I wasn’t nervous because I was worried he might show up to contest the adoption proceedings. I knew he wouldn’t. He had his own thing and his own reasons and I don’t pretend to understand him or judge him. We have made peace. Nonetheless I was still nervous—for reasons that circled around identity and fate and a few other big things that matter in the grand scheme of big things that matter. This was one of those days in your life, few and far between, when who you are is about to change in every imaginable way. Sure, we change a little bit every single day as each moment chisels away at who we will become, but on this day I woke up a particular man and would go to bed a completely someone else. The bailiff, as the law requires, called his name once, and then twice, and finally—much louder—a third time. Silence. Silence. Silence. And it was done. I was a father and I had a 3-year-old son. But I didn’t feel very different. And neither did my son. He asked for some juice.
Was that Father’s Day? Or had Father’s Day already come and gone? Maybe I became a father the first time he called me Dada, a year earlier, or the first time I changed a diaper. I had been around since the day he was born, doing stuff that looked suspiciously father-like and yet I still identified as a guy who merely lived with his girlfriend and her son. This is very much like walking in the rain and not being wet, but this is often the way stories unfold in my life. I am usually the last one to know the truth about me. The day is done. It’s time for bed. But I never check my watch and jabber with the moon.
I suppose I always thought that I would one day feel like a father, which implied to me that I would one day have it all figured out and, having accomplished the noble end of all that industrious figuring, I would be ready to pass the torch and transmit the substance of all my hard won it. How could I have possibly known that, just behind the thin screen of my own parents seeming to have it all together, the center faced the constant threat of not holding and everything always lingered on the verge of coming apart—indeed, even coming apart a little and often in ways I was too young to notice and coming back together just before I did. How little we all know about just about everything. I thought it would get better. I believed the prerequisite for fatherhood was feeling and being more confident about my place in the world.
However, I discovered the truth about where fathering begins—180 degrees away from confidence—at the birth of my daughter. Birth is one of those events where the concept is in no way equipped to remotely represent what actually happens. What I mean is, yeah, you can understand that, of course, women give birth to children but knowing this is actually a barrier against what really happens when you witness a woman giving birth to your child. What I mean is that what you think you know about what’s going to happen gets completely exploded by what happens. Scratch that. What I mean is that everything you think you know about everything gets completely exploded when you see your child being born. Like, imagine that everything you think you know is a warehouse full of hand grenades and dynamite and the birth of your child is a lit match tossed in…
What am I talking about? Well, there’s before—and that includes all things before, including the whole delivery process—and then there’s after—and “after” means after that point when you actually see a baby—your baby—who is, like, 2 or 3 seconds old.
So I was this person, right? It’s super hard to explain. There’s this kind of naÃ¯ve consciousness that has, like, the basics of how the world works down and takes it for granted, you know? Lots of times, people like this call themselves “Realists,” because they consider themselves down to earth, in the know, and/or real. So I’m kind of like that, this person in the world who’s doing okay or whatever—okay, that is, until I saw my daughter just after she was nothing.
So she wasn’t here and then she was and, for me, the world kind of quivered, got wavy, and went voop voop voop, which is the sound the world makes when there’s a rip in its fabric and all the necessary assumptions for a world to be a world turn into hand grenades and dynamite and explode. Because, really, what the hell? If a baby—your baby—can just, for forever, not be here, and then, KABOOM, be here, isn’t that essentially an expression of the quirky little fact that ANYTHING might HAPPEN maybe ALL THE TIME?!? And how you can be the same after that? How can you take anything for granted after that? How can you be sure of anything after that? And now you’re supposed to raise a baby?
My genuine emergence into fatherhood occurred when a baby gave birth to my ignorance. This ignorance is the mirror of a more genuine humble confidence. It had always been raining.