When my son Ari was born, I was sure he would be perfect.
My mind wandered for nine months, cradling the idea that one day he would be a great man: a senator, a stock market investor, a great speaker or political leader. I knew that even in the womb, he was already halfway to genius, probably polishing his early phonetic skills and I was sure he’d be walking by six months. His father’s own son.
On the other hand, I was just plain scared. Scared that my son would be unhealthy; scared for my wife; scared that I wouldn’t be the father I wanted to be. Parenthood forced me to wrestle with this gut-wrenching duality between the mountaintop emotions of birth and the true terrors we all fear.
Before my son was born, I wasn’t sure what parenthood would bring with it.
I remember running into old friends at the grocery store and we would dawdle for a few moments in conversation. Then I watched in horror as they produced pictures of their latest offspring, many looking rather gloomy, eyes bulging because of the flash, heads slightly oblong. That’s just from the delivery, they would say.
I thought parents were strange, a breed apart. I thought if I ever have kids, I’d at least give them a week or two to break themselves in before I start snapping pictures.
So when I stumbled home from work one crazy spring afternoon and found my wife peering up at me, cheeks slightly moist, heart on her sleeve, and the world in her eyes—I knew that this baby would be different. The history of the world had only been a prologue to this moment. My baby would defy the standards of children everywhere, and set himself apart. And my pride grew with each ultrasound, with every cryptic prenatal kick.
This measured mega-pride was my way of compensating for the fear and insecurity of preparing for parenthood. I simply didn’t know what to expect.
Like any other father-to-be I was forced to rework our tentative budget and make compromises that before might have seemed unreasonable. I considered new job offers and spent more time at home. I visited the doctor with my wife, and slowly began to learn about things I never knew existed on this planet or any planet. We bought clothes, blankets, diapers and contraptions like a breast pump and a nasal aspirator, both of which look more like weapons or communicators from “Star Trek.”
Then my son showed up and we began what will be the longest ride of our lives. The first few days after the baby was born my wife and I were both saddled with major sleep deprivation combined with an uncontrollable, hysterical joy that would bubble over occasionally.
I have read articles that make the first three months of parenthood seem like a sleepless festival of nightly breastfeeding trysts between mother and child, leaving the hapless father changing diapers, making runs to the drug store and watching reruns of “Baby Story” to fulfill paternal urges. That’s not far from the truth, but there’s a lot more to it.
Several weeks after Ari was born, I started to notice him noticing me.
He would study my eyes for long moments, discovering something new for himself. His eyes would light up and follow my lips as I told him a story or talked him through a diaper change. It was during these times that I began to realize just how worried I had been.
Now that we’ve begun to show him off at family gatherings, church services and social functions, I’m the proverbial proud father. Even when he’s stretching his lungs to their full capacity, screaming in that high-pitched beautiful baby cry, I know he’s just practicing to be a singer. And when I can’t bring him out to show off, I’ve got a wallet full of pictures waiting in my pocket for any sign of interest or slight conversational stall.
I had the camera ready the day he was born, and I didn’t hesitate a second to introduce him to the world. I understand now why parents act the way they do. It is as though my wife and I inadvertently became members of the parenting club. And you fathers-to-be out there, beware. You’ll be at a barbeque or in the grocery store and suddenly it will happen to you.
When it becomes clear that a conversation is steering toward the topic of children, suddenly the room stills, and a modern form of the old western pistol draw plays out as two men bum rush their pockets for their wallets, and come up juggling pictures with credit cards, ID cards and receipts.
But when it all works out, each man is allowed to gloat over their baby’s picture for a few choice moments, baby’s eyes bulging and their heads oblong. His head was fine after a few days, you might say. But the truth of the matter is, you don’t care.
After all, your baby is perfect, just like mine.
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