"....and there's his scrotum. It's a boy." As the doctor said this and pointed an arrow labeled "boy" at the white dot on the ultrasound, a wave of pride hit me. Yes, I admit to pumping my fist and screwing up my face with tetosterone-induced emotion. But it was not all hormonal, and it was not simply a matter of chest-beating. It was not even the bottle of Maker's Mark I would be collecting as a result of a bet with my brother-in-law about the baby's gender. (Something in his assuring me it was a girl forced me to make the wager. He's not paying until the birth.) Thought it was a bit of all of these, there was more.
After the ultrasound, wrapped in a cloud of euphoria, Deirdre and I gleefully violated the first rule of infant's clothing, "Thou shalt not buy new, or at least not new at full price," and dropped 50 bucks at Baby Gap, most of it on a couple of rompers. His first khakis came later, a gift from a friend but if they hadn't, I am sure I would have broken down and bought him some. "Steve McQueen work khakis. Miles Davis wore khakis. Finian Lickona wore khakis. Gap khakis." Oh my, yes.
The Gap spree also yielded the boy's first baseball cap. The cap hearkens back to some of my clearest and fondest memories of my own father during my childhood in New York. I love my father, there are no rifts between us, no resentments festering in memory. But he was still my father, the chief source of authority fro me in my youth. (Mom had authority, too, but she was often more sympathetic.) Coupled with a child's (my) desire to establish himself as an individual, I suppose this makes for distance.
Maybe this was why my father-son interaction could sometimes be awkward. Maybe not. For whatever reason, I don't have too many memories of sitting down for a chat with Dad. It helped to be doing something else and let the conversation flow above the activity. Bike rides, canoe trips, even working in the vegetable garden, but especially catch. Rhythm, back and forth, effortless. Pleasure from every well-thrown and well-caught ball. The occasional break of the wild toss. An ideal backdrop for talk.
As pleasant as it was, baseball with Dad went well beyond catch. Dad loved baseball, and so did I, and he would spend hours teaching me technique and mechanics, then hammering these into habits. When I was a catcher, he pitched to me. "Ten pitches without a passed ball. "C'mon. One. Two...." When I switched to outfield, he hit flies. Most of all, we worked on the swing. No foot in the bucket. Eye on the ball. Don't pull your head. Elbow up. Arms back, no hitch. Keep the bat level. Over and over until whatever was wrong was corrected.
I mention all this because of what came after. in tenth grade. I decided I couldn't stand my coach and I quit playing baseball. And that was it. As intensely as dad had supported me, as hard as he had worked with me, he did not try to keep me where I did not need to be. It was a lesson to me. I am not for hands-off parenting. I do not believe children always know what is best for themselves. But here was a place where letting go, while it would not affect my quality of soul, might still be difficult. Dad let me be.
Which doesn't mean I wont' try to influence the boy. When I talk to him, I often mention the four Bs — baseball, Back, bourbon, and Burgundy — and sometimes Y — Yankees. Beethoven and Bordeaux will come later. I think it's working, at least the baseball part. Deirdre has reported feeling the hand of his throwing arm under her rib.
A boy is familiar, and not only because I used to be one. Growing up, it was just me and my brother Mark. I had no sisters, and none of my friends had sisters who would have anything to do with us, we being boys. Boys are what I know. Since I was the youngest, and since this is my first, I don't have a lot of experience with childcare. This way, I will at least know something.
Speaking of Mark, he and his wife Lisa recently had their second child, a second girl. "Girls will save the world," he reminds me, echoing the belief that men will rise to the level women demand of them. He may very well be right, but whatever else they do, girls will probably not carry on the famly name.
This is a matter of some consequence. If I have my history right, "Lickona" is an Americanized version of the French "Ligony," and it belong exclusively to our family. If you type in "Lickona" on the locator down at the San Diego library, my family is all that will come up — Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, Uncle Terry in Texas, Mom and Dad and Mark and Lisa and their kids in upstate New York, and my aunt in New York City, who goes by Lickona-Weckler. It has fallen to Mark and me to keep the Lickonas going.
With Finian's arrival, some of the pressure is off. He may become a priest, eh may remain single for some other reason, but the possibility is there. I take pride in our family name, mainly because of he people who share it, but also because of it singularity; and so I also take pride in perpetuating it.
And finally, there is that commercial for Visa, the one where the father muses during the birth of his daughter about the various expenses she will incur. He works his way through braces and college, up to a "huge black-tie wedding," at which point the newborn, just before she begins to cry, proclaims, "with ice sculptures." The father faints, and I heave a sigh of relief.