Last Call

Year One

Fatherhood.

By From the April 2014 issue

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Happy first birthday, dearest Ruthie! For you, the last 365 days have been the sum of all things; a near-eternity marred by neither meddlesome context nor expectations of anything save the unbidden-yet-ceaseless adoring coos of virtually every passerby, a daily living room circus performed by two wobbly, portly pugs, and helicopter parents you could be forgiven for presuming to be particularly persistent paparazzi engaged in an elaborate deep-cover operation.

Life won’t always proceed with such sublime accommodation, alas, which is why I find it difficult to fault your fervent efforts to forego slumber. Indeed, the Department of Defense should hire you to run whatever division spearheads its sleep deprivation initiatives: The work you’ve already done to radically extend the waking hours of your first long-term test subject—codename: Mother—is astonishing. And the snooze-inducing kryptonite to your intentional insomnia—a car ride plus NPR—cannot be easily weaponized. 

Sure, drifting off on the couch halfway through a DVR’d episode of The Blacklist, I might wistfully recall the naive pre-Year Zero pledge we made to remain somewhat chic, culturally plugged-in parents. But would I sacrifice a nanosecond of our time together for a couple more hours of shut-eye or the chance to better comprehend the Facebook feed kvetching du jour? Never! No snarky status update or Morphean dreamland spectacle could match the spontaneous herky-jerky happy dances and maniacal little giggles invigorating the wee hours I had no idea were so staid and underutilized before you arrived. 

It is so strange to realize that by the time you are able to read this, what appears indelible and vivid to me now—and, as the stack of child-rearing tomes teetering on the bedside table ominously warn, will prove so consequential to who you are and what you might become—is destined to exist in your mind, if at all, as only the gauziest shadow amidst your memories. 

It is a thought equal parts sobering and heartening: While I doubt either of us is truly prepared to reap the whirlwind of my Destruction brings her joy so I’ll just let her tear the house apart and try to clean it up before Mom gets home method of afternoon parenting, could there be any greater blessing in life than to experience the transformational purity of a relationship that necessarily exists entirely in the moment, with no possibility of ulterior motives? To feel the ways the hardness of this world has taught us to subtly police ourselves, limiting how fully we reveal and express our love, dissolving before the unsullied radiance of a new life? To endure the somewhat disquieting adventure of an un-baptized heathen forced to reckon with the face of God? 

Which is to say, the profound implications of fatherhood fall fairly far afield of my previous human interactions. 

I mean, I’ve loved your mother basically since the moment she toted a Hebrew phrase book up to my register at Stroudwater Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, fifteen years ago. But when I escorted her to the drive-in on our first date to see Chicken Run, I knew that: a) her recollection of anything boneheaded/sweet I did/said would, for better or worse, extend into the future and, yet, b) no matter how badly I might flub things up, the reverberations would not likely be so far-reaching that one day years later she might, say, hold-up a convenience store or, worse, run for public office.

The burden is glorious, worthwhile, and heavy. During your first holiday season the caveat that Meet Me in St. Louis lyricist Hugh Martin tacked onto a line from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” began to haunt me a bit: “Through the years we’ll always be together…if the fates allow.” 

If. A cruel and bracing word that reminds us our chaos-ruled, fallen world offers no guarantees. I pray I stick around long enough to offer you what meager wisdom I’ve managed to acquire. Welcoming a child furnishes life with a hitherto unseen horizon, however, and, so, whatever the fates serve up, I need the magnificent future you to know that, at the outset of your life, you conjured out of this very flawed father a better side of himself than he knew existed. Whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from yesterday, that will be the greatest gift of my life. 

Striving to evolve first for your saintly, long-suffering mother and then for these precious pugs you love so much, I’ve sometimes felt as if I’ve been in a decade-long character rehabilitation program, and, though I could not know it at the time, the end point was you. 

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