I will start with this: I don’t know Zach Braff, and I have no idea if he’s a nice guy or a heel. I saw Garden State and wasn’t nuts about it, and I’m not a huge Scrubs fan. I’m also jealous of his New York apartment which I once saw in maybe the New York Times? It was beautiful. So basically…
There is nothing brave or courageous or remotely [Jackie] Robinson-esque about my contemplating the carrying of a purse, any more than there is in my taste for pink shirts, though I was once informed by a mother of my acquaintance, half disapprovingly, that wearing a pink shirt was a brave thing for a man to do. It’s simply the case that, as I get older, I seem every day to give a little bit less of a fuck what people think of or say about me.
This is not the result of my undertaking to exercise a moral program or of increased wisdom or of any kind of willed act on my part. It just seems to be a process, a time-directed shedding, like the loss of hair or illusions. I am a husband, a father, and a son, whether or not I think, ponder, or worry about gender, sexuality, my life as a man; and maybe there’s a kind of pleasure to be taken in simple unconsciousness, an automatic way of moving and being and acting in the world. And maybe for an instant here and there, in the taking of that pleasure, I partake of a grace like the grace of Jackie Robinson.
”—Michael Chabon, from the essay “I Feel Good About My Murse,” in the collection Manhood for Amateurs
Unoriginal thoughts, lights in the dark and The Kid
NOTE: This was originally published on March 4, 2014.
I had a conversation this weekend with a friend who, after sharing some stuff that was on his mind, decided to undercut himself.
"These are not original thoughts," he said.
"Yeah, but you’re allowed to have unoriginal thoughts sometimes," I replied.
In that spirit:
I’m going to become a father in August. I am very excited about this, and I am very scared about this, and I am both of these things at the same time, almost all the time.
It is my understanding that this is normal. Nothing about this feels normal.
There’s all this stuff I want for The Kid. (We don’t know yet whether the kid will be a boy or a girl, so for now, let’s just stick with The Kid.) Mostly, obviously, and above all else, there’s a clean bill of health and a generally happy life in which we get to be amazing pals. But there are also a bunch of smaller component parts that I think would be neat.
I’d like it if the genetic lottery gifts The Kid my wife’s Italian/Cuban tendency toward tanning rather than my Irish-as-hell, always-in-danger ghostflesh. I want The Kid to have the kind of great big laugh that I’ve heard at Devine family gatherings my entire life, the hunger to use it as often as possible and the innate itch to want to make other people use theirs, too.
When problems arise, I hope The Kid’s able to address them slowly, break them down step-by-step and figure them out, the way my father-in-law and brother-in-law, a pair of genius engineers, do every day. I want The Kid to love freely, the way my mom does, and fiercely, the way my sister does, and completely, the way my biggest brother does. And if The Kid can sing like Uncle Kevin does or whistle like my father used to, well, that’d be rad, too.
I want The Kid to know kindness and empathy, to feel their value and want to extend them to others. I want The Kid to tell people they’re appreciated, to show them they matter, and approach life with an attitude of wanting to make things at least a little bit better. I want The Kid to walk confidently in the world — not cockily, not like a child of privilege, but like someone who believes amazing things are possible and that your actions can help make them happen. I want The Kid to feel like it belongs. Like it has a place and a purpose.
If it’s a girl, I hope she gets my wife’s curly hair. If it’s a boy, I hope he can someday grow my killer beard.
These are some of the things I want.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I have been reminded that I should want The Kid to have my wife’s dance moves, which include actions like “pretending to pick up your pants while marching” and “condor-wing flapping.” This was an egregious omission. I regret the error.)
Along with them, though, come things I don’t want. This includes Big Picture Stuff like “having to grow up in a world perhaps irrevocably wrecked by climate change” and “having to grow up in a social/political/cultural environment in which the imperative to constantly grow too often trumps conscience and decency.” Considering I’m having a hard enough time getting my arms around “how does one buy a crib” at this point, though, let’s think smaller.
