Patrick first meets his daughter when she is 3 weeks old and he is 26 years, 7 months and 12 days old. It was a pretty normal day; one where Patrick went to work, joked with his collegues over sandwiches (tuna mayo), thought about what to make for tea.
Until, with one phone call it was the most unusual, but the best day of his life.
Patrick was just in the freezer aisle, debating the merits of chicken versus turkey, when his mom rang.
“Patrick, honey? I think you better come to our place quickly.” Her voice sounding tighter with every word.
“I- okay. I’m just at the store, is everything okay?” Patrick recognises her afraid voice from the time his dad and sister were in a car crash, and knowing its probably urgent he drops his shopping basket in the middle of the aisle, says a silent sorry to whoever’s day he just made a bit harder and makes towards the door.
“Mom?” He prompts when she doesn’t answer his question, only breathing heavily and uneven down the phone.
She sighs, Patrick can nearly see her biting her nails, and repeats “just come quickly” before hanging up.
The first thing Patrick notices about his daughter is her tiny fingers and tiny toes, the way they curl and stretch while she’s asleep. Her natural reaction to Patrick’s hand is to grab it, and curl her whole chubby fist around one finger.
Within the first hour of meeting his daughter, Patrick has seen her fingers and her toes, seen her shock of bright blonde hair, seen her little puckered lips and has fallen in love quicker than he ever has. Probably the hardest he ever has and within that first hour he knows no one will ever come close to his daughter.
(Turns out David comes close, closer than Patrick was expecting. Turns out Patrick had more love to give than he ever knew).
His parents explain to him that Rachel turned up at their door at 5:32pm, handed them a baby girl as casual as if she was an UPs worker delivering a parcel, handed them a handwritten letter and said “tell Patrick, I’m sorry” and left as quickly as she came.
If Patrick could’ve timed that conversaction, he would’ve known how long it took for him to love his daughter with his whole heart, not one corner left for anyone else.
The first conversation he has with his daughter is at 10:38pm that night, she’s asleep (she has been for most of the night) and in his arms (he never really wants to let go).
He’s alone in his old room at his parents house, even through they redecorated it after Patrick got his own place, they put all Patrick’s photos back on the wall. Patrick looks at them now, tries to figure out how he grew up so fast and tries to figure out how much more he’s got to grow up now a baby is depending on him.
“What are we gonna call you, baby hmm?” He asks her in a whisper. She doesn’t reply, of course, that would affirm Patrick’s idea that this is a dream. Patrick is still somehow disappointed by her lack of reply, he pinches the bridge of his nose and sits on his bed, careful not to jostle the baby enough to wake her.
“We can’t call you baby all your life now can we?” Despite knowing he won’t get a response for a good few years, Patrick can’t stop asking her questions. This time she moves her hand up to her face, as if to put her hand up, as if she agrees with Patrick keeping her in the loop. Patrick huffs out a laugh at that thought, pictures this tiny baby in a classroom and feels tears begin to fill his eyes.
“I think we’ll have to google baby names don’t you? Because I’ve forgotten every single name, even my own. What was it? Peter?” It’s good to know in the face of crisis Patrick can still make himself laugh.
He hears a floorboard creek at the other side of the door, “mom? You can come in you know.”
His mom’s face when she steps through the door, space between her eyebrows creased and lips pressed together but the edges titled up, is the same face she’s pulling in the picture on Patrick’s wall. The picture of her in the hospital bed having just given birth to Patrick, wearing the same expression is she now, looking at her granddaughter.
It’s almost as if she read his mind when she says “gosh. She is the spitting double of you when you were born Patrick, but at least we knew you were coming!”
Patrick grins at her, thinks he’s probably grinned more times in the past two hours than he has in a while.
“We don’t have a cot so I can show you how to put her to sleep in your bed?” Patrick nods along to her explanation, his daughter still a warm mass in his arms.
“Make sure you don’t let your duvet near her okay?” Patrick nods frantically, thinks he’ll just forgo a duvet for the foreseeable future. He hands his daughter over to his mom to put down on his bed, he already misses the feel of her in his arms, while he gets into bed himself.
“Okay I’ll leave you be, just come and get me if you need anything okay? Do you think it might be an idea to ring off work tomorrow?”
Patrick nods to all of that, says thank you without taking his eyes of his daughter’s tiny features.
The first time Patrick realises they grow up so fast has any truth to it is the day before Mabel’s third birthday. He’s flicking through photo albums for cute pictures of Mabel to hang around the room tomorrow. There’s seven of the day Patrick first met her, all the same really but he can’t bear to throw any away. There’s one of Patrick feeding her, one of Mabel post feeding herself, yoghurt on her eyebrow.
