It’s kind of a sensitive topic, but I want to talk about the kind of love fathers have for their new children. Well, I want to talk about _my_ experience in particular, but I venture to guess that my experience is pretty common, though rarely discussed. Being from Mars and all, guys generally don’t discuss their emotions. Especially not when they worry their emotions are unusual or inappropriate.
Here’s how the myth goes: when a father sees a new child a burning and undying love alights in his chest. It’s _my child_. Immediately, he feels total devotion. The myth was well-illustrated on a recent episode of “The West Wing.” The President’s teenage daughter had been kidnapped. When communications director Toby lays eyes on his newborn children (twins), he suddenly realizes that the President must temporarily step down, because, as he says, he would “nuke” a country for threatening his children, and his children are brand new! Imagine what the President would do! (This turned out to be a rather lame plot line on WW, but that’s another story.)
It was somewhat of a guilty shock to me when I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel that fire in my chest. I looked at him lying there, and waited for it, but I felt mostly the same as I felt the day before, only more exhausted. I mean, I knew that I would do anything for Grip from the minute he was born, but I knew that _before_ he was born. That’s my job as a dad. I knew it but didn’t _feel_ it, really, on a visceral level, and I continued to know-it-but-not-feel-it after I saw him. There was no big change. I mean, here’s this little defenseless, affectless lump of baby, who can’t focus or control his limbs or do or think anything. He’s not anything. He doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall. What is there for love to latch on to? There’s nothing to love about him, because really, there’s nothing at all about him. He has no characteristics, no individuality. I felt “love,” in quotes. I felt something, but it was heavily intellectual, extremely abstract.
I saw Jen’s reaction, her total and passionate love–no quotes–for Grip. She immediately lost the ability to imagine her life without him. She immediately began worrying about him and crying at the thought of anything happening to him. Her love was immediate, overwhelming, visceral and hormonal and irrevocable and total.
But mine just wasn’t. I _could_ imagine life without him. Easily. Imagine a few days ago! Imagine my whole life up to then! Was it me? I’ve always been a thinky, analytical, private, internal person. I’ve always been a little emotionally distanced and guarded. At times I’ve even thought I’m so guarded that I’m incapable of real attachment, that even when I want to be attached, even when I’m mimicking an attached person, there’s a cold core of me that isn’t touched, that can rationally assess the idea of returning to solitude. I worried that I am, on an existential level, alone, and condemned to always be so.
After I met Jen these fears and doubts about myself receded a little, but they’ve never totally gone away, and my reaction to the birth of my son seemed to confirm the worst of them. What kind of monster doesn’t feel love for his new son on the deepest level? What kind of monster has to play act filial love?
Anyway, that’s how I felt for quite a while. I would always have thrown myself in front of a truck for Grip, but it wouldn’t have been a thoughtless, automatic, instinctual throwing, it would have been an “I know this is my duty” kind of throwing. Throwing either way, but not the kind of throwing I felt I _ought_ to be capable of.
Slowly, incrementally (accelerating lately), Grip has started to become a person. He’s getting a personality. He’s getting quirks, and habits, and a temperament. And my god, it is _awesome_. I don’t mean the fact that it’s happening, I mean _him_, as an individual. He is _so cool_! He’s so serene all the time, and quiet, and slow to anger. He sleeps through the night and finds it hard to wake up and smiles, smiles, smiles, but not indiscriminately. He loves to dance and he loves to hear me sing and he loves it when I bzzzzt his nose. Sometimes when I look at him a slow, shy grin spreads across his face and he looks away, like aw shucks, like gee all this for me? Sometimes when he smiles I giggle and that makes him giggle and that makes me giggle.
I’m really starting to love the guy.
Now, you might think, well that’s _conditional_ love, isn’t it? You love him because he’s so great. What if he wasn’t so great? What if he was unpleasant or colicky or disabled and didn’t smile or couldn’t interact? Would you love him then? Aren’t you still on the hook for lacking that unconditional, detail-independent Parental Love?
I guess so. But this love that’s growing so fast, so beyond my control, is almost a happy surprise for me. I feel relief. I was worried Grip was going to go through life with a father who “loved” him but never really loved him. I like this love; it’s got meat on its bones. It’s love of _him_, Griffin, not just of “my child.” I feel guilty that my love is attached to his specific personality and isn’t more universal or whatever, but I also feel lucky, and so damn proud of him. I got the best kid! I think about him and I feel something… it’s not _anger_, exactly, but it’s fierce, and it’s hot, and woe, WOE unto the person who fucks with my child. I will jump in front of a truck; I will throw _you_ in front of a truck.
I don’t know. It’s complicated. Maybe it’s not the right kind of love, but it’s mine, and it’s his. I hope it’s enough.