Fatherhood (on Fathers' Day)
I never thought much about being a father when I was young. I figured it was just something that people did, something that just happened whether you wanted it to or not. I learned that from watching cats and dogs who, whether they wanted them or not, always ended with a litter of kittens or puppies. It was something that nature predestined you to do.
It says so in the bible, for that matter:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
So there you have it. It was out of my hands. People, just like cats and dogs, have kids.
But what about free will?
I thought about the statement I made when I was 18 or so year old, when I told a collection of friends as we sat in a diner drinking coffee on one of many late nights - debating the meaning of love, the meaning of existence, and whether or not it would be a good idea to sign up for a $500 Scientology course so that they could give us the answers to those questions - that I would never want to bring someone into the world who would inherit my genetic, physical characteristics, because I loathed my own.
And I said that I never wanted to bring someone into the world that would inherit my psychological weaknesses because I was so vexed by my own and felt that it would be cruel and inhumane to curse another, an innocent child, with the same affliction.
And that's when God again stepped in, or should I say, Mother Nature?
I never really understood the difference between God and Nature, sensing as a small child, that when an adult was asked to explain a miracle or phenomenon of the natural world, a religious person would point to that miracle and say "God willed it to be so," while an atheist would say "Mother Nature just works that way," and as a small child, either answer was good enough for me.
Let us say then, that Nature stepped in and gave me 2 small squirming accidents, a daughter accident and a son accident, which painted me as a picture of an innocently compliant and obedient servant to both the will of Nature and the will of God, neither of whom could ever make the claim that I was so arrogant as to say that I didn't want to have children. Why? Because it just happened. It was out of my hands. "Mother Nature just works that way."
And I remember the the void that did not exist before it happened, before my daughter was born. I remember it because as soon as she was born, I saw the spot that the void had occupied in my mind - that had never existed before because I didn't even know it existed, and that when I recognized the void as not being a void at all, but rather, an unopened door leading to a room full of riches, I couldn't live without it; I couldn't conceive of ever not having her in my life.
But what does that mean to a man who's never had children? It means nothing. What is he missing? He's missing nothing because the real miracle is that you can't pine for something that you don't even know exists, the same way a Bushman on the Kalahari, baking in the sun doesn't pine for a root beer float... or a tuxedo.
I didn't pine for my children until after they already existed. I didn't pine for the memories I didn't know I was going to have something that I could lovingly look back on for the rest of my years... such as...
1. The time my daughter, in first grade, was sent home because of a lice infestation. Her mother wasn't going to be home that day, so I was nominated to be, literally, a nit picker.
First we washed her hair with Rid Lice Killing Shampoo, in whose package, a fine tooth comb was included.
As she sat on my lap, region by region, over a period of 2 or so hours, I probed her scalp with the fine tooth comb for the offending varmints, and I recall the feeling that there was no place I'd rather be than having any excuse at all to sit just with my little girl on my lap. No trip to Disneyland held a candle to it.
The school must have known what a fantastic bonding experience it was and how much we'd enjoyed it. They sent her home again the following week because of a second infestation.
2. Then there was the time, back in the days of answering machines, before cell phones and pagers, when someone had called and hung up several times. I was irritated. Who was this jerk who dared to invade the serene privacy of my home?
The jerk, I found out on a subsequent phone call, was the director of my son's preschool. He didn't want to simply leave a message saying that my three year old son had broken his arm and was in the hospital.
When I arrived at the emergency room, my little boy looked like a toy lying on the giant, grown up examination table. He said, "Hi Dad," and he was so apologetic.
After an anesthetic and the setting of the arm, the doctor told us he'd probably be out until mid-morning the next day, which he was.
When he woke up with the L-shaped cast on his right arm, he didn't quite know what to think. He said he was hungry and reached for a bag of chips on the table, holding it with his left hand, trying to insert the hand of his L-shaped right arm, missing with each attempt as if he was swinging a sickle. Our right handed son quickly became a left handed son.
And that's just a taste of what I would have missed if I didn't have kids.
So now I pass the baton. Will my son, or does my son pine to have his own children? Probably not, knowing him, even though I know men who may say they did, or say they do.
But desiring a family isn't the same thing as meeting for the first time the little screaming child the doctor hands him to you saying, "Congratulations." As soon as you hold that little being in your hands, you become the Bushman with a root beer float, who knew how wonderful it would taste. You've just discovered electricity, your grassy little hut now has air conditioning, indoor plumbing and a refrigerator. Your black and white TV is now color.
When I first laid eyes on my 6 pound 5 1/2 ounce daughter, I didn't see the little sterile package in a hospital blanket, not a little toy wrapped in a diaper. This tiny human was a portal to a universe more vast than I'd ever imagined, a connection to infinity. I was a new kind of Bushman. I was a Bushman who could fly and become invisible and walk on water, who knew the value of a root beer float on a hot Namibian afternoon.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, "They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.
Thank God they're finally grown up."
back to main page
© 2010 Lou Savage