Punch Drunk Dad: Vol. 4
Written by Joe Longo
Monday, 26 October 2009 14:14
In which Dad analyzes his self-worth, and has his first fight with Disney.
If you're one of those dads who like to be "involved," or if you're just underemployed, you'll probably go with mother and baby to the first visit to the pediatrician. Do not be surprised if you are the only adult male in the waiting area. You may react to this fact in any number of ways.
Your first reaction may be pride. There you are, engaged and participating in your baby's major milestones. And so helpful, too. While the other women have been abandoned by their men, you are there to make life easier for mother, filling out paperwork and rocking baby gently in his car seat while she discusses the finer points of breastfeeding with the more battle-hardened moms. You notice, too, how starved for adult conversation the other mothers are, and you imagine callous, unconcerned fathers in contrast to your totally committed self. You must surely radiate a golden glow in the eyes of these neglected, underappreciated women. You gaze down at your baby and think, "I am here for you and mom, always," and you imagine everyone can hear your thoughts.
Then the conversation among the women expands, and your sociological radar begins to pick up the economic standing of these ladies. It doesn't take long to realize that your family is by far the poorest among them, that these are the kind of people who white-flighted out of New Orleans generations ago, whose Northshore houses have large yards and four-figure square footage, whose ancestors’ family restaurants were sold to Turkish pizza interests long ago. You are commiserating with the solidly middle-class, while you and your wife hustle by in the city, pursuing a "nontraditional lifestyle."
As the facts accumulate, you will begin to re-imagine your standing among these women. Maybe you are not the domestic hero. Maybe you are, in fact, a guy who should be at work on a Tuesday morning. You are not the only one with sociological radar, and you know that to these ladies, a guy not at work in the middle of the week is, economically speaking, either very comfortable or very desperate, and suddenly you don't feel as if you're radiating comfort. This is probably because at this moment you have $3 in your pocket, but also because you now imagine those other husbands, running air conditioner installation businesses or renovating properties for Section 8 rentals in the neighborhoods they abandoned a generation ago, like the one you live in now. In short, putting food on the table for their family.
What the fuck are you doing wasting your time in the doctor's office?
If you're lucky, they'll call your baby's name and get you away from the withering, emasculating looks of these well-provided for women who see you for the future deadbeat dad you are. You'll get your baby's vital signs, and they'll all be great. The weight he has put on since leaving the hospital impresses everyone. You're proud of baby and proud of yourself and mother for enduring that first week of 12-a-day feedings that got him to such a healthy state.
With your next appointment penciled in, you prepare to whisk baby away, happy as hell that you were here for this, and that you're all going home to and that you don't have to work today.
And grateful that the back door exit bypasses the waiting area.
10. Where Discovery Ends
So yes, the time you are able to devote to spending with baby is worth any financial sacrifice, because, sooner or later, you will desperately want to do anything else besides hang out with an infant.
I draw this conclusion based on the existence of a wonderful toy a friend sent to us last week. It is an around-the-world play gym made by Baby Einstein. Essentially, it is a quilt made colorful by illustrations of exotic animals from all over the globe. Place baby on his belly and it’s like pouring a liquid rainbow into his eyes. He will be too disoriented to cry. And if the colors don’t make him dizzy, the mixed messages about the animal kingdom will. For each animal, there is one Disneyfied (Baby Einstein was bought by Disney in 2001) image and one real-life image, so baby can distinguish between, say, the kangaroo who talks in the movies (probably voiced by Kate Winslet), and the one who would kick out baby’s intestines if you lived in Melbourne and left him unattended in your backyard. This is the kind of “discovery” Baby Einstein products promise.
But that’s not all. Lay him on his back and he can stare up at animals dangling overhead and a glowing globe that pumps out Casio-inflected international melodies. And the shit really works as far as soothing and entertaining baby, which is on one hand a relief and on the other profoundly sad, because it heralds a time in the not-too-distant future where you will be so sick of gazing into the “wonder” of your baby’s beautiful face that you will resort to any consumer product whatsoever so that you can seek out something complex and intelligent, like a syndicated episode of “King of Queens.”
What I don’t yet know is when, exactly, that worm turns, and why companies like Baby Einstein market their infant LSD as “educational” when they should they should be honest and tell parents that their toys, CD’s, and DVDs are to save not our babies’ brains but our own.
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