Friday, January 30, 2009
Never thought I'd get here
I love being a dad.
That might sound like something that doesn’t need to be said, but in my case, it’s a rather recent revelation. I was pretty sure I was missing the dad gene.
For one thing, I didn’t particularly like babies. That’s not the same thing as disliking them; all I mean is that there was an absence of like. Like Joel and Maggie said in Northern Exposure, they never have anything interesting to say and they’re always sticky.
Everyone has always said that I’m pretty good with their kids, but that’s the exception that proves the rule: putting up with a kid for thirty minutes is not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination as actually enjoying their company. And I have to admit that I never was really “good” with the kids as much as I simply learned a secret: babies like smiling faces, but they really like big, open mouths and wide open eyes. You elongate your face by opening your mouth as wide as possible and raising your eyebrows, and you have a smiling baby every time.
On top of that, I’ve never felt even the slightest urge to carry on the family name. If there wasn’t a new generation of me running around, I didn’t see that as any great loss to the planet, given that there are 6 billion other folks already taking up space here.
So there you have it: until very recently, I didn’t think I’d lose any sleep if I never changed a diaper or sat on the receiving end of a parent-teacher conference.
But this little kid has done a number on me. Chalk up one for the home team because I’m starting to think that all of you picket fence and mini-van folks might be on to something here.
For one thing, I’m amazed that someone with no sense of irony, parody, cynicism, or farce can laugh so hard at something as predictable as peekaboo. If I hide behind his playpen, Z. will run around the corner to find me, and then will roar with a laughter so deep that he sounds like he going to run out of oxygen. (There’s a federal grant I’d like to get my hands on: studying infant humor. We are all born with a sense of humor, and it seems to emerge before so many other emotions. But then most of us turn it off at some point, or allow it to go undeveloped. I wonder how much it would cost to get a room full of babies and watch them watching Monty Python skits.)
And no, babies rarely have anything interesting to say. But that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking deeply about whatever it is that’s in front of them. Watching Z. try to figure out to get to a ball that has rolled under a chair is right up there with watching Lynn Hill
tackle the Nose Route on El Capitan or Garry Kasparov staring down Big Blue.
As for the stickiness... well, turns out baby drool is about a thousand times less toxic and less pernicious than Great Dane slobber. Babies don’t shed, and they don’t tear up hard wood floors with their Freddy Kruger-esque toe nails. So maybe they’re not all that big of a pain, after all.
And maybe I’m finding a paradise within thee, happier farr.
(John Milton, "Paradise Lost".)