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Da Always Wins

What Da hasn't said

Finian at six weeks with the author - Image by Chad Weckler
Finian at six weeks with the author

Finian Thomas Lickona turned one year old on May 6; he celebrated with a small group of close friends. After he had eaten his strawberry shortcake, homemade by Mama and overburdened by whipped cream pseudo rosettes applied by a Da who got carried away with the pastry bag, his mama blew great globular bubbles for him through a wide wand. The bubbles quivered and quavered as they descended, all rainbow-slick and deformed by their own weight. Fin prefers adult toys — the phone and the remote — but I liked the bubbles. I have been a father for over a year. A good time to look back and sweep up the stray bits.

Finian

When Fin started crawling we started calling him a little mobile will. So many of the things he wished for in silence as a helpless infant were now within reach — power cords, books on lower shelves, trash cans and their innumerable treasures. Later, when he gained the strength to pull himself up on coffee tables and chair legs, a new realm was opened to him the elevated surface. The TV remote, the still-forbidden cordless phone, the spigot to the water cooler — all possible toys. Rapid improvements in coordination followed, and Fin was soon pushing batteries into the VCR, unspooling toilet paper, and pressing the button on the answering machine.

We discovered some of these improvements through near misses. Deirdre and I went out alone for her birthday. Fin was left in the care of Danielle, a friend who was staying with us. Danielle was washing up after dinner when she heard the frightening silence of a baby about to do something bad. Then — clink, clink, clink, CRASH, tinkle, tinkle. Unless one of us had forgotten to close it, Fin had forced the latch on the liquor cabinet, extracted two red wine glasses, tested them for tone, and then brought them together, cymbal-like, with spectacular results. She rushed into the room; Fin was still holding the sterns, happy, surrounded by shards of broken glass. He was unhurt. Danielle didn’t mention the event when I called from Rainwater’s to see how things were going.

This was not his first adventure with those marvelous, top-heavy glasses. One night, seconds after I left for an evening interview, Fin found himself alone in the white-carpeted family room with a full glass of red wine. A tired Deirdre had left it on the arm of the futon frame while she went into the kitchen for a moment. She returned to find Fin exulting in the double pleasure of broken glass and a trail of wine-soaked as well.

With no Da to hold the boy out of harm’s way. Deirdre had to put him in the crib in the nursery. Fin had never been left alone in this way, and he screamed in protest. Worse, he could see Mama walking from family room to kitchen as she cleaned up; he could see her ignoring his cries. A few nights later, he howled in his sleep, the victim of a bad baby dream, which Deirdre thought was connected to his first taste of abandonment. Why wouldn’t Mama come?

I thought of that night when I read a letter my sister-in-law Lisa had received and passed on to Deirdre, along with Lisa’s reply. The letter was a request for parenting advice from another. She was looking for a “school” of parenting and mentioned one that made the case for feeding on schedule instead of on cue, in part because it created “a foundation for the development of virtue in the child. That is to say, children learn in this way they cannot be immediately gratified. On the other hand, it is supposed to give them a sense of security due to the regularity of “meal” time. The problem is, before a child gets ‘on schedule,’ he has to be left to cry, and this is something I can hardly stand.”

Though I hadn’t been asked for my opinion, the intensity of my reaction compelled me to scribble my two cents in the margin. “Without understanding, there cannot be virtue, only habit.” I am not a mother, but it seems to me that the breast is not a lifeless food-delivery system, like a bottle. It is part of Mom, an instrument of bonding. When Mom withholds it for no apparent reason (try telling a crying baby that dinnertime isn’t for another two hours), doesn’t that weaken the bond?

Even if the breast were a bottle, what does a hungry baby, or a baby who needs comfort, learn when his cries go unanswered? That you can’t always get what you want? Or that Mom and Dad can’t be depended on when you need them? The latter seems the more immediate conclusion, and I don’t think babies do a lot of abstract thinking. Also abstract is the notion of deriving security from a regular schedule, at least compared to the security of knowing that whenever you call for a parent, he or she is there.

