Tuesday, July 10, 2012


This past weekend, most of my mother's family gathered in Montana to celebrate the wedding of my cousin Rachel. With the new baby and my brother's wedding earlier this year, we weren't able to make the trip. Montana remains one of the four states to which I've never been (both Dakotas and Hawaii, in case you care).

Since I've never been there, I can only assume crazy things about Montana. For example, it must be a land of giants - Rachel is quite tall and yet she looks of average height next to her new husband. Also, apparently it is truly the last vestige of the Wild West, as National Geographic says - the internet connection and cell service was spotty at best. Through a garbled Skype call and an intermittent phone conversation, my grandmother, grandfather, and uncle were able to see our daughter for the first time - she cried through most of the call, which DID NOT help anyone's ability to hear.

At some point my uncle Joseph asked me his one question - is fatherhood anything like what I expected. I gave a thoroughly disappointing answer. Here is my version of an apology:

The first answer, of course, is unspoken. The very thought that someone with a seven week old infant could think clearly enough on the spot to answer such a question tells you my uncle does not have kids. In that sense, already we're well beyond my expectations of fatherhood - I never even considered a baby's impact on my mental faculties (the impact of a teenage daughter had crossed my mind, but we're more than a decade away from that).

Perhaps that's a good beginning. Of the things I had considered when considering fatherhood, things have been mostly straightforward. I did indeed bond with her pretty quickly once her eyes were open and made contact with mine. However, I do have to agree with Tina Fey in her comedo-memoir, when she says parenthood is not instant attachment; you have to get to know these little people just like anyone else. The more time you spend with them, the more attached you get. I hadn't expected that exactly, since everyone said I'd instantly be enthralled with this little bald dictator. I wasn't - but I am more now than yesterday and will likely be moreso tomorrow. That's good enough.

I was completely unprepared for the physical and psychological trauma the aforementioned dictator would inflict on my loving wife. There's a helpless feeling when she's sitting in the corner crying whilst her hungry offspring quite literally sucks the hope and life from her body. This child might be helpless and entirely dependent on us for continued existence, but I've known and loved my wife longer; the wife is winning that fight - at least for the time being.

We laughed about all the intense and frequent "don't shake your baby" warning in the hospital; we no longer doubt the seriousness and necessity of such things. I can, without humor and in all honesty, say that likely those warnings have actually kept me from shaking my baby on at least three occasions. Not that I'd do it on purpose, but there comes a time when internally, it just seems like the best option. I had not expected that.

Another unexpected surprise was that I no longer care at all about my appearance. Those who know me, or really have ever seen me, would be surprised to know I ever cared at all. Granted, I've never been the most fashion conscious person in the world - and my tastes in personal appearance have been quizzical at best. Yet I have always worked hard to make myself appear in ways that satisfy my own, again admittedly, warped and twisted idea of what looks good.

Upon arriving in Middletown, I embarked on one of life's most difficult endeavors - finding a place to get a decent haircut. My cheapness won out and I ended up getting a cut from a barber with 56 years of experience - right on Main Street, downtown. I'm sure my relationship with this man, as short as it may be, will be one of mutual interest and unfounded learning opportunities - but I'm pretty sure I'll never get the haircut I want.

I've been rocking a fauxhawk for a few years now. My hair is thick and luxurious, but it absolutely refused to do anything, but grow completely straight. I've got cowlicks everywhere and very few style options. This one seems to be working, and makes me look young and hip to oldsters and ironically cool to hipsters. It also explains itself to barbers; "just give me what I already have, but shorter." Which one would think is a simple request. It is not. Few stylists, even those at the illustrious salon of Fantastic Sam, can quite figure out how to do it well. I tried a brief explanation for my Octogenarian barber and let him go at it. I got a good haircut; all the hair on the top of my head is the same length and thus a different style than I requested, but it looks good.

All of that to say, I woke up this morning and couldn't be bothered with the extra four seconds it takes to put gel on my hands and push the sides of my hair towards each other. I didn't even pat it down or try to make it look other than a garbled mess. I don't care. That part of my life is over now. We've made peace.

There are all sorts of things I didn't expect - poop comprised entirely of liquid and what appears to be sesame seeds, for example - also that evolution would not have created a cutoff point for crying when the duration and volume has forced my responses past compassion and empathy and straight to blind rage. The only reason babies continue to survive is the evolutionary victory that oddly connects mothers to their children in unspeakably effective ways.

I've actually said, "Let her scream until she passes out; she'll be fine."

In closing, the one thing I did expect was to rely on the wife for most every important baby related decision until the child learns to talk. That seems to be going according to plan. The child is alive, she mostly sleeps through the night, and she continues to grow and develop. I'm not sure if everything is as I expected, but thus far, I'm entirely satisfied.


Jeremy D. Scott said...
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Jeremy D. Scott said...

Thanks for your transparency. It's refreshing.

I think you'd like having the son of your favorite author as a pediatrician. He's quite down-to-earth. His motto is: "Keep the baby fed. Keep the baby warm. Let the baby sleep." Some more of his thoughts: http://www.gotomvpeds.com/about/a-few-thoughts-from-dr-vonnegut

While not nearly as witty, some of my own thoughts back in the day resonate with one of yours (re: "instant attachment"), and I daresay it goes well beyond the parent-infant relationship and speaks to other relational rites of passage as well, including marriage:

- J

Ryan said...

I'm pretty sure Dr. Vonnegut would not like having me as the parent of a patient; I would undoubtedly make a fool of myself. I already have trouble reading social cues - that plus the newly found lack of care for appearance would really sink me.