did us a favour though: we played our baby music while she was in the womb, we took her to a gig or two, and since she was born she's mostly been able to sleep whatever is going on around her. Nothing could be more of a joy than sticking on some pounding desert rock while your child nods off in your arms. She loves bass. How happy that makes me.

Family isn't a place

I think I realised this when I flew back from my first tour abroad after Scarlet was born - I'd spent two weeks in Canada, and then travelled back from New York to get home. Quite often you pass right over the centre of London when you fly into Heathrow, which is a great way of getting some perspective on a place. With London so tiny below me I felt suddenly a lot more philosophical about it being a destination, a home. My wife is American, and we've long been agonising how to make our family work, how to juggle grandparents on different continents, where to base ourselves. But being away from the baby for a couple of weeks was enough for me to realise I didn't really care where I was as long as I could be with her. We could live in London, or New York, or the middle of rural Germany for all I care as long as we're together.

Fatherhood isn't motherhood

I'm a firm believer in the division of labour when it comes to parenting: who can afford to think otherwise these days? And while this means I'll reach for the changing mat, make a bottle, and take baby for her check-up - in fact anything that needs doing - it's really important to remember that the bond between a baby and its mother is a sacred thing: not a relationship that a father can intervene in. I get the feeling some modern dads have gone so far as to think they can do anything mum can, because that's equality, right? And don't we live in times of gender equality? But these kind of people are just short-sighted to what only a mother can provide her child: a quality she passes in the scent of her skin, in the way she coos into baby's ear, in the very way she looks at and holds her child. Dad has his own unique skills to provide of course: support, strength, play. Of course I am all for same-sex parenting and unconventional family units, because everyone knows love is what a child needs more than anything. I just don't care for people that overlook how important the role of a good mother can be, or think it's an easy job.

Sleep is subjective

You're familiar with the cliché that when you have a baby your nights are continually broken, that you're never quite catching up with the sleep you feel you're missing, and well, it's true. But in this nether-world of bleary 4 a.m. moments you discover that sleep is not really your number one priority when the livelihood of a small bundle of little person is at stake. So you can afford to be a bit less strict with your eight hours a night. My wife said at the beginning she didn't mind doing four o'clock feeds because it meant she got to hang out with her daughter more. What a lovely way of looking at it. The truth is it's very much like being jet-lagged (something I know all too well about), and when you're jet-lagged you can't help but be philosophical about what your body's doing to you. You can't fight it. Same with babies. It's nature trying to order itself, and in such situations you just have to bow to the greater powers at work.

Change Is Nothing (Everything Is)

I think a lot of people in bands go after hedonism as a way of medicating against the constant movement and upheaval that comes with it, and I wonder if it's just a way to deny the impact of change. But if you think there's something gloriously chaotic about being in a band, you should try having a baby. Having a baby is the ultimate reminder that you cannot plan your life, even if you think it is a plan for your life. It's not. It's a blueprint for chaos, the unexpected, not knowing what's going to happen next. It's kind of ironic because I've never much cared for drugs, I like being at home with the cat and a predictable night's TV. But having a family - that's a real challenge, that's truly embracing the unknown. So I'm not scared by change, by the idea that your life is not on some pre-destined curve. Change is nothing.

Legacy schmegacy

Music, records, lyrics, bass-lines. This article? All things I will be remembered for... or maybe not. Yeah, I have spent my life striving for art, ideas, love: not just for a laugh when it comes down to it but as a way of trying to puzzle out why I am here, of grappling with the things it seemed like were inside me trying to get out. But while I'm happy I did them I don't think I care whether anyone will really remember them, not in a hundred years' time. Why? Because these were all my conversation with the world, the things that were important to me. Scarlet, she is something else altogether, and nothing could make me prouder than knowing she has come from me, a product of my love for another: but better than all this is knowing she'll outlive any vanity I have for what I do, and have more impact on the world than any idea I've ever had.

"Teenage angst has paid off well..."

One of the most memorable takes on the father-child relationship from my youth was Nirvana's 'Serve The Servants'. Cobain was the ultimate teenager, grumbling about how he "tried hard to have a father but instead I had a Dad". That sentiment was pleasingly withering to the seventeen-year-old me, but now I look it from the other side, as a parent myself, I realise that being a Dad is not so bad on the parenting scale after all. I think of my Dad, who died a few years ago, and he was just that, a Dad: he went out to work, he tinkered with cars, he loved his family. He didn't sit me on his knee and tell me how hard life was going to be or what his secret to cracking it was. He never tried to get me to see the world in a particular way. He listened though, and he got things done. He was a Dad. And what more can you ask for?

Love is everything

As a young romantic the idea of love dominated my world, as if I could forge shapes out of it in the air with it. I spent a lot of time with love: idealising it, trying to define it, looking for it around corners; but as I get older I wonder if I ever had the slightest idea what it was about. It's easy to make a bold statement that holding a child in your arms is the closest thing you can get to true love. But that overlooks the decades of twists and turns that led me through love to what was a crowning moment. Love is not just a vain game you play with yourself, agonising over your mistakes: it's the most important thing that can happen to you. It's a baton I can pass back through history to myself and say: you're right to persevere. What's coming is the best thing yet.