“I always wanted to be a father, until I had kids. Then I realized I always wanted to be an uncle.” ~Chad Daniels
On Monday, January 9th, 2011, I saw my first ultrasound. Not just my first ultrasound—the heartbeat of my very own first baby-to-be. Said heartbeat was a little white mass, floating inside a gray mass, floating inside a black mass, throbbing furiously on a screen. Though the ultrasound tech pointed out a supposed head and limb, I couldn’t make out anything but a blob. But the white, pulsating mass eclipsed all else, anything that was distinguishable to an eye of any caliber.
After announcing what I had seen, I started fielding texts and emails alternately telling me how excited I must be and asking how I felt. Which I appreciated, the support of friends was overwhelming and wonderful.
The thing is, I was somewhat emotionally neutral at the time. On the other side of the involvement spectrum was my wife, who joyfully approached being pregnant to the point of an obsession. She actually was a little hurt, and possibly offended, by the fact I wasn’t flipping cartwheels about my impending fatherhood. Fortunately, we found some middle ground.
Where our emotional paths converge was in crossed fingers. Given what it took to get to that point—two years of failed infertility treatments, an expensive first round of in vitro fertilization that didn’t take, low HGC numbers for the first few tests and a nurse who casually emailed, “This implant probably won’t take,” another setback would have been frustrating beyond words.
We were ready to stop walking on eggshells and move forward full force. We crossed our fingers and hoped Peanut continued to be compared to ever-growing sizes of fruit: apple seed, pea, blueberry, raspberry, grape, orange, grapefruit, and so on.
(I’m not sure why a fetus is size-compared to food, much less fruit; maybe it’s because both grow from seeds and there’s a food/belly relation to where the baby looks like it’s growing?)
Anyway, in his book Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, author Michael Lewis discussed something I talk about on stage in my act, the idea there is no such thing as “paternal instinct.” It is easier for a woman to have an immediate connection to a baby, because it is literally a part of them. The child has gestated within their body, creating sensations no male could ever fully understand. Men, on the other hand, have to form a bond with the child, and that union can take months to develop.
Watching my future child’s heartbeat had one thought flash across my mind—“What will you be, little pea?” It was an all-encompassing query as to whether it would be a boy or girl, colicky or quiet, athletic or musical, and every other question under the sun regarding impending parenthood.
After that instant? Well, it’s not that I felt nothing, it’s that seeing the heartbeat wasn’t an abrupt, life-altering event. I didn’t feel the need to suddenly paint ducks on a bedroom wall, research high-chair safety ratings on the interwebs, or call everyone I knew and shout joy at them. I had a neat little moment that made me smile, and then went on with my day.
I don’t believe I was in denial about anything, nor do I think I am was being emotionally distant. I knew the critter was on its way, that preparations would be (and were) made and that my life would come to an end change dramatically, it’s just that there is vast difference between knowing and feeling. I understood change was afoot; I felt like I always had.
I wasn’t entirely dickish regarding the situation; care did reside somewhere within me. I know this because I suddenly started having irrationally silly and stupid thoughts rattle around my noggin. For example, the Mrs. and I went to the gym and suddenly an idiotic-as-all-get-out paranoia kicked in: I didn’t want her doing any sit-ups and smooshing Peanut—the name my wife gave the life-form growing in her belly.
Again, it is the difference between knowing and feeling.
Intellectually I was sound of mind and knew a sit-up wasn’t going to cause a miscarriage.
Emotionally, I was suddenly as irrational as Trump supporter.
(My saving grace being I was at least aware I was being stupid.)
If there is a point to all this nonsense, it is the following: all these years later, I am a father to two children who I adore beyond words. To the future fathers out there, or mothers-to-be worrying their partner isn’t as emotionally connected to an ultrasound as they are: you’re going to be fine.
No, men probably won’t jump for joy when they see a blob on a screen. But when the child becomes a tangible, flesh-and-blood little bugger? We’ll love them like nobody’s business.
Until that point, we’ll just look at the cellular mass and wonder: What will you be, little pea?
Photo: Getty Images