The plan was to drink a few beers and listen to a couple of friends talk about fatherhood. Both had new babies, around nine months and four months old, respectively, and I hoped the conversation would confirm my own, slowly blooming desire to be a father myself. “So, let’s hear it,” I said, after we sat down and ordered our first round. “Tell me all about the joys of fatherhood.”
One friend, who is dark by nature, averted his eyes and stared at the table. The other snorted derisively. And over the next half hour they talked about the lack of sleep, the constant demands, the strained relationships with their wives, the seemingly never-ending presence of in-laws and the loss of their own sense of place within their home. And then they talked some more about the lack of sleep. And the hours of boredom.
They competed for the bleakest description of fatherhood they could muster.
It’s incredible to me, in evolutionary terms, that our species has survived. Why does anyone ever have children? I mean, I can understand having one out of ignorance. But two?
It’s like a slow death.
It’s like the aftermath of a bomb exploding, where there’s no hope but you’re still alive.
“Wow,” I offered. “I was hoping this conversation would confirm my resolve to have children.”
“Resolve?” the snorter replied. “Let me ask you this: Why would you want to have a baby?”
At this point, a few years ago, my wife and I were engaged but not yet married. We had decided to table any final decision on having children till after the ceremony. But on trips to the grocery store, or walking to work, or hanging out and reading in Rittenhouse Square, I would see some mother or father toting a baby along with them and feel a painful need. In terms of its intensity, it was not unlike being horny. It conveyed that much heat. But there was no actual sex in it. And for a long time, I didn’t know what to make of a desire that carried so much weight yet felt so soft.
When confronted with the sight of a baby, its head lolling haphazardly in a papoose around its father’s chest, I felt almost embarrassed—undressed, as if everyone on the street could feel the depth of my urgent desire to hold a baby, protect a baby, nurture a baby.
I figured this was my parental instinct, rising to the surface. But men aren’t ordinarily given credit for having such feelings. And I remain unsure, even now: Is baby lust appropriate in a man? So I gave my friend another answer: “I think I’d regret it if I don’t,” I said. “I can’t imagine, if I am lucky enough to be 70 or 80 years old some day, looking back on my life without enjoying that experience.”
“Why?” he repeated.
“It just seems a natural part of being human.”
“So is breaking a leg,” he said.
I gasped. I laughed. I hoped he would laugh, too. But neither of the new fathers cracked a smile.
I went home that night and told my then-fiance about the conversation.
“Well, you got some birth control, didn’t you?” she said.
And for a time, that dose worked wonders.
I’d see a baby, feel that pull to have a child of my own drawing at me like a tide, and instinctively recoil. But one day, a few weeks later, when I saw a particularly fat-faced little moppet smiling at her father from the seat of a grocery store cart, giggling for no apparent reason other than life, she made my decision.
The twins are due in August.