This week Minsun was stricken with yet another bizarre symptom of pregnancy. She is currently nursing her aching, carpal-tunnel afflicted hands. Thus, I, her thoughtful husband Teddy, am taking over her journal writing duties for one week to help alleviate the pain in her poor sore joints. Also, I am an insufferable attention hound. Okay, only the second reason, really. Oh yes, one more reason -- because it's what I'm supposed to do, right? This is my duty as a "dear husband" and father-to-be. Or so it seems, if I am to play the role that I have chosen to play. But there are many great roles in the annals of staged drama. For every caring father (King Lear), there is a confused whiner (Hamlet), a lying cheat (Cassius and Brutus), a love-blind fool (Romeo). Which brings me to my subject today -- daddy casting. I don't mean the casting done in fishing (in that sense, daddy-casting is what yet-to-be-betrothed women may very well be doing right now instead of reading this journal), but the casting done in theater. The big show is upon us impending daddies, and the role-playing has begun.
A few weeks ago, it hit me. All my life has been local theater, all leading to the most important role of my career. The supporting character in the big Broadway musical. Adolescence was acting class. Dating was looking for work. Meeting my wife was the big audition (actors are darn lucky they don't have year-long auditions). Getting married was being cast in the show. And now pregnancy is rehearsal. And in just four weeks, the curtain goes up on opening night. And I become the supporting actor in my child's life. But herein lies the dilemma -- what character am I playing? There seem to be so many choices, so many options. I know my role, but I have to choose my character. I believe all men go through some form of this in the months before their first child is born, whether they know it or not. And as I roam the newly discovered world of "man, look at all those babies at the mall -- were they there before you got pregnant?", I have also discovered that there are a million kinds of fathers and fathers-to-be. And I study them, so I can decide which I will be. Here is a selection of my options, as I have seen them.
This is the father-to-be whose love, support, and kindness are flowing freer than Guinness Stout in an Irish bar in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day. I mean, these guys are all about the love. Massaging aching backs and legs at every possible opportunity. Intercepting strange hands as they lurch towards the pregnant belly (this is where Secret Service agents wives benefit -- wouldn't it be great to have one of those nasty sticks they carry? Swat!) Deflecting well-meaning warnings from family friends about too much sodium intake. And taken to a further extent, this outpouring of affection may include the wearing of a prosthetic belly so that oh-so-sympathetic hubby understands what it's like to be pregnant (yeah, right, that should about cover it), or the outright gaining of 25 extra pounds of real flesh. This category is often split evenly between the successful, superstar players of the role and the B-level actors. I recently witnessed the dichotomy between the two in our pregnancy class. The question was posed to the husbands -- "Why are you taking this class?" When it came to me, I tried to be glib and answer that I wanted to screw up as little as possible. When the question was posed of the young husband across from me, his answer was "Because I want to be the best father I can be." A nearly audible groan of agony and disgust could be felt from every man in the room. (I'm sure his wife ate it up). Yuck. Of course, we all want that, but did you have to so blatantly try to show the rest of us up? B-level actor. But we were all about to be upstaged by a master. A new question was posed -- "What do you do for a living, and what do you do for your soul?" I ignore the soul-filling question, but the quiet husband down the line was ready. His answer -- I have my wife for my soul. Every wife sighed (okay, so did some of the husbands). Every male heart sunk with the realization that they could never match up. Tom Hanks, watch your back.
Or more accurately "Exaggerator, Exaggerator." In other words, the braggart. This father-to-be proves his talent by outdoing other fathers with tales of daring-do or his impending progeny's excelled abilities. For example (and forgive me if I repeat a story told by Minsun), I have a new-father friend who constantly brags about every thing possible, from fertilization to labor to his new daughter's smile. Of course, when mom is in the room, she immediately dispels his fairy tales with a wave of her exhausted hand and the true tale of horror. He began from the get-go, when he informed me that his wife was pregnant, and that they had conceived on "the first try!" First of all, I'd rather not picture my friends attempting to fertilize, if you know what I mean. But aside from that, he said this in front of another friend of mine who, with his wife, has been trying to conceive for two years. And the bragging continued through the entire pregnancy, including a ten-minute, pain-free labor and a child who played "Chopsticks" in three-part harmony at two weeks. The biggest problem with this particular daddy model is that it compels other daddies to play the same role. And I am no exception. When, a few months after his happy announcement, I discovered than Minsun was pregnant, I couldn't resist calling him and telling him our news, adding that we didn't get pregnant on the first try -- we weren't even trying! Hah! Beat that! It can only get ugly from here.
Forrest Gump, or Dazed and Confused, or Dumb and Dumber
I have a feeling this one isn't intentional. True, the Fool is one of the great comedic traditions, but I think most wives would prefer their husbands skip this role. Be that as it may, there are plenty waiting in the wings. Back to our pregnancy class -- I never had this much fun in college. Not because the instructor was excellent (which she was), but because at least once every 20 minutes, from one hapless father in one corner of the room, would come the most brilliantly ridiculous questions I'd ever heard about infants. A sampling: "Why do babies cry when they're born?" "They don't feel pain, do they?" "Wait a minute, you're telling me that babies can think when they're born?" "What is better for a baby, vaginal birth or C-section? What about the mother?" Amazingly, his wife was no better! And I'm not talking about teenagers here. This couple was in their early 40s. You'd think they might have read a few things or seen a few things or lived on earth! The problem with this particular role is that try as one may, it is nearly impossible to not play it at least some of the time. I remember asking Minsun early on, after she informed me that many pregnant women use rubber bands to keep their non-maternity jeans closed, where on earth was she going to find rubber bands big enough to fit around her entire waist?
Okay, I admit I haven't seen any examples of that one yet.
What women want
That one, as well, seems to have escaped my attention.
For all these varied roles, however, there seems to be one commonality among all of them. I've seen it. I've been there. Let me set the stage for you. Babies R' Us: the ultimate baby warehouse store. Men love warehouse stores. Because I don't care which one it is, Target, Costco, Home Depot, somewhere inside there will be tools. But not Babies R' Us. No, sir. So look around. Women in every aisle. Pairs of women. Trios of women. Entire extended families of women. Sure, there are men tagging along. Trying to be helpful. Pushing carts. But wait! What's that I see? There, a gaggle of male figures. All crowded around two small shelves. Oohing. Ahhing. Jostling for a better view. What is it they're admiring so? Baby monitors. Two-way video, 400 MHz, motion-detecting, walkie-talkie capable! Technology in the baby store. In this moment, we are all one. We are all members of the same tribe. We are Adam, we are the proto-human male. And we sigh together, happily.
Oh yes, there's one more role we all play. Only this one comes after the birth. Sleepless in Seattle.
So we rehearse. We watch other performances, maybe do a bit of method acting. Preparing for opening night. But there is one very important thing for all moms to consider. There is an old saying in the theater. If the dress rehearsal is a disaster, the show will be a hit. So in the delivery room, during the dress (or undressed) rehearsal, when we faint, when we talk when we shouldn't or don't when we should, when we wince because we momentarily think our baby is the ugliest baby ever because we don't realize that it is the back of the head which we're seeing first, just remember ... the show's gonna be a huge smash. Please don't call the understudy.