There’s one of Mabel alseep on the couch, her monkey teddy grasped in her hands, her blonde hair behind her. There’s three of the day Patrick noticed Mabel’s hair had changed from blonde to ginger, her curls squashed under a hat and her cheeks red from the cold.
Patrick thinks if she ever has to grow older than three he’ll have to have words. With who he doesn’t know, he just knows he’ll be mad about it.
“Daddddaaaa” a voice forces him out of Patrick’s daydreams of wrestling with time and he finds its source at the back door to the garden.
“Dada, look. A worm.” Mabel holds the worm up to him. Patrick slips out his phone and snaps a picture of her red face and pleased smile.
“Wow” Patrick says, he really means gross but Mabel seems fascinated so he will pretend to be for however long she needs.
“Where did you find that?” He asks as he kneels at the threshold to the door, close enough to quell the need to fold Mabel up in his heart. Mabel points behind her blindly at the swing set before turning around and changing the direction of her finger to where his dad is digging the flowerbeds.
Patrick’s eyes catch the mud under her nails and dreads cleaning them in the bath later, where Mabel will cry and cry but ultimately enjoy it.
“Shall we put it back where he lives then? So he can join his Dada worm?” Mabel nods and runs the 4 metres back to her grandad. She uses her free hands to dig a cavity in the soil, Patrick contemplates feigning illness and asking him Mom to bath Mabel tonight.
Mabel then places the worm in the hole dug especially for him and pats it with a single finger, and the covers it back up in the violent but gentle way only toddlers can achieve.
The first time Patrick drops Mabel off at school is a nightmare.
She’s perfectly well behaved, lets go of his hand when she’s asked, chats politely to the other children and greets her teacher with a smile. A nightmare. For Patrick.
Patrick already feels lost without her and he’s still looking at her from the door. He waves to her one last time, before clearing the doorway for other parents to cry at their child’s first day at school, and mopes back to the car.
The first time Patrick buys her a hardback book (they’re pricier and until now Patrick doesn’t know if Mabel cared enough to look after it properly) is the first time he explains to her about him and David.
“Listen Mabel, I have something to tell you.” God if he finds it difficult to tell a five year old he has a boyfriend how will he tell his parents. “You know David, from daddy’s work? He’s tall?”
Mabel nods, curls bouncing. “Well he’s my boyfriend now, so I’ll be seeing more of him and so will you because he might be at our house more often. Is that okay?”
“Yes. I think I like David, he gave me a scone. What’s for tea?” Patrick let’s go of the breath he was holding, and picks Mabel up from her seat, hugs her tight enough for her to protest, before asking, “I don’t know, I can make lasagne?”
“Yummm, yes please, can we have jello for after too?”
Patrick fakes a sigh, “I guess...” before putting Mabel back on her feet, suspecting a celebration air punch is coming soon and remembering the painful tingles in his nose off last time she did in his arms.
As if she can read his mind, she waits until both her feet are on the floor before pushing her fist into the air.
Later that night, Patrick is tucking Mabel into bed. They just started the second Percy Jackson book, and Mabel is thrilled with it. Patrick is just smoothing her hair back off her face when she asks, “so because David is your boyfriend now,” Patrick holds his breath, “does he get all my cuddles?”
Mabel’s picking at her teddy’s head, trying to look casual while she waits for Patrick’s answer. Patrick marvels at how she even makes those expressions at five years old. God he loves her.
“Nooo, of course not!” Patrick gasps. “Who do you take me for?”
Mabel shrugs, playing along but Patrick sees her grin. “Shall I tell you a secret?”
“You’ll always get more hugs than anyone. Always.” Mabel nods, as if she’s making a mental note of that offer, but still doesn’t look totally satisfied.
“But David will still get some? I still want the most but I don’t think it’s fair for me to have all of them”. Patrick’s heart swells. God. How could Rachel ever choose her career over Mabel, she’s the most beautiful five year old Patrick has ever met. How did he get so lucky?
Patrick nods before kissing her forehead goodnight. “Don’t worry, I promise to evenly distribute hugs” Patrick holds three fingers up, Scots honour and Mabel nods satisfied.
“Night Daddy, love you”
“I love you, too, Mabel.”
As he’s turning out her light and closing the door, Patrick remembers, not for the first time, why he named her Mabel. Lovable
Mabel. Def: The name Mabel is a girl's name of Latin origin meaning "lovable".