Marcus Lush freely admits that he is a changed man. He lifts his baby boy high above his head and blows raspberries on his stomach, then gives a cheeky grin as his fair-haired son wriggles in his arms.
The beloved television and radio presenter is overjoyed at being a new father.
“For the past 10 years I was always really keen to have children,” Marcus begins. “I spent all those years with people who had children, yet I didn’t have any myself.”
But when the RadioLIVE host, documentary maker and media star met sign language interpreter Vanessa Underwood, the reality of potentially becoming a father took shape.
“I was mindful that people get to their 40s and panic if they don’t have children,” explains Marcus (48), “but for us, it was about our special relationship and the real closeness we share. And with or without children, we knew we would be forever. We just thought having a family would be a great thing to do.”
As it turned out, Vanessa was quick to conceive. “As soon as we decided to have a baby, we were pregnant by morning,” he says, in his usual slightly offbeat way. And from the moment Tracker was born, on December 19 last year, Marcus was a totally hands-on dad.
“I love having baths with him. My favourite thing is wheeling him in the pram. I’ve become a pram connoisseur!” he grins. “I always used to think people with babies were boring and
I worried that I’d become a baby bore, but once you have a baby of your own, you’re up for a pram discussion.”
Since Tracker arrived, two weeks later than his due date and weighing in at 3.5kg, baby conversation has, in fact, been a regular part of Marcus’ day. Discussing Tracker’s every move, sound and sometimes even bowel motion has become a feature of his RadioLIVE breakfast show and he’s equally frank when describing the events surrounding Tracker’s birth.
Vanessa, he tells, went into labour at the couple’s apartment in Auckland and Tracker was born two days later, completely naturally, in a birthing pool at Waitakere Hospital. “We didn’t plan a water birth, and I would hate to come across as a water birth ambassador, but it did work for us,” says Marcus. “Vanessa was a completely zen mother... and it was cute how Tracker came out. He just floated to the end of the tether like a little astronaut. It looked like the Nirvana Nevermind album cover,” he quips.
Vanessa smiles, recalling Marcus’ mock horror at his newborn’s appearance. “He was saying, ‘I can’t bond with this child – he has a cone head!’” Marcus chips in, “Well, I was thinking of a lifetime of corrective surgery in the skull unit! Medical staff could see I was panicked and rushed to put a hat on him,” he jokes. “When I’m running antenatal classes, which I plan to do one day, the first thing I’ll teach expectant parents is that the most important skill is burping, and that their baby will have a cone-shaped head at first, but that it will go!”
A week after the birth, on Christmas Day, the new family made a four-day drive from Auckland to their second home in Bluff, where gorgeous Tracker quickly became the centre of attention. The youngster was named after a local oysterman, 74-year-old Eric “Tracker” Black.
“Tracker senior is the father of my next door neighbour and a good mate,” explains Marcus. “Tracker is his nickname, so we have changed it up and given our Tracker the nickname Eric.”
Selecting a boy’s name was unexpected for the couple, who had been adamant they would have a girl, despite choosing not to find out the baby’s gender. “I have the best name for a girl,” declares Marcus. “It’s November Rain, named after the Guns N’ Roses song! Vanessa thinks it is fantastic too.”
As for a middle name, the tot has been unofficially christened “Tracker Alpaca”. During Vanessa’s unconventional version of a baby shower (with not a party game nor a cupcake in sight) she, Marcus and their close friends went on an alpaca-walking experience in Northland.
There’s no hiding how elated this broadcaster is about introducing his new family – he plants as many kisses on Vanessa as he does Tracker between beaming smiles for our camera. “Life certainly seems fuller,” he tells. “But it’s been really relaxed and primarily revolves around feeding and sleeping, more than I thought. I’ve certainly learned that you never wake a baby.”
