"Talk to him," my wife commands, and I obey. I bend down, place my mouth against her belly, and say hello to my son, whose ears are fully developed by now. I tell him that I love him, but after that, I don't know what to say. What to say to someone I do not know? I know his name, Finnian Thomas, but only because I helped decide it. I have felt him kick, but what I experience is a movement of my wife's body. I have seen him on ultrasound, but wondrous as the picture was, it did not distinguish him from any other baby in any other ultrasound. I do not know his face, his body, his manner, his habits. I know him abstractly; he is a baby, my baby, but I do not know him, the concrete, particular Finnian that he is.
Consequently, when I think of him, it tends to be in abstract ways. There is an advantage to this. While he is most abstractly a person now, he is most clearly the fruit of my love for my wife Deirdre, the result of our union of body and soul. His very existence refers back to our love for one another. This endears him to me before I even meet him. I imagine there will be times when his very concrete personhood will make this reference less clear, when he will seem foreign and distant as a teenager, and even as an inconsolable infant. Abstract notions like the fruit of love can be a comfort at such moments.
Dealing overmuch in abstracts carries with it certain hazards, and a baby is good for these as well. A soul that loves abstraction often ends up paralyzed by the possible. As he speculates, all roads lie open to him, even roads he does not yet see. How can he choose any one road, knowing that his choice will cost him any number of other possibilities? Before we got married, Deirdre had trouble understanding my occasional bouts with fear of marriage. I was not in love with another woman, I could not imagine a woman more suited to me, a woman I could love more than her. So what was the problem? The problem was the possibility. What if, somewhere down the road.... Happily, love prevailed over the possible, an I married a wonderful, particular woman.
So also with Finnian. What if this was not the right time? What possibilities would be lost to me once I had a child? I did not take the news of Deirdre's pregnancy well; it mean the loss of certain options. In particular, it meant delaying our trip to Ireland (what good is Ireland if you can't go pubbing with your wife?), but this was not the worst of it. I am still not sure what the worst of it is, but who knows what might come along and float by, just out of my fatherly reach?
But such speculations are not the stuff that lives are made off. A child is blessing. God chose to send a baby into our lives, and I dare to think I see part of the reason why. Concrete particulars lead to life, to action. Here is something, someone, that I must tend to. To steal a phrase from Walker Percy, things like this are a reentry into the world from the realms of abstraction. marriage was the first, children are the next, and even more so, because the child cannot get along with the neglect that comes form my being lost in thought. An infant cannot care for itself, even for a little while. In marriage, Deirdre forgives my selfishness, she bears with my failings. But you cannot treat a child in this way, a child cannot forgive and forget such neglect.
Against all this musing, there is the fact of my wife's belly and all that goes with it.
My first efforts at caring for my son come through the care of my wife. She was nauseated all of the first trimester and much of the second. My role as helpmate consisted mainly of holding her hair and rubbing her back; I have also learned the fine art of foot and hand rubbing. Deirdre often moans with pleasure as I massage the muscle between her thumb and forefinger.
The belly also means no more boozing. My wife and I fell in love over wine, bourbon, and cognac. We attended a college with a dry campus, and many evenings were spent sitting in my car under a highway overpass just off campus known to students as The Pit, a bottle between us and a candle on the dashboard. We went there to unwind at the end of the day — though we saw a great deal of each other on campus and drove all over California, it was at The Pit that we developed the habit of each other, the ease of being together that bodes well for domestic bliss. The transition has not been difficult; we have not woken up to a more sober, less pleasant impression of each other, but there are evenings when we miss the pleasures of the vine and grain.
I have lost a drinking companion, but I have gained much that delights me. Being a father carries with it permission to revel in the things my own father used to do, things that drove me crazy, like singing tuneless songs about whatever is at hand. As I wander our rented Mission Hills guesthouse, I croon about my wife, her tendency to sleep late these days, my socks on the bedroom floor. I have purchased a gray cardigan sweater, an icon of dadhood.
More serious matters. I am responsible for my son before God. Time to delve deeper into my faith, to recall the inarticulate yet deeply embedded truths that are the reasons behind my beliefs. Finnian will look to me for an account of life and faith, and if I cannot share the burden of pregnancy, I can prepare in this way. I am playing the part of loving father, growing into it until it is no longer playing. At 23, I am married young. I am a father young. I am looking forward to this.