The Long Night


Fatherhood and Parenting
Author Martin Flanagan

Tending to sick children is often the most gut-wrenching role that parents play. In this short but poignant piece from his book Family Matters Martin Flanagan describes one memorable night with his daughter.
She is sick, the small mound of her stomach is like a hot plate. Her legs are no cooler. I know I need to lower her temperature but if I attempt to ease the eiderdown off her body, she scolds me and pulls it back. She has a heavy cold which, unbeknown to us, has flared into an ear infection. Her mother has been dispatched to another bed in the vain hope that she might find sleep there. The child and I will spend the night together – grabbing at insubstantial clouds of sleep, waking to her pain, making stumbling forays to the bathroom in search of the Panadol.

Her comfort is to play with other people’s ear lobes. We have lain there for some hours, marooned in bleak sleeplessness, when I gently try to disengage from her. I ask her not to hold my ears; it keeps me awake and I am trying to go to sleep. It had not occurred to me that she would be trying to make the best of her ordeal, to be brave. "I trying to sleep, too," she retorts, and suddenly her hot little face is wet and shuddering, and her avalanche of tears is a measure of what she has endured.

The platform we stand on as parents – all-knowingness – has opened like a hangman’s trap-door beneath me. In its place is a red mist which feels uncomfortably like shame, but there is also a knowledge that I have never loved this child more deeply and that I shall never forget this night.

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