“Are you nervous?”
This has become the de facto query directed at me when the subject of the impending birth of my daughter inevitably comes up. I’m not saying I find a way to shoehorn the topic into pretty much every conversation, but—hey, have I mentioned I’m about to be a father?
So. Am I nervous? Well, let’s see. I know that having a child can be expensive. We’re facing a situation where our typical two-income family has been relying on me as sole breadwinner for over a year, an arrangement that is unlikely to change in the next couple of years as we’ve decided it is best for Calliope if she has a full-time parent present during her formative years. As opposed to, say, some kindly old woman named Marge who collects the remainder of one paycheck after the government is finished with its plundering. I never really cared for the Atomic family model but when the math adds up… I mean, it’s math. You can’t argue with math.
Then there’s the fact that I’m in a sort of awkward career stage where I desperately need some re-education or additional training probably at a significant cost so I can break my relative salary stagnation which has been in place for about three years now. Did I mention the economy is sagging and my company just announced yesterday its third round of layoffs since I started ten months ago? I would classify myself as concerned about the financial responsibility I face.
Am I nervous? You know, this child has been almost ten years in the making. Theoretically speaking, that is. Nik and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary this October in what I presume will be a much shorter, less grandiose and significantly more anxious ceremony than we may have anticipated twelve months ago. But it’s possible that at any juncture from that date in October (of the last decade; of the last millennium if you want to fudge the numbers a bit) this thing could have been instituted. The reasons it took this long are numerous but a key factor in a lot of it was my own fears of paternal suitability. I’m not exactly the poster child for responsibility or maturity. Among my encyclopedic flaws are a severe jealousy for my personal and leisure time. Initially when we got married I said that I did in fact want children but I wanted us to have some time to be just a couple, to get to experience some alone time while we were young and not save it all until later in life. My proposal was for five years.
We didn’t make it even those five years before Nik began to grow restless waiting for the opportunity to be a mother. Few things in life have held as much appeal to this girl as the prospect of being a mom. Nurturing and care are in her blood, like she has a special enzyme that causes children to find comfort in her presence, solace in her voice and security in her arms. She began to speak of our five-year plan as if it were merely in draft form, suggesting she might put it to a special vote by the council to have the sentence reduced. It was sadly at this same time that I was growing less enamored with the notion of parenthood for mostly selfish reasons and I could not hide it from Nik. She asked point blank if I was still committed to the idea of parenthood and I had no choice but to confess that I was having doubts.
The next few years were difficult. We avoided the subject a lot, because as a couple we were happy but as a couple facing a future whose vision we didn’t share, it was also tinged with nervousness and sadness. But it had to come up now and then and the conversations were wrenching, draining. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable with the idea of being a dad. In some ways it made me a worse husband: I can’t bring myself to give my wife what she most wants in the world because I need the decision to be mutual and not some sort of martyr, but if I can’t do that, what else do I have to offer? Why even try?
It took an epiphany in the throes of the worst illness I can recall as my brain boiled beneath a 103° fever to make it clear. She was waiting for me. Her faith in me had moved beyond faith in my words or faith in my intent, she believed with her whole heart that either I would come to see that building a family with her was what we needed to do or, if not, that it was in God’s plan for us to be childless. She was willing to sacrifice her whole sense of identity because she was more devoted to me than she was to herself. Stewing in three-day filth and surrounded by discarded Kleenex brand facial tissues and empty glasses of 7Up and orange juice cocktail I suddenly understood that she would give anything for me because she believed in me with her whole heart.
I didn’t really get over the notion that fatherhood was a terrifying prospect, but I at least got over myself. I allowed myself to believe that she might be right, that I could do anything I set my mind to and I was willing at last to set my mind to being a good dad. It took a little bit more planning but everything began to get better after that. I softened on my stance and Nik cautiously began to accept that I might mean it when I said we could consider the idea of building our family. When we did finally reach the point where we were trying we conceived very quickly but our first pregnancy ended in a tragic miscarriage that almost undid everything. It was Nikki’s worst fear come true and we had no idea how to recover. It set us back more than a year, and not just in our plans for having children. Given the pain of that summer, we’ve been on pins and needles the entire pregnancy and I’m not feeling like the apprehension will ever ease. We already love our daughter so much and we’ve yet to even meet her.
But am I nervous? I’ve decommissioned an entire room of our apartment from an office/storage/hobby room into a nursery I don’t even recognize as belonging to me. We’ve helped Babies R Us post a record-breaking earnings quarter and re-arranged not just the baby’s room but our bedroom as well. It now sports a gigantic bassinet thing and a tiny desk that replaced our nice office work area. Even our living room now has to accommodate a bookshelf and, soon, an assortment of bouncers, playmats, toys, cushy pads and safety devices to avoid accidents. I’m already struggling with all manner of new bits of technology I never knew nor cared existed: Carbon monoxide alarms, internal/external thermometer alarms, monitoring systems, vaporizers, diaper disposal units, car seats, collapsible stroller frames. I love gadgets and yet these devices feel alien and unfamiliar.
All of these objects have been purchased and acquired on the recommendations of the thousands of people who’ve done this before us and while I’m grateful to have their advice and opinions, it can be overwhelming at times. There are persistent assertions that we will be sleep-deprived for months following the birth of our child. People warn about the challenges of parenthood as you struggle to maintain an identity as a couple, to make time for each other and to remember your marriage. It seems daily someone reminds me that, because we’re having a daughter, there will come a time in the all-too-rapidly approaching future where I’ll have to contend with snuffling pre- or just barely post-pubescent boys victimized by some fashion or another that I refuse to comprehend seeking to gain favor with my angel and shoulder me out of the picture. These slouching bags of water and hormones will bear the full brunt of my four decades of training in the arts of scorn, sarcasm and derision to the horror of my daughter who will flee the humiliation of her insufferable parents and seek solace in their simpering arms while I rapidly re-evaluate my long held belief that concealed sidearms are unnecessary in a civilized society.
There are cautionary tales about childhood obesity, the rise of autism, developmental concerns vis a vis television watching and electronic media consumption. Not to mention the basics of discipline and forging appropriate relationships with children as protectors and caregivers, nurturers and providers that stops short of casual friendship and who-runs-the-show spoilage. Oceans of ink have been spilled, countless hours devoted on television and PTA and church seminars and parental support group meetings to cover these topics and one’s head twirls around like a ballerina on a music box to consider having to wade into this fray. There is so much to learn, so many pitfalls on the way, so many places where someone as broken and insufferable as I am can stumble and cause irreparable harm to an innocent, unknowing child who had no worse part in this than to be stricken with the misfortune of having me as a parent.
Yeah, am I nervous?
Listen to me: I couldn’t be more excited.