Deirdre and I went home to my parents' for Easter. I still find myself calling it "home," even though I have been living and working in San Diego for almost two years and married for one. Deirdre does the same for Kansas City. I have mentioned before in this column the feeling of playing the part of husband and father. I wonder when the feeling will pass, when "home" will be here and my parents will be someplace I visit. I wonder if it will be when I bring Finian into our house, sit him down, and marvel, a la H.I. McDunough in Raising Arizona, "What, are you kidding? We got us a family here!" I will know soon enough.
The boy is due in two weeks, and as the pregnancy winds down, events surrounding it slow to the speed of Deirdre's walk (She hasn't gained much — only 20 pounds — but that, combined with the disproportionate weight of her belly and the loosening in her hips and pelvis, has been enough to make moving an effort. She needs me help to get up off her back in the morning, leading me to dub her Turtle Wifey.) Pregnancy has gone from being a novelty to being the norm. Alarm and fear have yielded (mostly) to acceptance and faith. Finian is almost done developing; all that remains is for him to gain weight, something Deirdre hopes he waits to do until after the birth. We've been through the first announcements, first and second sonograms, first swelling of the belly, first kickings. Nothing more to do except wait. Wait and acquire.
The accommodation hasn't been painful. The powers that be have begun to manufacture strollers, car seats, baby slings, and diaper bags in khaki, navy, burgundy, and black — a comfort to my vanity. Carrying a diaper bag and pushing a stroller I can handle; doing so amidst a wash of brights and pastels is something else again. baby equipment in neutrals and darks is business's way of encouraging dads to help out.
I do help, but it is clearer than ever that the baby is Deirdre's prospect for the time being. I help her up, I rub her back. I even encourage the boy to shift away from positions that give her pain, bellowing, "Move along now," and pressing where I think he is situated. But she bears the weight; and I often end up just being with her and watching.
When Deirdre meets people, especially women, whether they be friends of friends, salespeople, or waitresses, they almost always ask, 'When are you due?' (A notable exception was a saleslady at Macy's, who instead said blandly, "You look like you're ready to pop.") Together with "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" and "Do you have a name picked out?" this is part of the standard small talk with a pregnant person, replacing the more universal "How's it going?" Like asking someone in a cast, "What happened?" it is a more particular form of routine inquiry.
But although pregnancy and injury arouse curiosity — "Hmm, here is something out of the ordinary" —there is no more real interest behind those questions than there is behind "How's it going?" I doubt most people would remember Finian's due date for more than five minutes, except for a quick of Deirdre's diction. The boy is due May 2, and when she answers the perfunctory question, her reply tends to be heard as "Any second." This usually snaps the questioner out of the automatic mode and into something of a panic. Amusement at this reaction makes hearing the question umpteen times a day more bearable.
Another general reaction to Deirdre's pregnancy is enthusiasm — "Congratulations!" That's great!" People react the way they would if you told them you had landed a job or won an award. But pregnancy is not the result of an achievement of this sort. It is the result of sex, and though I believe sex with my wife is both an expression of love and an occasion of grace, the fact remains that most men and women can take part in the conception of a child. It requires no special virtue.
This is why I am intrigued by the happy reaction of people who do not even know us. How do they know to congratulate us? How do they know it's great? You don't have to think overpopulation is society's greatest ill to take pause. If you believe the numbers, child abuse of one sort or another is rampant. Many couples divorce, a traumatic event in the life of a child. And even if I don't beat Finian or leave him and hi smother, what sort of father will I be? I might resent the boy, or drive him to be all that I wasn't, or just be indifferent toward him. And finally, even if I love my son with all my heart, what if he goes astray, becomes a criminal? "Call no man blessed until he is in the grave," goes the old saying, and these people are smiling while he's still in the womb.
Not everyone smiles, of course, and some of those who do may just be unthinking, but another possibility is that people believe that life, all life, is good. That it is good for this boy to come into the world, in spite of what he may face. They feel hope for him, and given the world he is coming into, this hope speaks either to man's foolishness as to his sense that he is about something worthwhile, even when he suffers. Finian will no doubt suffer. He will no doubt cause suffering. But it is good for him to be here.