My first son is 11 today.
He's a magnificent being. I'm so very in love.
We're buddies and talk a lot about our lives. Might even share this with him.
He's passionate and creative and asks me to tell him stories about when I was his
age. He sits shotgun and listens fully to any story the radio tells and always
watches over my shoulder as I write. Listens as I play.
He quit piano hard, declaring "YOU'RE the musician....don't make ME take lessons
just because YOU never had them". A few months later and now he sits every day and
noodles thoughtfully, teaching himself tunes he picks up in TV or in films.
He's totally adorable, very funny and incredibly annoying. He's the best thing that
ever happened to me.
But he's begun pulling away and it's breaking my heart.
He gets really angry. Answers me pissed off. Barks, "I don't care", and
"whatever", and rolls his impossibly blue eyes at me. The ones with which he used
to stare into mine as we spoke volumes before he had language.
I knew this was coming. I've read about the natural course of boyhood and how
pulling away from father is normal and I remember it happening to me and they say
that it doesn't mean there's anything wrong or that our bond is wrecked.
My great challenge remains to be separating current experiences from those in the
past. He and I are not my father and my brother. Or me. We don't have such
faulty connections or embattled story lines. Neither clear and present depression
nor the distractions of active addiction, rage and poverty.
The first time he rejected me, I handled it poorly. Took it personally instead of
knowing that he was just feeling feelings. Processing. Experimenting with power.
He came to me a while later and leaned into me as he does when he can't handle being
apart and I kissed him on the head and he asked me if we were gonna read. "Of
course we're gonna read" I said. And we cuddled and we read.
He always comes back to that: "Sooooooo, we gonna read?" Hundreds of books and
every page of Harry Potter aloud and countless questions and words to look up and
names and places mispronounced (got to the third book before I was
corrected...."Her-my-on-nee". Not "Her-mee-own".)
He pushes his body against me....into me...and when the reading is finished for the
night he wraps an arm over my throat and holds me....as if to say (tho he
won't)....."I'm sorry that any space has ever been created between us. I forgive
you your yucky past and your small thinking and that sometimes you choose to say
"no" and I want to be close to you now and forever."
I forget that I can rely on forgiveness. That he'd be back. That being mad doesn't
mean it's over. Or that he's destined for a life of delinquency. Or anything. If
he's mad maybe it just means he's mad. Or that he needs space.
I shouldn't be surprised that he gets moody. I know his parents.
When he was around one and a half I was driving with his mom as passenger and him
fastened to the middle of the back seat. I caught him looking at me in the rear
view mirror. I smiled and he said, "Dada". Then he looked at his mom, gave a
little nod and said, "Mama". Then he sighed deeply and his gaze turned to a side
window, smiling gently and content with his world. Dada, Mama and him.
His first smile came on my birthday, just days after his first month. For months
and probably for years I spoke every move I made around him and it was all
sunshine. I pointed to the budding trees and we got in close and touched them. I
spoke to squirrels and birds and raindrops and the ocean. I rode my bike with him
on the back and as I sang loud, obnoxious, happy versions of Motown songs I hardly
knew ("it's a beautiful morning....and the sun is so nice....I got my best friend
Harper....lunch is gonna have rice"). He'd tap my back and take it all in, knowing
it was glorious and right.
I so loved that baby and my love grows for this boy.
But prior to his arrival I had no desire to be a father.
I had had moments. A few times when I had a sweet connection to a baby or enjoyed making a little kid laugh and that was great. And SHE would definitely be a good mother.
But once she said she wanted to be pregnant, that she was ready, it took quite some time. She wanted it more than anything. And every time we'd get the good news that a friend was expecting I would brace myself because I could reliably predict her reaction.
Grief.Deep sadness. These happy occasions were only salt in the open wound where her heart alternately swelled and broke. And mine for her. I would have given her anything she wanted. But I had no resources so couldn't give her a comfortable life or a cool car and I didn't even have access to my full, focused self and she went
without that. Years of late music nights and days and of me staring at the computer or shut away under headphones and ambition. And running to rescue my brother from my parents and my parents from their son. Shuttling them to doctors and clinics and pharmacies and meetings and none of it making anything better. Worse all the time. Only made slightly more tolerable by whatever weight I could manage to lift for them on that particular day. And back to black as I drove away. And bringing that heavy back home.
