A few years ago Shake asked me if I would contribute some regular column to his web site. At the time, my wife was about 4 months pregnant with our first child, so the thought of a column about fatherfood struck my fancy. But inertia set in, followed quickly by midnight feedings, and before I knew it 30 months had gone by.
But the idea of writing a column still appealed and I finally started casting about seriously for themes. Did I actually have anything to offer on the subject of fatherhood? Or should I move to something safer? I could stick to what I'm best at--comedy. But there sits Dave Barry asking me "can you top this?" Or perhaps political punditry. Ah, but there's no dearth of fine writers in that field either.
So I returned, finally, to fatherhood. In truth, I don't think I could have abandoned the subject, as there is something about it that I feel needs to be said. Whether or not I'm the right person to say it remains to be seen. And even as I made the decision, I found on slate.com a man writing "dispatches from the diaper station". Would this provoke another bout of inertia? Oddly, just the opposite. While his writing style is amusing, he isn't writing about the themes I wish to cover, and the need to write grew stronger.
The particular theme I'd like to start with is a code of silence I noticed in the months before Quinn was born. All through the pregnancy, and even before, I had seen that women with children were reluctant to give intimate details of their birthing experience to women who had no children. Sure you'd hear basic ideas, some details, but it always felt like what you were hearing was sanitized in some fashion. As the pregnancy continued I discovered that the same was true for men. Throughout the nine months only one father gave me any feedback on what to expect, and even that instance was light on details, long on pride and joy.
I assumed that the reason, on the male side, was that previous generations of fathers hadn't been in the birthing room. They had no experience to share. As for silence in the current generation, I have several theories, all of which are probably true for some people. No matter. I did confirm the reason (or, at least, a reason) that women practice this silence. As Quinn was taken to be cleaned, immediately after Denise held him for the first moments after birth, the nurse leaned in close to my wife and said, "Now remember, don't tell anyone what really happened here". That is my recollection of her words, though they read as sinister on paper where they were more confiding and welcome-to-the-club-ish at the time. The intention which I perceived was, "don't tell non-mothers the truth," not, "we've just birthed the anti-Christ here, tell no one." I found the comment rather odd, though, given that the birthing wasn't a horrible experience and, in fact, both Denise and I will gladly describe it at length to anyone who sits still long enough.
But I was never able to verify why men don't share more information on this (or many other) subject(s). Neither, it seems, do we do much of the reading in preparation for the new child. Given the opportunity to arm ourselves with either or both of written and oral traditions, we happily choose neither and charge confidently forward.
If indeed there is a code of silence among men, rather than just a reluctance to ask for help and look stupid, I'll sign up to be whistleblower. With any luck, I'll be greeted more like Coleen Rowley than Linda Tripp.
In coming months I'll be writing about things I've thought, learned, or thought I've learned since becoming a father. The emphasis will be on the mental and emotional aspects of this new life, rather than a simple "How To" guide to the nuts and bolts of child rearing. I hope you'll join me.