Punch Drunk Dad: Vol. 2
Written by Joe Longo
Monday, 12 October 2009 14:44
Another installment of wisdom from a tired father whose head is not clear.
Click here for Vol. 1
4. Leaving The Womb
Barring complications, most mothers remain in the hospital for a couple of days after baby is born. Dads are also encouraged to do the same. Depending on your standard of health care, accommodations will vary from plush to holding cell. I'm going to assume that my couch, which featured a pull out extension to fit my full frame but had hard wooden gaps between the cushions, pretty much split the difference. Whatever you're dealt, don't waste energy complaining. You will be able to fall asleep on a bed of nails if you have to. If mother suggests that you try to grab an hour's nap, you will be deep REMing before she finishes the sentence.
The nurses will spoil you during these days, checking in every few hours, wheeling baby away for tests, just often enough for both of you to sleep, and helping mother get breastfeeding underway. Watching the nurses and lactation consultants go to work on breast and baby mouth is a wonder to observe. Recall the timidity with which you first held your child, then watch a veteran nurse screw baby's head onto mom's breast like she's prying open a stubborn jar of olives.
And later, at some unnamable hour, you may hear a gentle voice of a night nurse talking sweet to baby while you fade in and out of sleep. This voice will warm your heart like a distant train whistle or ocean waves lapping the shore.
You won't be able to thank the nursing staff enough.
All this gratitude sinks in when the machinery of hospital administration kicks in on the morning of your departure. It's not simply that you are asked to sign papers that seem pro forma but in fact act to limit the hospital's liability in some inscrutable way. It's also not the way they employ a patient escort to wheel mother and baby out the front door as if she were a terminated employee who might do something rash before stepping off the property. It's that you are officially in charge of keeping baby safe from here on out, not in any vague way but in the obvious, is-this-car-seat-installed-correctly? way. You might be alone walking out to your car when you suddenly realize that mother and baby are counting on you. It's this deep pathos rising up within you that television ads constantly try to access, and carrying the car seat into the lobby of the hospital, you might as well be in a commercial, for the Baby Trend product you're holding, or the tires on the Honda you bought precisely because baby had to ride in a new, reliable car.
You may never be as dumb or as happy ever again, and you will not remember until way later that when you were an infant your parents let you bounce around in the back of a Volkswagen bus.
5. Two Roads Diverge
If you're lucky like me and are underemployed, you will get to spend plenty of time at home with baby in the early going. There is plenty for you to do, but the best job in terms of low-maintenance/high reward is holding baby while it sleeps. If you make the mistake of leaving the TV remote out of reach before settling down with baby, you may be forced to kill time by reflecting on your life. At this point in time I can't verify whether that's part of the fun or if you'd be better off staring blankly at West Coast baseball games or repeated airings of SportsCenter.
My first mental journey with my new son, Santangelo, on my chest had to do with the very fact of his maleness. Wife Sarah and I chose not to learn ahead of time the sex of the baby. This made for an excellent betting pool we launched among family and friends. We included family lineage and other popular indicators so that the raffle form looked like a thoroughbred racing tip sheet, with phrases like "Sire is the 5th of 5 foals and the only male." In the end, we raised enough money for a private school application form, assuming a healthy rise in interest rates. It also brought genuine surprise in the delivery room. In the middle of all that anxiety, exhilaration, and anticipation, when the baby came out I completely forgot that there was a gender involved. If the OB/Gyn hadn't announced it, I might not have even asked.
The drawback to keeping gender a mystery was that, for nine months, we had developed fully-formed notions of two children. In fact, the day before Sarah's water broke she had a tense discussion with her mother justifying the girl name we had chosen, Lucrezia, Mother-in-law was concerned about historical figure Lucrezia Borgia, who is associated with high-level political poisonings during the 15th century Renaissance Papacy. We countered with Lucrezia Marinella, a 16th century Italian proto-feminist who penned "The Nobility and Excellence of Women and the Defects and Vices of Men." Not that we minded the idea of the treacherous Borgia. In all ways, we'd rather associate our child with the killer rather than the victim. When searching famous Libra birthdays that our child may share, there was as good a chance for Lee Harvey Oswald as there was for John Lennon. Given the choice, do you want your child to be the lone gunman or the one who catches one in the head?
My overall point is that we negotiated a name for a daughter we will likely never have. So when your baby finally arrives, boy or girl, and you've got it breathing quietly on your shoulder, you might feel as if a family member is missing. And you don't easily shake the idea that she exists somewhere.
We love you, too, Lucrezia. It just wasn't your time.
6. The Tube That Binds
And if you sit with baby even longer, you're going to begin to wonder what the effects of having a son or a daughter are going to have on you. Rightly or wrongly, I assumed that a daughter would allow me to be more easily loving, and that having a son was going to force me to be a domineering asshole in the manner of an SEC football coach. In short, a girl would be better for my health and well-being.
I hold up one of my brothers-in-law as exhibit A. When I was 16, I worked for a few months in his father' s jewelry manufacturing business, which he helped run along with his younger brother. Not a day went by when one or all of them were enraged, often with each other. The collective blood pressure among the three men was enough to power the entire factory floor. My brother-in-law's volatility was not restricted to his work. His idea of recreation back then was getting ejected from slow-pitch softball games.
A few years later, my sister gave him two daughters. Nowadays, the man is chill. He no longer works for his father. He even took up golf, and though he can barely break 100 has never to my knowledge thrown a club.
Of course a son, for all the unnecessary pressure I'll probably put on him, will provide me with a whole set of bonding opportunities. Two years ago, when Sarah and I first decided to conceive, I was playing poker in downtown New Orleans during the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame was in town to play LSU, and at my table was a father with his son who went to Notre Dame. The dad struck me a a mild Midwestern type who probably played less poker than his son, who also wasn't very good. Still, given my future family plans, the scene got to me. Twenty-odd years had gone by for the father, who endured god knows what to not only send his son to Notre Dame, but to join him on a father/son road trip where they, in their Midwestern way, cut loose a little. And yes, I grant you that a Notre Dame dad is a particularly soapy example of paternal affection, but give the guy a break. It had to have a been a moment he anticipated, even visualized, since the first time he held that son in his arms.
And, I have to add, special father/son moments are difficult to come by. My own dad took me to many Boston Red Sox and New England Patriot games, but attending such games was a constant requirement for my father, who frequently had to entertain clients during his years at Fleet Bank. Thus our first trip to Fenway, had for my dad, who was actually a Yankee fan, all the magic of a Take Your Kid To Work Day. The fact is, he dislikes live sporting events intensely. Like a lot of men his age who grew up poor and went on to acquire a solid middle-class lifestyle, everything is better on television, in a comfortable living room in the house that you bought. Can't fault him for that, but the result was that our best father/son moments were spent eating salt and vinegar potato chips by the bagful and yelling at an electric box. Fun no doubt, but not the most romantic tradition to pass on.
It was no small irony, years later, when I called my dad after attending Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, and told him that my seat was right between the goalposts where Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal.
"It was the same view you had on the television," I told him.
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