I don’t think you can truly appreciate fatherhood unless you get it on you. Babies are messy little things, and the thing about messes is, they have to be cleaned up. Later, baby becomes a teenager, and there’s the teenager’s room…but hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I am so proud of my son-in-law David. Baby Paul Gordon arrived a week ago, and David dived right in. He’s a hands-on father, and that includes diapers. He goes about it like he’s been doing it all his life. There are some things, like nourishment, that David can’t provide; daughter Lee is in charge of that. But everything else, David is eager to do, and does. The guy bonding thing is in full bloom, and I predict that it will last a lifetime.
Fatherhood can be an awkward thing. For one thing, what precedes fatherhood is mostly out of our hands. In my novel Old Dogs and Children, my heroine, Bright Birdsong, is pregnant, and husband Fitzhugh is at loose ends. A wise older woman says to Bright, “He can’t help it. Biggest thing a man ever do is begat. Every time a woman get with child, you see the man struttin’ around like a peahen ‘cause he done begat. Hell, ain’t nothing to begattin’. It’s after the begattin’ that you gets down to bidness. And that drive the man near about crazy ‘cause he can’t run the bidness.”
This sort of male displacement often continues after the blessed event. Our instincts run to hunting and gathering, and after we’ve returned to the cave with what we’ve hunted and gathered, we are prone to kick back by the fire, light a pipe, pop a beer, and sit by as the little woman does the rest, which includes the nurturing stuff. So when we put aside the pipe and the beer and get fatherhood on us, we’re working against type. But when we do that, we discover that the rewards are enormous, that being hands-on touches deep and important things in our souls. Not to speak of what we give the kid.
My own father never had much chance at the messy stuff. Soon after I was born, he shipped out for Europe and the Big War, so it was just Mom and me and the messy stuff. The one story I heard from that period was about a 2:00 AM feeding that went awry. Dad put my bottle in a pan of water on the stove and promptly dozed off, to be awakened by a loud boom when the bottle exploded, leaving the ceiling above the stove dripping with milk and embedded with bottle shards. Europe may have been a relief for him. By the time he returned from war, I was well out of diapers and wondering, WHO THE HELL IS THIS STRANGE MAN IN MY HOUSE? We bonded, but it took awhile.
As for me, I was a diaper changer when our girls came along. I wasn’t the perfect father – no man is – but along with the hunting and gathering, I tried to contribute to the nurturing part, too. I got fatherhood on me, and I’m mighty glad I did.
Okay, diaper changing isn’t essential for successful fatherhood. For one reason or another, a new father may not help with that job. But hands-on nurturing is. Touching, holding, loving unconditionally. Guiding, supporting, caring. Those are the essentials. All I have to do to remind myself of that is watch my son-in-law. David, You the man.