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“It’s okay, buddy. It’ll be alright, pal. Don’t cry.” I say half heartedly. I’m only saying it because it seems like that’s what I’m supposed to say. I don’t really know what I’m doing. In fact I don’t even know this kid. I feel bad saying that because I think I’m supposed to be laughing and cheering as I run down the hallway with tears in my eyes handing out cigars. That’s what every new father does in TV shows and the movies. I’m trying to fake it, but I’m having trouble. It’s 10:00 AM on a stormy morning in April of 2006. I’m in the nursery of my local hospital looking down at my son who was born exactly one hour ago. He’s naked, bloated, still a little messy from the trip, and screaming his lungs out. He’s been bawling since the second I met him. I’m standing over his crib (or whatever they call those hospital issued nondescript wooden rectangles with mattresses.) and thinking he must be freezing. Then I touch his exposed belly and it’s actually quite warm due to the heating lamp above him. He resembles a Rotisserie chicken on display at the front of a grocery store deli. I look up at the big window and there are my in-laws in the waiting room looking in and beaming from ear to ear as they alternately snap pictures and talk on their cell phones heralding the good news of their newly arrived grandson.. Then they look up at me and I figure I should probably go into my routine again. “Daddy’s here, buddy. It’ll be okay. Just a little longer.” I’ve been an actor for as long as I can remember and this is without a doubt my worst performance ever. My wife is in the recovery room after her c-section procedure. She’s probably emotional, lonely and in pain. I’d much rather be with her. She needs me. I’ve known her 8 years. I’ve known this kid an hour. He has no idea who I am. I try to touch his hand but he pulls away. He hasn’t even opened his eyes yet. I can’t even tell who he looks like. I’m just not feeling it yet.

I’ve been up since 4 AM after getting about 3 hours of restless sleep. I drove down to the hospital in a deluge that would make Noah nervous. I’ve been trying to remain calm while at the same time keeping my wife comfortable and relaxed. Our birth plan has pretty much been crumpled up, and tossed into the recycling bin. What was supposed to be a calm, new age-y hynpo–birth without any drugs has turned into an early morning scheduled c-section with quite a few different drugs. All of this after a very taxing pregnancy. Obviously I wasn’t the one carrying the load (literally) so I shouldn’t complain, but I witnessed first hand what my wife was going through and you can’t help but experience some of the hardships too. Especially when the hormones rear their ugly head. I’ll never forget the day I came home from a particularly grueling day of work only to be screamed at for not wanting to name the baby at exactly that moment….7 months before he arrived. Apparently that proved I didn’t even WANT a baby. Pile on the 6 months of fertility treatments, the anxiety of not knowing if we were even going to be able to conceive children and if we did, how we would pay for them once they arrived and you can see what a harrowing year and a half it’s been. And the cause of ALL of that is lying in front of me howling away and not caring. He doesn’t seem to be sorry at all. If anything he should be comforting me. I know this all sounds heartless, but mothers have that maternal instinct. Fathers don’t. My wife has known this child much longer than I have. She’s felt him move. She knows his eating habits, when he’s sleeping and when he’s awake. She has been his personal Santa Claus. I have to learn how to be a father. And apparently I have to learn it right away because my wife is going to be out of commission for awhile as she recovers physically and mentally from a very invasive surgical procedure.

The next few days don’t get much better. I spend the entire week in the hospital room trying to sleep on a small cot that a prison would reject. The baby is awake every two hours of the night and I am still trying to find my way around a diaper. My wife has fallen into a serious post partum depression through the pain killing haze. Oh. And I’m suffering back spasms that would keep a professional athlete out of a championship game. And it’s all this 9 pound 21 inch “bundle of joy”s fault. When does the “you don’t just love your children, you fall IN love with them” thing start? Right now he’s just somebody I have to keep alive. Kind of like those bags of flour they give you for a week in high school Sociology class. Except I have my bag of flour for the rest of my life.

And then it happens. It’s the fourth day of his life. The doctor is about to perform a circumcision. My wife is still bed ridden so I am present at the “ceremony”. There’s a little bit of ritualism as my father in law recites a Hebrew prayer via cell phone. Since my wife and I are an interfaith couple, she being Jewish, I being Catholic and neither of us very good at being either one, we have decided to compromise on the Bris. No big party, but a nice prayer and coincidentally our doctor moonlights as a Moyle. So there we are in a small sterile room in the maternity ward, my son fast asleep and the doctor preparing to begin the procedure. The act itself is not something any grown man should have to witness so I stand back against the wall. I suddenly hear a wail from my son the likes of which I’ve never heard in the span of his short life. I’ve heard him cry pretty much nonstop for a week but this is different. This is a scream of pain. He’s in agony and he’s helpless against it. My boy. My poor, sweet little boy. I would do anything to take that pain away from him. In fact it was at that moment when I knew I would do everything within my power to keep him out of danger for as long as I’m alive. HEY! I think I’m in love. And then a week, nay, months of pent up emotions completely gives way and the levee breaks. I burst into tears and start shouting across the room, “It’s okay, buddy. Daddy’s here. It’ll be alright.” This time I mean it.

The week ended in love but started with indifference. 2 years and 4 months later I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I could hop in my Way Back Machine and stand beside myself in the nursery that first day and whisper in my own ear, “Hang in there. You’re looking at a stranger now, but this little guy will soon be your best friend. He’s going to make you laugh harder than you have in years. When you have a bad day at work, he’ll run into your arms as soon as you get in the door and instantly make it better. He’ll look at you with awe and wonder. He’ll also laugh at everything you do and say and you can’t beat that. So take heart. This is the toughest week of both of your lives. It only gets better from here.” Unfortunately the 2006 me would probably turn and say, “I HAVEN’T SLEPT IN DAYS! YOU’RE OBVIOSULY A HALLUCINATION! BUZZ OFF, 2008 ME!” But still. At least I tried.

OMM Andrew
Author: OMM Andrew