Finally, there are a hundred other occasions for a baby to learn that not every wish can be granted. Da’s vigilance may waver, and the cordless phone may be left within the boy’s reach, and he may never look happier than when he is making a beeline for that forbidden fruit, but Da will not shrug his shoulders and say, “This round to you.” As I have said. Da always wins. The treasure, literally within his grasp, will be snatched from his clutches, and he will not understand why. He will be sad. He will be mad. He will punish Da.

I have just said that I don’t think babies do much abstract thinking. I may be about to give myself the lie by explaining what used to be Fin’s method of counterattack when his will was thwarted. He read the anguish in our eyes when we saw him fall enough times to know that it makes us sad to see him in pain. So the moment we upset him, he smacked his forehead against the floor. He was willing to suffer to punish us – very abstract. At one point, there was a vertical row of bruises running from his brow to his hair-line, the blue-brown fruit of psychological warfare. Surely his physical pain was nothing compared to our suffering upon beholding his wounds. Or so he supposed.

How frustrating it must have been for him when our only reaction was to tell him not to bang his head and to remind him that it was himself he was hurting. When it became clear that the strategy was costing him more than it gained, he shifted his tactics. The head still hurtled floorward with lightning quickness but was now pulled up a half-inch short of the floor. A gentle tapping replaced the sharp crack of skin-padded bone of wood. The motion resembled the touché in fencing — symbolic of what was once an act of real warfare, now reduced to a civilized gesture.

The conflict of wills is old; Fin has been protesting this or that from the beginning. What is new is understanding, the understanding I said was necessary for virtue. Fin has become a moral creature; I am sure of it. He understands obedience and rebellion, which for him are virtue and vice.

Example: He is attempting to climb into the tub. I say, “No tub” and pick him up. He cries and takes an angry swipe at my face. I grab his arm, lower my voice, look him in the eye, and say, “No! Do not ever hit your Da in the face.” Except I’m not looking him in the eye, he won’t look at me. He turns his head, gazes down and away, pouting and complaining. I hold his face line with my own and say. “Look at me.” After a second, he does, “Do not ever hit your Da in the face. Do you understand me?”

He raises his right arm. His hand hovers a while, jerking forward and back. He swats. Not a hard swat, not like the swipe he took when he was upset. This blow is symbolic; this blow is the sign of defiance. He weighed the options, the possibility of praise or censure, good or evil, and he chose.

The dawning of morality set an anxious mind racing. I have often wondered why I obeyed my parents to the extent that I did. I was by no means a perfect child, but I never had a period where I didn’t care what my parents thought, where I decided, “Damn it, it’s my life, and I’ll do as I please.” My will was sometimes weak, rarely bad. My religious faith had something to do with this, but there was more to my obedience than adherence to the fourth commandment, Mom and Dad had authority over me, always.

During their recent visit, I asked them how they maintained that authority. ”Sacrifice” was Mom’s immediate reply. “I’ve learned that if you sacrifice yourself for your children, they will know you have the right to authority over them.” Dad added that it had a lot to do with explaining, engaging the child’s powers of moral reasoning. He reminded me of how angry I got when Mom would forbid something on the grounds that she was my mother. “But there has to be a reason,” I complained. It’s a subject I’m sure I will return to as Fin gets older.

More remembered sweepings: Deirdre continued to work as a waitress at Tapas Picasso on Fourth Avenue through January of ’97, the fifth month of her pregnancy. During those latter days of dual income, when we were still renting in Mission Hills, and when I was never without a twenty to spend, I developed a Friday-night drinking ritual. After dropping her off for her shift at a little before five o’clock, I turned left on University, left again onto the 163 North, and joined the Friday rush hour heading North on the 805. I exited at Miramar, destination: the Wine-Sellar, there to procure my weekly Pinot Noir.

