Monday, August 1, 2011

Agony and Ecstacy

World, say hi to Graham. He's new. And it is entirely fair to say that he's occupied the vast majority of my thoughts for the last four days. But when I haven't been wondering what it means when he does that little shaky twitchy thing he does, or trying to figure out if he's objectively cute or whether I'm just believing everyone who tells me that because I'm over the moon for him, I have had a few moments to think about fatherhood and child rearing in this crazy world we live in.

The first thing I've noticed about having a new baby is that you are not allowed to have your own emotions about it. You are told by everyone from the doctor to your friends to the woman who cleans your hospital room that you are feeling as happy as you ever have in your life. Which is, at some level, true. But I have to admit the dominant feeling I had was one of awe. I am in awe that I could have had anything to do with making something as great as Graham. But I am even more in awe of the responsibility that has been bestowed upon me by society. How can anyone live up to the task of giving a new human being a chance to reach whatever potential he has, without smothering him in the effort?

That thought made me realize there were many times I was entirely too hard on my parents. There's no good answer to that question, so you're bound to offend your child either by not doing enough for him or by not giving him the independence he deserves. (Now, I'm still not willing to admit that I was wrong and my parents were right in any particular argument, but I can appreciate their motivations.)

I've also become profoundly aware that the world has acquired a greatly enhanced ability to cause me pain. Anything that happened to Graham would be completely devastating. In fact, I don't even want to write about this or think about it anymore: let's move on to the flip side. What's that? Simply that every achievement or triumph or happiness that Graham has going forward will provide me a deeper satisfaction than anything else I can imagine. Even the other day, when the lactation consultant noticed his fast-darting eyes and said, "Wow, he's really observant, you're going to have a smart one on your hands," I wanted to run a victory lap. I've been searching for an analogous feeling, and the only one I can think of is that sensation when you sit down to watch one of your sports teams at the start of a season, and follow them obsessively through a whole year until they win the championship. There is a feeling that you've been given happiness for free, that you've been swept up into something bigger than your own striving and seen it come to a perfect conclusion.

So that's what gets balanced in parenthood: the happiness of meeting your child with the overwhelming sense of responsibility going forward. The agony of fearing what could happen to them with the ecstacy of watching them grow and achieve. I feel pulled in both directions at each moment, and while it makes my stomach churn, I wouldn't have it any other way.

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