Watching my wife give birth, all I wanted, other than the impossible dream of easing her pain, was for her to live. And of course she did. The rest of the experience was a filling-in: we hear so much about what birth and parenthood are going to be like, other people’s theoretical visions. But when it happens to you, suddenly it’s your story. And then there are the hollow comments that you need to fill for yourself, like when your parent friends say, “It changes everything.” And it does, but I wish someone would have given me some details.
The first weeks of my son’s life were a science experiment—I just wanted to keep him alive. Then I settled into the serious business of trying to make him into a happier image of myself, of making myself into a better version of my father. I don’t know if that’s the right approach, but it’s the one I still subscribe to.
Four years later, when my daughter came, it was easier for me and my wife, and probably for my daughter, too. We accepted interventions, anticipated the magic, and also dreaded the pains and disappointments that come with it all. I showed up with my son and he met the baby. He was somewhat nonplussed, but swallowing his bratty ambivalence is probably the price I’ve had to pay for asking of him to be the mender of worlds. And while he and my wife and I are so caught up in doing things right, my daughter teaches us how to relax by relaxing herself.
I was never an average anything until I became a parent.
Now, I wake up before God does and I grade papers, and, to flout the hippy generation, which my parents thankfully predated with disdain, I leave my house for the gym at 4:20am. Not me-time, it’s merely maintenance. I give so I don’t feel guilty. And I take what I want from my wife and my children, mostly in the form of kisses I steal when we sit in a pile on the bed and read or watch TV.
I think that parenting is about confronting the void, the space between what you want life to be for yourself, your partner and your children, and what it actually is. There is probably some interstellar pinpoint supermass where all the family silences go to create their own gravity. In my household, we have detached from our orbits and on our own courses now, but we still look back and watch the thing supernova.
The little world we’ve created somewhere in between our cellular origins and the universe of possibilities is ours, and I will guard it with my life.