A few months from now, I'm going to be a father.
How did this happen? Are you telling me that what was growing inside my wife's belly is a child? How did this crucial bit of information pass me by? What kind of sick demented person would have imagined it? If I had known that this would happen, I never would have....okay, I still would have.
Don't think I'm panicking. It's just that my own self-image is enduring a major overhaul. I mean, this is fatherhood:
...and this is me:
You see the problem?
I think I first realized that this whole fatherhood thing was for real a few weeks ago. My wife was asleep. I placed my hand on her belly, and suddenly felt something - something that felt like a tiny kick. Then another.
I kept my hand on her belly, listening to my son kicking, loving it, reveling in it, and also getting scared out of my mind. After a while, I started wondering if he would take after me. Would he have my musical ability? Using my wife's belly as a keyboard, I tapped out the opening bars of a Mozart Sonata:
There was a pause, and then my son kicked out the rest of the phrase:
To my joy, he then finished all three movements, and went right into the 18th variation from Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini -- but he was cut off when my wife woke up complaining of a stomach ache.
After this, it really hit me that this was for real, man. As cute as it was that my wife was getting pregnanter and pregnanter, I remembered that there really was a tiny little boy inside her. I'm sure that any parent will know exactly what I'm talking about - and any non-parent won't. I didn't, until now.
This numinous and frightening experience affected me in weird and unforeseen ways. Suddenly, the most important thing in the world wasn't editing Wikipedia, or translating The Imitation of Christ into Klingon. These worthy pursuits were overruled by other more urgent and less interesting ones, such as reading up on the Bradley method.
You non-parents out there have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? Neither did I, until recently. The first time I heard of Bradley was when my wife gave me a large book and told me to read it, because "it would help me forgive you for getting me into this mess."
I suppose Bill Cosby gave the best introduction to the Bradley method: "The mother is not allowed any drugs during childbirth. The father can have all he wants." In all honesty, however, I am rather chary of mocking the Bradley method. It may, after all, save my wife (and therefore, myself) much pain and suffering if it's taken seriously.
According to Dr. Bradley, a woman can give birth to a fully sized baby (all four limbs and all) with no more discomfort than as if she were a moderately sized bowel movement after dining at a Mexican restaurant. All it takes is relaxation. How one is supposed to relax after enduring a Mexican restaurant, I can't guess. But the force of all five of my married-with-children siblings does a lot to overwhelm my natural skepticism. The way my wife is supposed to relax, apparently, is with my help. I need to be my wife's coach through the birthing process. Now, I don't coach. I'm not the coaching type. In situations that require coaching, my natural inclination is to be on the sidelines, pointing and laughing. But the sidelines are out of bounds for me here. I know one thing for sure in this maelstrom of uncertainty - me and my wife are in this together.
Besides, the Bradley method does sound better than the alternative. Do you know what an epidural is? It's a five-foot needle about the width of McDonald's milkshake straw, and its intended target is - you guessed it! - my wife's spine. The point of this lovely treatment is to paralyze my wife from the waist down. Why no one thought of administering it to me about seven months ago is anyone's guess - but then again, medicine is mostly a male profession.
So it's either the needle, or the Bradley method. Take your pick. We decided (after my wife revived me with smelling salts and a few hard slaps) on the Bradley method. And since I need to to be my wife's coach, I'm reading up on it. It's caused me some sleepless nights, but that's okay. Other parents have assured us that we'll get plenty of sleep after the baby is born. We've chosen to ignore their cynical laughter.