I learned a lot about Pinot in those weeks, sampling bottles in the $20 range from California, Oregon, and Washington. Sipping while seated on the futon in our alcove of a living room, wallowing in the dreary gore of Millennium on TV, waiting for Deirdre to call, I became familiar with the various variations of the wine, from typical California fruit-fest to Burgundian earthiness. When she did call, around eleven, I went and helped close the restaurant, washing glasses, changing linen, setting tables. Then we walked over to the Corvette Diner for a late supper and headed home for a foot massage for Wifely. The bulge in her middle stayed hidden under her apron, but Fin’s added weight made itself known in her arches.

One Friday, while I was paying for my wine and chatting with the man behind the register about my impending baby, he suggested that I make a list of all the things I was accustomed to doing at the time. He said I could look back on it after being a parent for a while and see how completely my life had changed. I never made the list, and I’m certain that Fin has impacted my memory, but I’ll try it now.

One difference is that I don’t play rock music in the house anymore, though this is less a decision made for Finian’s sake than a phase passed through. I do still play it while I drive, and I find myself rewriting catchy choruses to fit what I suppose is my new lifestyle. Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” for example, suffered a lyrical adjustment after Fin spewed undigested milk (cheese) on Deirdre’s head:

The original chorus,

  • I smell sex and candy, yeah
  • Who’s that lounging in my chair?
  • Who’s that causing devious stares
  • In my direction
  • Mama this surely is a dream, dig it
  • Mama this must be my dream,

became:

  • I smell Fin and babies, yeah
  • Who’s that puking in my hair?
  • Who’s that casting great chunks of cheese
  • In my direction
  • Mama, this surely is a Squish, dig it
  • Mama, this must be my Squish.

“Squish,” of course, is our pet name for the boy, replaced by “Squash” when he misbehaves. When Deirdre was still pregnant, and I was even more abstracted than I am today, I was anxious because I had not given Fin a pet name. I rarely use Deirdre’s name when addressing her; Honey or Wifely usually fills in. My brother’s first daughter was called Rumpus while still in the womb, because she was taking so long to turn head down in preparation for delivery. My friend Ernie called Evelyn, his first child, Smooch, and Augustine, his second, Mo, Mister Man, Manny, and Mister Guy.

Pet names seem to be a normal extension of affectionate love, and so conversely, the lack of a pet name indicated the absence of something that should be there, and nothing was coming to mind. Even if I thought of something, it wouldn’t be any good, because that’s not the kind of thing you can think up. It has to arise naturally, spontaneously. You can’t force that kind of tender affection (the kind that produces pet names) into existence just by will, and what if it was lacking, what kind of Dad was I, was I really so selfish that I wouldn’t love this child rightly, would I just do my duty as a father and never experience true devotion?

This sort of ridiculous anxiety is an example of what can happen when you spend too much time inside your head — you start sounding like a sitcom plot. “Tuesday 8:00 p.m.: Mad About You. Paul and Jamie search for a pet name.” I am glad that, instead of wrinkling his brow and expressing sympathy followed by wisecracks á la Jamie, Ernie just laughed at me when I shared my fear. It quelled the little demon of pettiness buzzing in my soul.

My friend Jon had a similar reaction when I mentioned my concern that Fin would be born deformed, or just plain ugly, and the depths of my shallowness would be revealed when, upon beholding my son, I failed to love him in the face of his face. I made jokes about this because I was ashamed that the anxiety even arose. I made more jokes when Fin’s top front teeth started coming in with a sizable gap between them. “Why has God done this?” I cried in mock anguish. “To give us a beautiful boy and then take him away!”

A note on the pet name that did arise spontaneously: “Squish” came about because Fin was the result of squishing, which was named derivatively from my giving Deirdre affectionate squeezes and crying, “Squish!” There is less squishing now that Squish has arrived, but it hasn’t sent us scurrying through parenting magazines in search of articles on how to revive your love life after children. From the start, we have tended to be afternoon lovers, embracing in the golden, lazy hours after lunch. This dovetails with Fin’s afternoon naps, except that such naps are also Deirdre’s chance to get things done around the house without Fin underfoot.

