One of the more surprising things about becoming a parent is seeing the looks from friends and acquaintances towards Stella. Often these looks say: “I would like one of those.” The twist, though, is how often these looks come from men.
I didn’t expect this. The male stereotype is that guys don’t want to commit, the baby is the woman’s idea, and that guys go along to get along, and … a lot of that’s bullshit, I’m afraid.
Maybe it’s Stella’s fault. She’s gorgeous. She inherited my eyes, Randi’s nose, my hands and feet, Randi’s legs, and she wears it all better than we do. I am of Eastern European stock, your classic Ashkenazi Jew. I’ve got blue eyes, thanks to some ancient, prowling Cossack, but otherwise I’d blend into most Woody Allen films.
Randi’s background is all over the map, literally: She’s part Irish, part German, part Dutch, and 1/16th Native American. (I’m delighted, by the way, that my daughter’s a part-Native American Jew. Two beleaguered minorities in one!)
But, anyway, back to the main idea. As mentioned, I’ve been startled by the positive reaction Stella’s had on my male friends, and associates.
For example, one day after Stella’s birth a male co-worker, let’s call him Frank, started to chit-chat with me about being a father. I thought we were just passing the time until I noticed how intently Frank listened to every word I said. He really wanted to know.
Frank then told me how so sorry he was that he’d just broken up with his girlfriend, specifically because he wants kids so much. I had never heard a young, single man speak that way before. Frank then added that, despite his paternal drive, he’s also quite scared to be a father.
This I had heard before. In fact, I’d lived it. I had also been afraid, make that terrified, of being a dad. Again, as noted in my last post, I think many men my age—I’m 36—share this fear. We’re afraid of something so permanent, afraid of failure. Some say my generation is afraid of the responsibility, but that’s false. We’re all too aware of our responsibilities, and are terrified of blowing it, because we know what happens when you blow it. You turn out like us.
I leveled with Frank. I told him that, yes, I am, and have been, scared, but not for the reasons I’d once imagined. True, I’d been afraid of “the pressure,” I said, but I was even more afraid of being an apathetic father.
You see, I know at least a few emotionally cut-off dads. These are dads who’d removed themselves from their children’s lives; dads who somehow never grew up, despite qualifying for the free birthday meal at Denny’s. Dads who never evolved beyond their own ego-driven ambitions and weaknesses.
I’d seen it all before, I told Frank, and the thought of turning out that way, a narcissistic man-child, terrified me. But the birth of my daughter quickly destroyed these old fears, I added, even as new ones sprouted in their place.
“The truth,” I told Frank, “is that I care too much. It’s like this, this python wrapped around my neck at all times, this love. Sometimes I can’t stand it, it’s too much. But I love it, this snake, and I squeeze it back even as it squeezes me. And sometimes I fear that it’s crushing me, but I can’t, I won’t ever let go. So we’re squeezing each other, and we will, until the day I die. But it’s fantastic. It’s, like, the best thing that ever happened to me. No, the way I phrased that sounds weird. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
I paused. I knew I’d gone to a fairly odd place conversationally, especially for work. I looked at Frank.
“Does that make any sense?”
Frank nodded. He was feeling me.
“Shit, you make me want to be a father so bad,” he said. “I’d never heard it explained that way, but now I want it so much.”
“That sounds pretty weird, I know,” I said. “I mean, it’s better than that, what I said. But it hurts, too. Because of how strong your love is. It hurts you, but in a good way.”
All too soon our little break came to an end. Frank had to go back to statistics, where he works, and I had to edit a piled-up backlog of stories. But before he left, Frank made me promise to send him a link to our online photo album for Stella. Surprised and touched, I said I would.
So, that was Frank. Other guys I know, upon meeting Stella, have also surprised me, but in related ways. For starters, I see more tenderness than I expected. Many guys my age, I now know, want kids, and don’t feel the need to hide it. They’re emotionally engaged, and ready to commit. They’ve been around the block, and they’ve seen what it has to offer. Often the answer is: more of the same. They want something else.
Today, kids aren’t seen as an obligation, or, heaven forbid, a burden, they’re seen as a capstone event in life, the most important job any of us will ever have. The old pose, in other words, is over.
In this light, I think I’ve unwittingly shown some of my peers what it's like to be a dad, and they like what they've seen. Through me they can see that it’s awesome, and it’s scary, but it's way more awesome than scary.