Print magazine on fatherhood debuts with a look at how men react to babies in other parts of the world
Brooklyn-based Kindling Quarterly launched in January 2013 to “explore fatherhood through essays, interviews, editorials, art, and photography.” It is a beautifully designed magazine with thought provoking content. We’re pleased to announce a partnership with them, starting with Creative Director August Heffner’s travel essay on how men in other parts of the world view babies. For more on where you can find the rest of the first issue, visit Kindling Quarterly.
The flight from New York City’s LaGuardia airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk takes about eight hours. We opted for the overnight flight, hedging our bets that our nine-month old might sleep through his first international flight. We lost. I spent a large portion of the flight walking up and down the aisles with him in my arms. It’s an odd task being the only man standing in the airplane, trying to calm a child in front of about one hundred audience members.
In my experience, the feat of calming a crying child in public results in, at best, knowing smiles from mothers and averted looks from the rest. At worst, it can result in the offer of “help” from a stranger who assumes more experience (and a closer bond to your own child?) or an audible grumble of what you should be doing (probably leaving).
For my first captive audience on Turkish airlines I was not offered “help,” I simply received enthusiasm. A male flight attendant ran down the aisle to pick up my son and pinch his cheeks. An hour later, as his boredom returned, another male flight attendant emerged with a variety of makeshift toys—coffee lids, straws etc.—and proceeded to play with my son as if I didn’t exist. This man, possibly doing his job keeping the baby calm and other passengers asleep, did not appear to be working at all. He was having the time of his life with my son. It was an adoration I’ve only seen with family members and close friends.
Our son would so much as open his eyes and from somewhere, anywhere, a man would appear. Mustachioed soldiers, whiskered cab drivers, stern security guards, teenage boys, average tough guys. These men would come from out of nowhere and engage with him. They would start by trying to make him smile. When our son smiled these men would do something I’ve never once witnessed in my own culture; squeal with pure delight.
My wife warned me before we decided to go, “Turkish people love babies.” I wondered what that meant, do some cultures not like babies? Isn’t it somewhat universal to smile at a child? Then we arrived. We stayed in a touristy area near the must-see Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. As New Yorkers we were used to being ignored by the crowds of English, German and American tourists. We poked around the Grand Bazaar, a shopping enclave that has been running continuously since the 1500s, and hunted for a group of outdoor, but somewhat hidden, restaurants frequented by the Bazaar’s workers. ‘Real authentic’ we thought, we won’t make a big scene.
As we arrived, the waiter stopped dead in his tracks. ‘Oh. My. God.’ you could see his mouth move before he quickly motioned to his co-workers. They popped out one by one to see our big-eyed travel companion. They played with him, gave him toys, and took his picture. Finally, while I was finishing my meal, I realized I had stopped paying attention. I looked up and my son was holding a cell-phone blasting electronic dance music. Four men clapped around him, laughing uncontrollably.
This might feel like a scene from one of any dystopian sci-fi novels; reproduction ceases, children become scarce, and the human race threatens to die out. But there were plenty of babies and children to be seen. This was different and the stories started to pile up; the old man in the shipyard that chased us down to give our adorable American a balloon, the chef that threw us a plum “for him,” and the man who pinned a good-luck charm on his overalls. It didn’t stop until we came home.
Upon returning we shared our experience only to hear of familiar stories; “it’s the same in Vietnam” or “we had the same experience in India.” It wasn’t something in the Turkish water; it was our own. It’s hard to fully grasp the cultural codes in the society you live in and it doesn’t always get easier when you see it from the outside. But what happens when a baby comes to the average American workplace? An extremely Mad Men-esque scenario is much more likely than a group of squealing suits. American men may be considerably warm in private, but amidst all those smiling faces, balloons, plums, and good-luck charms, maintaining our austerity feels like an awkward use of our emotional resources.