I don’t want The Kid to have my wife’s allergies. She has to sneeze almost all the time, and while it hasn’t impeded her full-hearted love of all manner of animals, it really seems to bug her, and it makes her feel bad sometimes. Get out of here, allergies.
This concludes the list of wife-related stuff I don’t want for The Kid, because I love just about every non-dander-and-Zyrtec-related thing the mother of my child has going on. (Also: “the mother of my child” is a real thing in my life now. Holy shit.) What’s got me shook, though, is the prospect of my worst stuff making it through quality control and into the final mix.
Like, I sweat a lot sometimes; hence, "The Garbage Champion." Is the mere fact of me being a sweaty dude going to doom The Kid to a life of defending my title? That would suck. I don’t want that.
On the topic of sweat: I’ve also got a bit of an anxiety thing. It’s been a while since my last full-on panic attack, and it’s never been a massive issue requiring regular treatment, for which I’m grateful. But that stuff’s there, simmering over low heat on back burners in my brain and chest, an ever-present threat to boil over when shit gets too hectic. I don’t want this for The Kid.
There’s the family history of stuff like high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and heart failure, and the underlying appetites, anger and stubbornness that helped them metastasize into “the family history.” There are the addiction issues that thankfully haven’t been mine (well, beyond cigarettes) but that have dug deep into several people I love over the years, and that could be sitting there like jagged poison icebergs in an otherwise calm bloodstream, just waiting to sink The Kid’s ship.
There’s the confidence deficit that keeps me from feeling like the work’s ever good enough to feel proud enough, or comfortable enough, or safe enough in my spot, because I’m not doing as much or as well as That Guy or That Guy or That Guy. With that, there’s the feeling that I should almost always be working, because if I’m not, I’m exposed and vulnerable. I don’t want this for The Kid.
There’s my inability, since age 15, to get past the thought that bread and wine don’t actually become flesh and blood, even if Father gets all the words right and does the trick just the way it says in the directions that came with the magic kit. It’s something that now leaves me looking at what seems like an empty sky, feeling sort of siloed and set adrift, and just kind of hoping for the best with all this stuff. I don’t want this for The Kid — I want The Kid to feel safe and secure, like there’s a reason to believe it’ll all work out one way or another in the grand scheme — but I don’t think I want a lot of the other stuff that has historically come along with buying the magic trick for The Kid, either.
I’m not sure where that leaves me; that, I suspect, will be kind of a big one to figure out over a long period of time. They probably all will. That might be what’s scaring me most right now.
I had a conversation this weekend with a (different) friend who, while discussing his experience of becoming a father, made me realize you can make decisions even when everything seems beyond your control.
He told me about how, after the delivery, the hospital room was dark, and his child was with his wife. There was no coaching for him to do, no preparing or buying. He was just standing there, a man staring in the dark at the two most important people in his life, and wondering what he could do, what he could be.
"So I thought, ‘I’m a candle,’" he said.
In the dark, he could radiate. He could be a source of light and warmth for these two people for whom he could physically do nothing and for whom he wanted to do everything. And he could always be that, even later, even when there were tangible things he could do; this thing, this role, would always be necessary and would never go away.
He could have a place and a purpose. For the rest of his life, he could radiate.
I’m going to learn a lot over the next five-plus months — about myself and my wife, about my family and friends, about the sleep habits of infants and how much baby stuff costs, and about a million other things. I’m willing to bet that the more I learn, the more I’m going to think about the things I want and don’t want for The Kid. This process, I’m sure, will extend far beyond birth; after all, as my mom recently told me, "parenthood is a life sentence." (Thanks, Mom.)
That’s daunting, and it’s scary, and it’s overwhelming, and it’s crazy. For the moment, though, I’m trying not to let it be. I’m trying to just focus on figuring out how to be a candle — not just for The Kid, but for my wife and, hopefully, for myself. I know it’s not an original thought, but I’m going to keep thinking it, because if it can make my dark maybes seem more manageable, help me work through all the things I’m scared I’ll get wrong, and put me on the path to becoming the kind of father The Kid deserves, then, well, maybe it’s OK to have unoriginal thoughts sometimes.