Other changes I remember: Before Fin, Deirdre made occasional pitchers of margaritas in the late afternoon, and we began a long happy slide toward bedtime. Dinner didn’t always happen. Now, we have three meals a day, and no pitchers. On free afternoons, we went to movies matinees, playing what Woody Allen called grownup hooky. Fin will sleep through a late show, but matinees are impossible. We don’t go out to eat as often, but that’s more because of Deirdre’s leaving work. When we do go, Fin is pretty well-behaved.

I read less, and I write fewer letters. Fin still sleeps between us. Getting out the door takes longer. The house has undergone rudimentary baby-proofing. Someone must always be attending Fin, especially when he is at table. This last is one of the biggest changes, the constant presence of someone who needs attention. In my first column, written while Fin was still in the womb, I speculated that such a presence would be a foil to abstraction. I was right.

What has remained? Fin likes all the foods we do, so we still eat well. He gets up when we do, so we’re still well rested. We still have dinner with friends. We still travel to see friends and family; in one year. Fin has been to Kansas City twice, New York twice, Connecticut, and Florida. We still have coffee in bed every morning while Fin plays between us or on the floor. Ours is a quiet little San Diego life, and far from turning it inside out. Fin has enhanced it.

My friend Jon likes to make fun of my fondness for perfect moments: dinners, evenings, even whole days where nothing goes wrong, days that I can wrap up in a neat bundle and tuck away in my memory. This is an abstraction; life does not, should not, submit to such treatment. But I had a moment the other night while my parents were visiting. We were sipping a nightcap in the family room, watching Fin walk (Is-he-walking-is-he-walking-is-he-walking? Yes) from one point of interest to another. Seeing him walk toward me, I felt, physically felt, that my whole life was compressed into this little man. The words entered my head as the feeling entered my breast, a feeling of compaction, me being collapsed into him.

I’m still not sure exactly what that meant — that my whole life was Fin and nothing else? No. But this other person that I have helped to make has an extraordinary effect on me. Maybe I’m more turned inside out than I realize.

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Finian at six weeks with the author - Image by Chad Weckler
Finian at six weeks with the author

Finian Thomas Lickona turned one year old on May 6; he celebrated with a small group of close friends. After he had eaten his strawberry shortcake, homemade by Mama and overburdened by whipped cream pseudo rosettes applied by a Da who got carried away with the pastry bag, his mama blew great globular bubbles for him through a wide wand. The bubbles quivered and quavered as they descended, all rainbow-slick and deformed by their own weight. Fin prefers adult toys — the phone and the remote — but I liked the bubbles. I have been a father for over a year. A good time to look back and sweep up the stray bits.

Finian

When Fin started crawling we started calling him a little mobile will. So many of the things he wished for in silence as a helpless infant were now within reach — power cords, books on lower shelves, trash cans and their innumerable treasures. Later, when he gained the strength to pull himself up on coffee tables and chair legs, a new realm was opened to him the elevated surface. The TV remote, the still-forbidden cordless phone, the spigot to the water cooler — all possible toys. Rapid improvements in coordination followed, and Fin was soon pushing batteries into the VCR, unspooling toilet paper, and pressing the button on the answering machine.

We discovered some of these improvements through near misses. Deirdre and I went out alone for her birthday. Fin was left in the care of Danielle, a friend who was staying with us. Danielle was washing up after dinner when she heard the frightening silence of a baby about to do something bad. Then — clink, clink, clink, CRASH, tinkle, tinkle. Unless one of us had forgotten to close it, Fin had forced the latch on the liquor cabinet, extracted two red wine glasses, tested them for tone, and then brought them together, cymbal-like, with spectacular results. She rushed into the room; Fin was still holding the sterns, happy, surrounded by shards of broken glass. He was unhurt. Danielle didn’t mention the event when I called from Rainwater’s to see how things were going.

