Papoose Days

One can never be sure of what a day may bring to pass.

      -- Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa)

We have all seen a stalled car on the highway and a bunch of men standing around the front of this new, computerized, modern vehicle, with the hood up, as if to suggest that they really "know" what mystery resides there. Nine times out of ten, the only machinery they may have any acquaintance with is that ole "Briggs and Stratton" that they haul out during those weekend lawn mowings. Nonetheless, those men are, more often than not, all simply acting out what is, for some reason, typical male behavior. In short, they are behaving according to the script for their male role, usually modeled after some other socially approved form of behavior. After all, everyone knows, "men know about mechanical things!" And, when we men get into areas in life where, either the role model is missing, or the script is ambiguous, we merely improvise to get by.

Well, what follows is an experience in this improvisational process that helped me to understand a little more about the role of a father, and perhaps more importantly, about being a person. This particular incident took place shortly after the birth of my son while I was working on my doctoral dissertation. I was, so to speak, acting as "Mr. Mom," while my wife was working full-time at a career job.

Forget all the "how to" manuals on fathering, and Dr. Spock's guide to childrearing -- nothing works. Most things in my life up until this point seemed to work themselves out relatively easily. Now, somehow, I was truly at an impasse. I mean, I was stuck! I amused myself in reflecting, "this is a piece of cake," after all; kids just sort of grow up by themselves anyway. But soon I was hearing a voice within me saying, "this is not a tinker-toy set, this is a baby -- a massive blob of life with human potentialities." I realized that I was expected (and expected myself) to in some way, father "it" along.

Fathering didn't seem all that big a problem; generations had been doing it for centuries. Fatherhood for me, however, seemed to have an interesting twist. I didn't exactly have an adequate role model with which to compare and help prepare me for what was ahead. I was entering this endeavor as a sort of pioneer. I was going to be the primary child-care provider -- "Mr. Mom."

Needless to say, I wasn't prepared to deal with all of the foibles in my personality that would somehow come to surface during, what I would come to discover, as a journey into the emotions, as well as, the intellect. Granted, I learned much about the day-to-day rigors of parenting through research, but what I learned about myself through practice, will be indelibly etched within for ages to come.

One incident comes to mind that can help illustrate what is at once an experience in both terror and tenderness. My son Ian, was about six months old and our routines were working out okay -- six months after a collage of experiences that can only be compared to D-Day at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and climbing Mt. Everest in the nude. Anyway, we were settling in for our morning bath, or rather, his morning bath (mine was via proximity). The tub was partly filled, towels laid out orderly, I having recently showered was wrapped in a towel, and I had just lowered Ian into the tub. Everything was normal. But just then the phone rang. I was expecting a call from my wife because we were still breast-feeding Ian and had to arrange milk "expressing" around her lunch schedule. Well, that is when all hell broke loose. The phone call was a salesperson, there was a knock on the door and the person was identifying himself as a policeman, and my son began his best nerve wracking screaming. And me, I just proceeded to lose it. The salesperson was trying to convince me to buy some junk no human will ever have need of. The policeman was inquiring about the whereabouts of my neighbor who was presumed dead. And, my son was now two octaves higher than Margarita Piazza's highest C and twenty decibels above the siren of the squad car in the driveway. All the while, I am trying desperately to maintain my cool and control this overloading situation. I fail.

I hung up the phone abruptly, dismissed the cop with a look that said "use your gun on yourself," and ran back into the bathroom and began screaming at that little brat in the tub to "shut up," because it was all his fault anyway. As I glared at this little guy in the tub in my frustrated and angry state, I glimpsed within that horror that I know as darkness. It was in me, overtaking me and about to tear my world asunder. Through the glare, eye-water was pushing in from the corners of my sockets. No-o-o! I began to wail, I picked up my son, both of us crying, wet and scared. I collapsed into the corner of that cold room and held the life of us both in weak and vibrating arms, and felt the texture of redemption in the moments that followed, flesh touching flesh, tears mingling with tears, and sighs.

It is now a few years later, Ian is a schoolboy, I'm teaching sociology once again, and the world is busy beating plowshares into swords and getting all excited about some "new war." But I continue to fight an old war. One that is marked not so much by casualties and campaigns, but by the freedom and dignity one is rewarded through the unveiling of oneself.