For their six weeks in Bluff “we had so many visitors and people bringing us gifts, and people running out of shops and stopping us on the street to meet Tracker,” smiles Vanessa fondly. Then the Lush family returned to Auckland, where Tracker spent the second six weeks of his life in a cabin at the Piha camping ground. Campgrounds have been a part of Marcus and Vanessa’s relationship since they fell in love and first lived together at the Takapuna camping ground.
“The Piha campground is relaxed and really good fun,” Marcus says. “We have friends who live there permanently and part of why we came back here was to introduce Tracker to them all. It’s a great place – there’s always someone to wheel the baby around or put him to sleep.”
Sharing communal washing machines and bathrooms hasn’t proven a problem so far, says Marcus, due to their “fairly minimalist” lifestyle.
“We haven’t got a lot of stuff, but I do love shopping for Tracker’s clothes. I found a one-piece with trains and planes,” the locomotive enthusiastic confides, “and bought eight different sizes for him to grow into.”
Marcus says he and Vanessa, now back at their Bluff bungalow, are enjoying discovering the ins and outs of parenting together, without a lot in the way of outside input.
His parents, he says, “respect my ability to make decisions” and have been thrilled about welcoming Tracker into their world. “I rang Mum from the birthing pool and she was so excited that she was in tears.”
But in terms of books, videos and formal parenting advice “we’re a bit wary, although we did go to antenatal classes. The woman who ran them was, by her own admission, one of the world’s worst mothers but she said ‘you can’t break them – use intuition and there’s joy in finding what works’. So we just go with that.”
Just like his father, Tracker is an early riser. Marcus wakes at 4am each weekday for his 6am broadcast. Vanessa sees lots of other similarities too. “Tracker likes sleep, eats well and is very easy to read, like Marcus. They are both very happy and loving – inquisitive, observant and they both like their independence.”
And Marcus says he has the highest respect for Vanessa, who will return to work part-time in June. “I haven’t even got close to what Vanessa can do,” he marvels. “It’s amazing to watch Vanessa with Tracker – she’s unbelievably natural.”
Tracker’s arrival has brought with it many unexpected benefits, not least of which is fresh topics for Marcus’ show. “Suddenly a whole realm that was closed off has become of interest. I’m curious about things like schooling. And I was interested watching Prince George in New Zealand because he was teething at nine months! Fatherhood has given me a new perspective on life, and I’m never short of a conversation,” he says.
“Tracker’s brought a lot of happiness – I am amazed how much people love babies. We make sure everyone has the opportunity to have a cuddle.”
Vanessa nods, adding, “A homeless woman came up to me on the street the other day and said, ‘Your little boy is absolutely beautiful – can I have a hold?’ I just had to say yes!”
It’s that selfless spirit that has been key to this obviously strong relationship. Vanessa and Marcus first met at an Auckland restaurant in 2009.
“I knew as soon as I met Vanessa that she was very special and it was worth taking my time with her,” recalls Marcus. “It seemed that this was going to be a serious thing, so we hung out for a long time before we became a couple.”
After Vanessa fell pregnant, she noticed a change in her partner. “Marcus became really protective, caring and thoughtful. He always was, but even more so.”
“Pregnancy and having a child, it takes you out of yourself,” offers Marcus. Which begs the question – will this Southern man desire any more children?
“Well, we have got that great girl’s name picked out already!” Marcus teases. “Tracker’s been such a delight, I can’t imagine missing out on another child. He’s very social, never skimpy on smiles, and I think, hope, he’ll be a kind little boy.”
While the family enjoys splitting their time equally between Auckland and Bluff, they know there will come a decision about where to settle more permanently, for Tracker’s sake.
“Right now we are excited just to spend time with him,” says Marcus. “We take him tramping because Vanessa and I have always done a huge amount of that – we are outdoorsy people and his name’s Tracker, so hopefully he will be out on the tracks his whole life!”
It seems like Marcus is on track too, having paved the way to his own happiness.
“Before, people had perhaps seen me as someone with sharp edges, but everyone loves Vanessa, everyone warms to her. I’ve always felt content, but with Vanessa and Tracker, I have a new feeling of contentment.”
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