Thursday, March 02, 2006


My incipient fatherhood is always in the back of my mind. My wife, increasingly ungainly and subjected to attacks from within by our very active daughter, is concerned primarily with the Littlest Berg's physical wellbeing; constant reminders of the growing presence inside her must keep her focus here. I also suspect that this is an evolutionary development: keeping the offspring alive is almost solely the mother's role in the earliest stages of infancy. I'm not being sexist, just biological: a newborn human being - in the first six weeks of life - must nurse, on average, at least once an hour, for a period of about twenty minutes. I'm not equipped in that department (moobs don't have mammary glands (moobs=man boobs, seen on fat guys like me)).

Fatherhood is a culturally created set of responsibilities, one of those cultural memes that we absorb through our upbringing without realizing it. With fatherhood rapidly approaching - about 10-12 weeks away - my mind continually returns to the subject. I've joked often that since about the age of 21, my father grew increasingly less stupid. Now, I'm realizing that he was much less a prick than I thought. I've never met my daughter, but the role that my own father played in my life, the responsibility that he taught by example, the sacrifices he made for the sake of my sister and myself, these all contribute to an overwhelming sense that I need to think about some things - and right now - that I have never considered.

I thought, once upon a time, that marriage, independence, and success in the field of my choice made me a man. I'm realizing now that I never understood what the term "responsibility" meant. It's growing (along with my wife's belly, coincidentally) daily, and I realize that I won't understand until I'm much older. This is a hard truth for me to face: I've never had a problem understanding anything I set out to apprehend.

I am obligated to someone other than myself, and not just by marriage. Sarah's a strong, independent woman - she'd do fine without me if she had to. I am obligated to my child by the very virtue of her conception: she is, quite literally, half of me, with all attendant implications. Sarah will be a fine mother - of that there is no doubt - but she has the vaguest understanding of my ancestral quirks, just as I do of hers.

I know, for instance, that her child may well be artistic: her family has a long and brilliant history of art. One of her direct ancestors is Frederic Remington, the American sculptor and painter who is best known for his paintings of the American West. Her aunt is a successful artist. Sarah herself is a hell of an amateur. My family is academic - we seek terminal degrees - it is a curse: I did my best to avoid graduate school, but the yearn to research and write and study and discuss overcame my obstinate refusals. On the other hand, I could never fully understand a dyslexic child, which she could be. My family is prone to heart disease, bipolar disorder, severe ADHD (I once turned a cartwheel in class. No amount of spanking or punishment could really help: in the moment, I forgot everything and just acted, a very dangerous way to be.), and I know that Lou Gherig's Disease and Diabetes have made appearances as well.

Beyond this: she is, truly, helpless. I've never looked into as many insurance policies as I am now. "How much will it cost if I do or do not ________?" is a constant refrain: How much will it cost to add her to my insurance? If I add her to my health plan, which options should I choose? What will she need? How much life insurance do I need? What will cover her through college? What daycare should we use? Can I afford any of this? I must. There is no way around it. If I have to work an extra job, I will - I already work 60 hour weeks, but another 20 won't kill me.

Worries... they collide with anticipation: I cannot wait to meet her. I know that in the beginning, this small, squalling, pink-faced, blue-eyed (that's the only definite - blue or green eyes are an overwhelming majority on both sides) little girl will be a stranger. I can't wait to watch her be. I've never held a child. I've never changed one. Neither had my father, but we Bergs are quick studies (all those goddam degrees have to exhibit at least that). I have to protect her, but I also have to let her learn by experience. I have never experienced such a chaotic mingling of anticipation and abject terror as I do now.
currently playing on miPod - "Maple Leaf Rag," by Scott Joplin

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