This was not his first adventure with those marvelous, top-heavy glasses. One night, seconds after I left for an evening interview, Fin found himself alone in the white-carpeted family room with a full glass of red wine. A tired Deirdre had left it on the arm of the futon frame while she went into the kitchen for a moment. She returned to find Fin exulting in the double pleasure of broken glass and a trail of wine-soaked as well.

With no Da to hold the boy out of harm’s way. Deirdre had to put him in the crib in the nursery. Fin had never been left alone in this way, and he screamed in protest. Worse, he could see Mama walking from family room to kitchen as she cleaned up; he could see her ignoring his cries. A few nights later, he howled in his sleep, the victim of a bad baby dream, which Deirdre thought was connected to his first taste of abandonment. Why wouldn’t Mama come?

I thought of that night when I read a letter my sister-in-law Lisa had received and passed on to Deirdre, along with Lisa’s reply. The letter was a request for parenting advice from another. She was looking for a “school” of parenting and mentioned one that made the case for feeding on schedule instead of on cue, in part because it created “a foundation for the development of virtue in the child. That is to say, children learn in this way they cannot be immediately gratified. On the other hand, it is supposed to give them a sense of security due to the regularity of “meal” time. The problem is, before a child gets ‘on schedule,’ he has to be left to cry, and this is something I can hardly stand.”

Though I hadn’t been asked for my opinion, the intensity of my reaction compelled me to scribble my two cents in the margin. “Without understanding, there cannot be virtue, only habit.” I am not a mother, but it seems to me that the breast is not a lifeless food-delivery system, like a bottle. It is part of Mom, an instrument of bonding. When Mom withholds it for no apparent reason (try telling a crying baby that dinnertime isn’t for another two hours), doesn’t that weaken the bond?

Even if the breast were a bottle, what does a hungry baby, or a baby who needs comfort, learn when his cries go unanswered? That you can’t always get what you want? Or that Mom and Dad can’t be depended on when you need them? The latter seems the more immediate conclusion, and I don’t think babies do a lot of abstract thinking. Also abstract is the notion of deriving security from a regular schedule, at least compared to the security of knowing that whenever you call for a parent, he or she is there.

Finally, there are a hundred other occasions for a baby to learn that not every wish can be granted. Da’s vigilance may waver, and the cordless phone may be left within the boy’s reach, and he may never look happier than when he is making a beeline for that forbidden fruit, but Da will not shrug his shoulders and say, “This round to you.” As I have said. Da always wins. The treasure, literally within his grasp, will be snatched from his clutches, and he will not understand why. He will be sad. He will be mad. He will punish Da.

I have just said that I don’t think babies do much abstract thinking. I may be about to give myself the lie by explaining what used to be Fin’s method of counterattack when his will was thwarted. He read the anguish in our eyes when we saw him fall enough times to know that it makes us sad to see him in pain. So the moment we upset him, he smacked his forehead against the floor. He was willing to suffer to punish us – very abstract. At one point, there was a vertical row of bruises running from his brow to his hair-line, the blue-brown fruit of psychological warfare. Surely his physical pain was nothing compared to our suffering upon beholding his wounds. Or so he supposed.

How frustrating it must have been for him when our only reaction was to tell him not to bang his head and to remind him that it was himself he was hurting. When it became clear that the strategy was costing him more than it gained, he shifted his tactics. The head still hurtled floorward with lightning quickness but was now pulled up a half-inch short of the floor. A gentle tapping replaced the sharp crack of skin-padded bone of wood. The motion resembled the touché in fencing — symbolic of what was once an act of real warfare, now reduced to a civilized gesture.

The conflict of wills is old; Fin has been protesting this or that from the beginning. What is new is understanding, the understanding I said was necessary for virtue. Fin has become a moral creature; I am sure of it. He understands obedience and rebellion, which for him are virtue and vice.

Example: He is attempting to climb into the tub. I say, “No tub” and pick him up. He cries and takes an angry swipe at my face. I grab his arm, lower my voice, look him in the eye, and say, “No! Do not ever hit your Da in the face.” Except I’m not looking him in the eye, he won’t look at me. He turns his head, gazes down and away, pouting and complaining. I hold his face line with my own and say. “Look at me.” After a second, he does, “Do not ever hit your Da in the face. Do you understand me?”

