I held my eight month-old up smiled at him. “We’ve got a REAL hungry tiger on our hands here mom!” I paused, cocked my head, and squinted. Wait did I seriously just say that? If I’d overheard such a thing a year ago I would have nudged my wife and given her the ol’ oh-my-Christ-did-this-guy-really-just-say-that-seriously? look. I would have made a mental note to remember the phrase which I would have inserted into the novel I’m working on. There’s a good chance it would have inspired a new novel about a pack of cheesy talking dads who decide to start a polka band and accidentally start a polka craze. Maybe I would have called it Polka Dads or The Great Polka Craze. Hmm…
I’ve heard it many times before “Being a parent completely changes your life and it’s the greatest thing ever!”I’d always written it off as some sort of honey tongued trick used by friends with children to lure others into the miserable trap of parenthood so they wouldn’t have to suffer alone. Misery loves company and what better company than childless friends who seem to be really enjoying their lives? I imagined friends who had children deviously laughing to themselves in their few seconds of free time, albeit very, very, quietly as to not wake the baby, about how they lured another couple in.
The husband would be waggling his fingers sinisterly in front of his face.
“My God Cindy they ACTUALLY fell for it. Hook line and sinker! I can’t wait to see the bags under Tom’s eyes, that smug asshole! He won’t be playing tennis anymore will he!”
“Oh I know it’s going to be great! They’ll have to cancel that vacation to Vienna now won’t they? I bet you Tom will have to get rid of that sporty red car too! And Clare’s fabulous tits ? Well she can kiss them goodbye!!”
They’d break into extremely soft maniacal laughter.
My wife and I didn’t initially plan on having children. We wanted to be free to travel and felt sorry for our friends that had children. We figured children were like expensive pets that lived a really, really long time. After being married for a few years though we changed our minds and decided to have a baby. We figured we would still be able to travel and we both felt like it was time.
Shortly after the celebration my wife and I had when her pregnancy test came back positive I was hit with a case of the doubts. OH no! What if I was right and being a parent is sheer hell? What if the baby is hideously ugly? There’s just no way I could love an ugly child. Shit! What would I do? Would I pretend to love it for the rest of its life? Could I pretend it’s handsome or beautiful if it’s hideous? My God I’ll probably have to have a separate dinner time because I won’t be able to look at it and eat. I’ll have to pretend to eat with it and then eat for real it after it goes to bed! I’d always have to sit facing the baby sideways so I could make it seem like I was putting food in my mouth. I’ll have to rig up a bag or something that attaches to my collar to catch the dropped food. I guess a small plastic zip lock could work if I pinned or taped it to my collar? Oh Christ what have I gotten myself into here? Well there’s always adoption I guess…
My worst fears were confirmed when we got a printout of the 3d sonogram.
“Hanna, look at that nose! And why is his body all misshapen like that? He looks like the Revolting Blob. That can’t be normal. He’s a monster! My brother and I use to have this Nintendo game called A Boy and His Blob. He looks like the Blob with one of those costume noses tapped on!
“Joshuuwa (my wife is Korean and calls me Joshuuwa when she is upset) he is squished up that’s all. The doctor’s said he is healthy and beautiful.”
“Well that nose doesn’t look right. I don’t know if I can love a child with a nose like that. Seriously what happens if I see him and I just feel nothing or worse what if I feel revolted? I really hope that isn’t his real nose! Also who knows what beautiful means it doctor speak.!”
She laughed but I was kind of serious. I was worried about not loving the baby when I saw it, whether it had a hideous nose or not. I’d read a story somewhere about a Dad that never had any real feelings for his children and suffered extreme guilt because of it.
Jack opened his eyes as soon as he was delivered and looked around curiously. In those few moments before he started to cry we locked eyes and I knew everything was going to be ok and that I already loved him. I also gave a sigh of relief when I saw his cute little button nose and not the Gonzo like monstrosity I’d been expecting.
