Friday, September 4, 2009

And Baby Makes Me

Congratulate me.

In less than five months and for the first time I will be a father.

What does it mean? I don’t know, really. My sense is one of impending delight and doom. Before it was more doom, now it is mostly delight.

I did not plan to be a father; in fact for the first half-century of my life I successfully avoided it. My papa had me when he was forty-seven, and there were many times growing up when I felt he was too old, much too old. Papa was a lovely man, and even a great papa, but Papa was old. He wouldn't throw a baseball. He wouldn't throw a football. He wouldn't throw any kind of ball. He wouldn't jump in the water like all the other fathers. "Jump, Papa, jump!" I'd scream at him, to no avail. "I can't; I'm too old," he'd say as he entered slowly, wincingly, massaging palmfuls of water over his pale, sagging chest. Too old: those two words rang in my young boy's head like the tolling of a doomed, cracked bell. I would never inflict my old age on a child. Never.

I am fifty-two, five years older than my papa when he had me.

I have passed through all the initial stages: shock, horror, denial, anger, grief, resignation. I am somewhere now (I believe) between acceptance and joy, much closer to happiness than to its opposite, but having yet to arrive there—not quite. I am told that, until the moment comes, it’s impossible to second-guess or even to imagine how I'll feel. That's the thing that frightens and worries me most: what if I don’t feel what I should? What if I’m not overwhelmed with paternal joy? What if I don't fall in love with being a father?

Yesterday Jung, the mother of our child-to-be, sent me by email two sonogram images from her most recent visit to the Shawnee Women’s Health Center in Carbondale, Illinois, where she has gone to obtain her master’s degree in poetry. Two small, grainy, blurry, black and white images, one showing a pair of tiny arms with even tinier hands, the other a very round head with distinct features—a nose, mouth, eyes, ear, the works (we both concur that these features are patently Italian, and that pasta dishes will be the order for the day for years to come).

My daughter, I say to myself, looking at it. This is my daughter. Audrey (the name we’ve chosen). This is my daughter Audrey. My daughter, my daughter, my daughter. No matter how many times I say them to myself, the words don’t seem any more real to me than the picture. It must be a mistake; it must be someone else’s fetus I’m looking at. For me to be a father is impossible.

That last thought, of course, is a carryover from the last few decades. For all those years it really was impossible for me to be a father, otherwise I would probably have become one. It was impossible because I was too immature, too selfish, too frightened, and too hungry and even desperate to establish my own presence in the world—through words, through song, through novels and stories, by any means available to me (and some not so available), to even consider being responsible for a presence other than my own. Instead I gave birth to works on paper, I scattered my seed in the forms of words and sentences, I spread it over surfaces in acrylics and oils and watercolors. I did my best in my own way to procreate. And I was prolific.

Where are the fruits of all those scattered seeds? Filing file cabinet drawers and flat files, mostly. No, that isn’t fair; my works have been read and appreciated. But still, something was missing, or I was missing something.

I remember, back when I had just graduated from Bethel High School, a classmate of mine also named Peter, Peter Smith, a very bright, very athletic guy, and the first of any of my friends to marry and have a child, which he did that year ... I remember him saying to me, apropos my art and his fresh fatherhood, “Pete,” he said, “I know you’ve written lots of stories and made lots of great pictures, but I gotta tell you, man, until you’ve held your own child in your hands and felt its heart beat and heard it breathing, you’ll never know the meaning of creation.”

For that remark I would resent Peter Smith for many years to come, thinking: who was he to say what I would or would never know? But even then I had the sneaky suspicion that he was right.

Come January I’ll know for sure.

At least it's a girl. I won't have to throw too many balls.

1 comment:

Cheryl Gower said...

Congratulations!Now you know the meaning of the phrase "I've still got it". Thank goodness it's a girl. Unless she's a tomboy--and you may have to throw a ball or two when she's about 10 and you are 72--little girls prefer snuggling in their father's chest hair. As an Italian, you're probably covered (literally) in that area. So live, love and enjoy. I love the name Audrey. Audrey Hepburn captured my heart as such a classy lady.