He raises his right arm. His hand hovers a while, jerking forward and back. He swats. Not a hard swat, not like the swipe he took when he was upset. This blow is symbolic; this blow is the sign of defiance. He weighed the options, the possibility of praise or censure, good or evil, and he chose.

The dawning of morality set an anxious mind racing. I have often wondered why I obeyed my parents to the extent that I did. I was by no means a perfect child, but I never had a period where I didn’t care what my parents thought, where I decided, “Damn it, it’s my life, and I’ll do as I please.” My will was sometimes weak, rarely bad. My religious faith had something to do with this, but there was more to my obedience than adherence to the fourth commandment, Mom and Dad had authority over me, always.

During their recent visit, I asked them how they maintained that authority. ”Sacrifice” was Mom’s immediate reply. “I’ve learned that if you sacrifice yourself for your children, they will know you have the right to authority over them.” Dad added that it had a lot to do with explaining, engaging the child’s powers of moral reasoning. He reminded me of how angry I got when Mom would forbid something on the grounds that she was my mother. “But there has to be a reason,” I complained. It’s a subject I’m sure I will return to as Fin gets older.

More remembered sweepings: Deirdre continued to work as a waitress at Tapas Picasso on Fourth Avenue through January of ’97, the fifth month of her pregnancy. During those latter days of dual income, when we were still renting in Mission Hills, and when I was never without a twenty to spend, I developed a Friday-night drinking ritual. After dropping her off for her shift at a little before five o’clock, I turned left on University, left again onto the 163 North, and joined the Friday rush hour heading North on the 805. I exited at Miramar, destination: the Wine-Sellar, there to procure my weekly Pinot Noir.

I learned a lot about Pinot in those weeks, sampling bottles in the $20 range from California, Oregon, and Washington. Sipping while seated on the futon in our alcove of a living room, wallowing in the dreary gore of Millennium on TV, waiting for Deirdre to call, I became familiar with the various variations of the wine, from typical California fruit-fest to Burgundian earthiness. When she did call, around eleven, I went and helped close the restaurant, washing glasses, changing linen, setting tables. Then we walked over to the Corvette Diner for a late supper and headed home for a foot massage for Wifely. The bulge in her middle stayed hidden under her apron, but Fin’s added weight made itself known in her arches.

One Friday, while I was paying for my wine and chatting with the man behind the register about my impending baby, he suggested that I make a list of all the things I was accustomed to doing at the time. He said I could look back on it after being a parent for a while and see how completely my life had changed. I never made the list, and I’m certain that Fin has impacted my memory, but I’ll try it now.

One difference is that I don’t play rock music in the house anymore, though this is less a decision made for Finian’s sake than a phase passed through. I do still play it while I drive, and I find myself rewriting catchy choruses to fit what I suppose is my new lifestyle. Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” for example, suffered a lyrical adjustment after Fin spewed undigested milk (cheese) on Deirdre’s head:

The original chorus,

  • I smell sex and candy, yeah
  • Who’s that lounging in my chair?
  • Who’s that causing devious stares
  • In my direction
  • Mama this surely is a dream, dig it
  • Mama this must be my dream,

became:

  • I smell Fin and babies, yeah
  • Who’s that puking in my hair?
  • Who’s that casting great chunks of cheese
  • In my direction
  • Mama, this surely is a Squish, dig it
  • Mama, this must be my Squish.

“Squish,” of course, is our pet name for the boy, replaced by “Squash” when he misbehaves. When Deirdre was still pregnant, and I was even more abstracted than I am today, I was anxious because I had not given Fin a pet name. I rarely use Deirdre’s name when addressing her; Honey or Wifely usually fills in. My brother’s first daughter was called Rumpus while still in the womb, because she was taking so long to turn head down in preparation for delivery. My friend Ernie called Evelyn, his first child, Smooch, and Augustine, his second, Mo, Mister Man, Manny, and Mister Guy.