And HER all the while being perfectly supportive but the desire growing. And the baby clock running and my brother, mother and father making me an only child and then an orphan all within months and 9/11 smack in the middle....and real,
legitimate terror predominating. Winning. I did not want to bring another sucker into this world. Another baby to be left crying.
Another little kid being told to GROW UP. Another trial and error marathon of rejection. Another obsessive.
Another me. What SHE most wanted was what I most feared. But I owed her and a percentage of me must have trusted her and so we'd try and I'd try to be present for the love we made and willing the creation she adored and honoring the role she was made for.
All along fearing and freaking out and silently begging for compromise and facing an impossible time of remaining present and part of the union I had been so anxious to form but not if it meant creating more suffering Then she got pregnant and my trepidation switched from wondering if I (or any man) SHOULD ever be a new father to wondering whether or not I COULD. I smiled rarely and swung between numb and dejected and I cried a lot. On top of which I just
wanted my time. To make my music. To see my friends. To keep on living, healing, growing with HER. What about us? What about me?
I tried not to form any attachment to the fetus but still found myself worrying about it's development and it's well being. I got a kick out of hearing the heartbeat and reading about the progress it was making there inside the perfect belly of my perfect girl. But then I'd lay in bed, flattened by the darkness of my fears....crying quietly, which scared the shit out of HER. The baby was too big and she was not dilating enough so (true or not) protocol dictated that a C-section was in order. All my concern that evening when when our son arrived was for the mother, cut open and separated from the baby she'd been
hosting, feeding, loving for nine-plus months. Seeing her insides as the doctor talked about yesterday's golf and then her reacting to the anesthesia in sweaty, moaning, shaking fits that took both the nurse and me to calm....Holding her shoulders and shhhhhh-ing so that she would stop shaking and the bed would stop rattling. Baby rushed to NICU to be sure brain damage wouldn't follow from low
blood pressure. An intense commotion, all completely out of my control. The boy arrived. My body was present. But no more of me.
She sent me home for the night as she desperately needed and wanted sleep and as the baby was under observation.
This sucked. I sobbed hard and screamed at life the whole rainy ride home. Exhausted. After a few hours I rose, fed the cats and returned to stand with my family. To be useful. To grow the fuck up. Even though I did not want to be a father. I went up to see the new mama and found her recently awake and looking calmly toward
the window and I was so relieved that she'd slept. That she'd survived. We shared a smile. We'd intended for baby and mother to remain together right after their respective clean ups and that had been taken away and now she wanted to see him. I went back to the NICU and spoke to a nurse. The boy really didn't need to be
there and I spoke with calm determination to four links on the chain of command and finally got them to agree to release him to his mother and me sooner than the typical twenty four hour observation period. Then I passed baby after baby in every shade of flesh. All tidy and smushed and helpless. I found the incubator marked with "boy" and with my last name and he was just being put back after a
changing and I still did not want to be a father. The repulsion came in waves. I recognized that I was scared. And selfish. This might have helped. I don't know. I took a long, deep breath and thought back. peacefully this time. to the night before when he'd been cut and lifted out of her belly. How his wet, red body was carried to a metal table and wiped, dried, inspected (ten toes, ten fingers, two
eyes, two ears, normal palate, etc) and laid crudely under a warm lamp. How SHE had told me to go over there to him and be with him....that she was ok. And I recalled how, just a half day earlier I went to that just born boy and felt the heat of his lamp and watched him first experiencing gravity and light and sound, and breath and how he'd straightened his spine. I'd missed it all in the tumult and terror....the powerlessness and gore. Now when I played it back i guess I saw it as the wonder
that it was. I remembered how I'd instinctively whispered to him and put my hand near his and how when his touched mine he wrapped his five tiny fingers around my wedding-ring finger and he squeezed. I'd missed all this but was acutely alive for the recollection, And now I was with him, alone. I sang his name.
And then, in clear recognition, he stopped blindly scanning the the blur above him and turned his head slightly in my direction. Alone and he was looking toward me. Did he know my voice? was he looking for ME?
And all in a few seconds I was free of the crush of a life committed to "I don't want to be a father". This wasn't about being a father.
This was about being HIS father. This impeccable little empty slate who was now calling on me to stand tall and laugh
hard and get back up and to love really big...he wasn't part of anything that had ever happened before. He wasn't me. He wasn't my brother. He was original. He deserved all that is good. He was precious and had a purpose. Of course he's changed my life. But he's also changed me. And I am his father.
This I can do. And today he's 11. He is a magnificent being. I'm so very in love.