Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mr. Irrelevant

Phone rings, at about 7 p.m. It’s one of Wife’s friends.

“Hey Bookfraud, just checking in to see how Wife is doing,” the friend says. “See how she’s feeling.”

I say that Wife is feeling as well as can be expected, given she’s going to give birth in a week or two. She’s in the bathroom, can’t talk.

“Great! Just have her give me a call.”

Phone rings again, at about 7:30. We’re eating dinner and let the voicemail pick up. “Hi! It’s Wife’s Friend Number 2! How are you guys? You must be so excited now! I just wanted to check in and see how Wife is doing? Is there anything I can do to help? Anyway, give me a call! Bye!”

Phone rings again, at about 7:45. Fully knowing what is coming, I hand the receiver to Wife. “Oh, hi!” she says to Friend Number 3. “Things are fine! We’re getting pretty excited. Me? I’m feeling fine.”

And so it goes as we hurdle towards our final day as a married, childless couple. The phone rings (and rings and rings), and it inevitably will be someone asking about Wife. Her friends, her family; my friends, my family. They don’t ask, “Hey, Bookfraud, how are you doing?” They don’t ask, “Hey Bookfraud, are you feeling OK?” And they don’t say, “Bookfraud, are you sick of everybody ignoring you? Just wait. It’s going to get a hell of a lot worse.”

I know what they are saying. For though I am capable of great acts of self-delusion — it’s what keeps me writing — I am not blind to the fact that from now until the baby is born and several weeks afterwards, I am just an appendage, a barrier to be overcome. Everyone cares about the woman carrying the baby, for it is she who ultimately holds the hopes and desires of everyone around her; i.e. grandparents to be.

Lewis: doesn't look like a carrot

Nobody really cares about the baby seeder. My job is essentially done and the worthiness for the rest of my life depends upon my performance as a provider, father, and fellow who just doesn’t get in the way.

My cousin, who has two children of his own, put it well when he said that my mother and my in-laws will suddenly have a Whole Lotta Love for this infant, who, as he put it, is substitute for the infant stolen from them when I grew up.

Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and several other amazing tomes of non-fiction, wrote how once his wife (Tabitha Soren, the former MTV talking head) entered the hospital in labor, his job was, essentially, to get the hell out of the way. No matter how many times he told dear Tabs that she could do this, the pain was going away, or that she could make it through this, the world of nurses and doctors and relatives treated him like an elevator operator.

He was there, helping people get on their way, but he really wasn’t necessary:

[U]p until the moment the child is born, the husband in the delivery room is in an odd predicament. He's been admitted to the scene of the crisis but given no serious purpose. He's the Frenchman after the war resolution has passed.

Or, as he also put it, the father in the delivery room is an actor searching for a role — the “carrot in the school play.”

I would extend this metaphor to the weeks leading up to the “glorious event” (as one of my co-workers put it). I might as well be in Sierra Leone or Indonesia. It’s not that people don’t care about my perilous mental or physical health, but really, they don’t care. It’s all about Mama.

My own family is of the same mindset. My mother: “How’s Wife feeling?” My brother, “How’s Wife feeling?” My sister, “How’s Wife feeling?”


If you are a parent or perceptive in the least, the joke is on me — and Wife. For, although Wife will still get plenty of sympathy I the coming months over her recovery, breast feeding duties, and days when she is alone in charge of Baby’s care, soon, that sympathy will fade. People’s concern will center on the child. Forever. This is not going to change unless I get sick and die. From now on, every friend and family member’s concern will be on Baby, Infant, Toddler, Child, Adolescent, Teenager, College Student, Adult Son of Bookfraud.

The only thing that’s going to matter is if we have the wherewithal to support Child. The only thing that’s going to matter is if we have the wisdom to choose the right schools for Child, if we get him to take piano lessons early enough, and if I can teach him to hit a curveball. Tell me when it gets better.