The first three months of fatherhood were an endless cycle of feeding, changing, and soothing. I’d read that humans are born very underdeveloped compared to other mammals because if they were to develop further in utero their large heads wouldn’t be able to fit through the birth canal without killing the mother and possibly the baby. One doctor compared the first three months after birth to an extension of the baby being in utero. A newborn can’t really do much besides eat, defecate, sleep and cry a lot. I’m a fan of history and one of the more shocking and a gruesome things about ancient warfare was infanticide. The conquering force would storm the village picking babies up by their feet and dash their heads against rocks. I’d always thought it was just sheer cruelty but being a new father gave me some new insight. Babies cry a lot and loudly. If I were a conquering Cimbri or Teuton the first thing I’d want is for those enemy newborns to put a sock in. The cries of my own baby could be vexing at times. The cries of enemy babies when I was hungry, tired, and covered in battle gore would have been downright maddening.
The scariest part about newborns is they’re totally uncommunicative. It’s up to the parent to figure out what their problem is. Ok you’ve just been fed, had your diaper changed, had a bath, and I’m holding you. Why are you screaming at the top of your lungs? I had ghastly visions of ruptured or failing organs, things in the wrong spot or some other horror every time Jackie cried for a sustained period of time for no apparent reason. Sleep became a distant memory. When was asleep I worried, or dreamt, that he had stopped breathing. I’d made the mistake of spending several hours reading about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Every half hour or so I would lean in close and put my ear to his tiny nostrils to make sure he was breathing properly..
At around three months an amazing thing happened. It’s what child psychiatrist Margaret Mahler referred to as ''hatching,''. Jack started to take on a personality of his own. He started taking an interest in things around him. He went from being a creature that needed constant care and attention to a little individual. He started to come out of his shell and make baby sounds. He smiled more often and was awake for a good portion of the day. He also started sleeping through the night.
He’s eight months old now and I often ask my wife. “What did we do before we had Jackie?” Life seems so much fuller, I really can’t imagine life without him. The highlight of my day is coming home from work and seeing him. When I’m at work I catch myself thinking about him. I know it sounds cliché, and I would have said as much just a short time ago, but when you become a parent you really do start living for your child. Every mundane little thing becomes magical, because you see it through their eyes. My son is fascinated by the simplest things. He studies the household remotes, spoons, random pieces of paper, and other ordinary everyday things with rapt interest. I sit and watch amazed by his wonder. Wow that’s the first remote he’s ever seen!, or That’s the first time he’s every heard a magpie caw!
I remember when I was a little boy I wanted two things desperately; a light saber and a Mogwai. In one of the worst dreams I’ve ever had I dreamt I woke up and found I light saber in my hand. It’s happened! I’m a Jedi! A real light saber! When I awoke I learned the true meaning of disappointment. I recently came to the realization that my affinity for Brazilian Jujitsu probably stems from me wanting to dress like a Jedi. I never got my light saber but I think having an eight month old is what I’ve always imagined owning a Mogwai would be like, only cooler and without the dangers of getting him wet or feeding him after midnight. It’s another cliché but I’ve never loved another person like I love my son. I love everything about him and I don’t think he could do anything to change that. I realized just what an all-encompassing, sort of strange, love it was the other day when I was changing his diaper.
“Hey wow oh my gosh! Hanna look he made a turd! Wow his first real human turd! We should take a picture! Oh wow I can’t believe he made a real turd. Hanna you have to see this it’s not like a baby turd this is the real deal!”
Not only was I not grossed out by it but I was proud! I’d never loved anyone that way before. I would have never changed a friend, or even girlfriends diaper. If my wife for some reason had to start wearing diapers I’d change her but I would feel pretty grossed out and resentful about it.
Having a child had been one of the most rewarding and life altering experiences I’ve undertaken. Everything changes. You quit Jujitsu because you don’t want to get hurt or spend all that time away from your baby. You relearn the clarinet and join a polka band because you know your child will like it. You start dressing like Chevy Chase in National Lampoons vacation because that’s what dads do. You start living completely for someone else, realizing you don’t matter anymore and it’s completely amazing. That or my wife and I just want to have a secret, very, very quiet, laugh at of the morons I dupe into having babies with this article…
Author Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist and English lecturer at the Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea where he lives with his wife and son. He is interested in evolutionary biology, the Cold War, international relations, existentialism, British roadsters, sailing, jujitsu, East Asian history and cultures, and literature.
Father and son walking out on a dock at sunset image courtesy of Shutterstock