Pet names seem to be a normal extension of affectionate love, and so conversely, the lack of a pet name indicated the absence of something that should be there, and nothing was coming to mind. Even if I thought of something, it wouldn’t be any good, because that’s not the kind of thing you can think up. It has to arise naturally, spontaneously. You can’t force that kind of tender affection (the kind that produces pet names) into existence just by will, and what if it was lacking, what kind of Dad was I, was I really so selfish that I wouldn’t love this child rightly, would I just do my duty as a father and never experience true devotion?

This sort of ridiculous anxiety is an example of what can happen when you spend too much time inside your head — you start sounding like a sitcom plot. “Tuesday 8:00 p.m.: Mad About You. Paul and Jamie search for a pet name.” I am glad that, instead of wrinkling his brow and expressing sympathy followed by wisecracks á la Jamie, Ernie just laughed at me when I shared my fear. It quelled the little demon of pettiness buzzing in my soul.

My friend Jon had a similar reaction when I mentioned my concern that Fin would be born deformed, or just plain ugly, and the depths of my shallowness would be revealed when, upon beholding my son, I failed to love him in the face of his face. I made jokes about this because I was ashamed that the anxiety even arose. I made more jokes when Fin’s top front teeth started coming in with a sizable gap between them. “Why has God done this?” I cried in mock anguish. “To give us a beautiful boy and then take him away!”

A note on the pet name that did arise spontaneously: “Squish” came about because Fin was the result of squishing, which was named derivatively from my giving Deirdre affectionate squeezes and crying, “Squish!” There is less squishing now that Squish has arrived, but it hasn’t sent us scurrying through parenting magazines in search of articles on how to revive your love life after children. From the start, we have tended to be afternoon lovers, embracing in the golden, lazy hours after lunch. This dovetails with Fin’s afternoon naps, except that such naps are also Deirdre’s chance to get things done around the house without Fin underfoot.

Other changes I remember: Before Fin, Deirdre made occasional pitchers of margaritas in the late afternoon, and we began a long happy slide toward bedtime. Dinner didn’t always happen. Now, we have three meals a day, and no pitchers. On free afternoons, we went to movies matinees, playing what Woody Allen called grownup hooky. Fin will sleep through a late show, but matinees are impossible. We don’t go out to eat as often, but that’s more because of Deirdre’s leaving work. When we do go, Fin is pretty well-behaved.

I read less, and I write fewer letters. Fin still sleeps between us. Getting out the door takes longer. The house has undergone rudimentary baby-proofing. Someone must always be attending Fin, especially when he is at table. This last is one of the biggest changes, the constant presence of someone who needs attention. In my first column, written while Fin was still in the womb, I speculated that such a presence would be a foil to abstraction. I was right.

What has remained? Fin likes all the foods we do, so we still eat well. He gets up when we do, so we’re still well rested. We still have dinner with friends. We still travel to see friends and family; in one year. Fin has been to Kansas City twice, New York twice, Connecticut, and Florida. We still have coffee in bed every morning while Fin plays between us or on the floor. Ours is a quiet little San Diego life, and far from turning it inside out. Fin has enhanced it.

My friend Jon likes to make fun of my fondness for perfect moments: dinners, evenings, even whole days where nothing goes wrong, days that I can wrap up in a neat bundle and tuck away in my memory. This is an abstraction; life does not, should not, submit to such treatment. But I had a moment the other night while my parents were visiting. We were sipping a nightcap in the family room, watching Fin walk (Is-he-walking-is-he-walking-is-he-walking? Yes) from one point of interest to another. Seeing him walk toward me, I felt, physically felt, that my whole life was compressed into this little man. The words entered my head as the feeling entered my breast, a feeling of compaction, me being collapsed into him.

I’m still not sure exactly what that meant — that my whole life was Fin and nothing else? No. But this other person that I have helped to make has an extraordinary effect on me. Maybe I’m more turned inside out than I realize.

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