If you’ve forgotten the sensation of learning that you’re going to be a parent, the real joy is that of thinking down the road – past the baby part – to the responsibilities that come when someone calls you “Dad”.
Not many of my readers will know that my wife, Brittany, and I discovered in early October that we are going to be first-time parents come next June. The news didn’t come as great surprise to either of us, but nonetheless it was an incredibly exciting and frightening prospect at the same time.
I’m sure those who have experienced the joy that is conceiving a baby for the first time remember quite clearly many of the emotions that come with the territory: there is the great happiness and delight, obviously, accompanied by the immense amount of anxiety and panic.
Usually, the order of emotions starts with Stage One: We’re having a baby! Oh yay!
This is followed quickly by the equally exclamatory, but additionally astonishing Stage Two: We’re having a baby!? Oy vey!
Your mouth is still smiling, but your eyes have the deer-in-headlights look. Oh, my sweet Lord! In nine months they’re going to hand a child – gulp! – to me. To take home. Forever. I haven’t even learned to eat over my plate yet!
We went for our initial ultrasound a few weeks ago, and after Brittany had filled out some paperwork, the receptionist turned to me and chattily said, “So, is this Dad?” My immediate rejoinder was, “Lady, do I really look old enough to be her dad?” Then it hit me what she meant: the dad of the baby. It was the first time someone had described me as a father, and it felt as awkward as your first truth-or-dare kiss.
When we saw our child on the monitor, it unimpressively looked like a pulsating blob of blood and tissue, which, in reality, was what it was (and yet so much more). But when we heard the tiny heart beating inside of the womb, the sound made Brittany and I look at each other with a wonderstruck expression that I really can’t put into words. That little blob was our blob. It existed because of us. Miracle of miracles and thanks be to God.
Earlier this week, we had another ultrasound in Columbus – this time a 3D image that can reveal the sex of the fetus – where we really “saw” the baby for the first time (who, I am told, is currently the size of a lemon). There on a giant movie screen in the dark exam room was a definite picture of miniscule arms, legs, fingers, toes… even the tiniest hint of a face, made unmistakable by a magnificent mouth grinning back at us, giving me a feeling of what I think can only be described as eternal delight.
Also, nowhere in the picture was there any evidence of a little ding-a-ling. We now know almost certainly that “it” is a girl.
Maybe it’s commonplace to say, but knowing the sex of your unborn baby takes all of your thoughts out of some vague hypothetical realm and sends them racing into reality. When the ultrasound tech revealed to us that our child is a girl, the initial thought that went through my head was that I was now going to have to buy a gun… and I’m a pacifist! (Well, at least until June).
(Later that night, my wife told me her first thought was that we will most likely be paying for a wedding in the future, which made me even more anxious than I already was. Don’t even talk to me about college.)
I know that becoming a parent is one of those things that so many people have experienced since the beginning of time; that it’s always just been a fact of life. But it’s an intensely novel feeling when your moment comes. It’s like reading Hamlet or listening to The Beatles or visiting New York City for the first time. You want to tell everyone how amazing and strange and powerful it is, but, of course, you know most adults have been aware of that truth for a long time – that it’s old hat for some – so you have to revel in your discovery but simultaneously play it cool, so as not to come off like a naive moron ecstatically yelling in the middle of the library, “Hey, has anybody else read this Shakespeare guy? He’s really good!”
And then everyone laughs and says, yes, that’s how it always feels when you become initiated into parenthood, and their acknowledgment makes you feel even prouder and stupider, like you’ve been called up to the Big Leagues, but that you’re also about to undergo all of parenthood’s merciless hazing rituals, you poor, poor, pitiable man. Soon it will be your turn to be woken at 3 A.M. to the sound of shrieking eels; to be the unwelcome recipient of projectile vomiting; to dispose of diapers teeming with toxic sludge; to be paralyzed with fear over every little cough and sputter. Welcome to the Show, rookie!
But secretly you know it will be all worth it when you see her first smile and first step, or hear her speak her first word. It will be an experience that a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series won’t hold a candle to. I almost start crying thinking about it, and I’m not even the hormonal one in our marriage!
I’m going to be a dad. I can hardly believe it.
Now, off to look for that Glock…