STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 11/21/2011

Sporks | My Kid Smells

Informative fauxlosophy from a recent alum: Installation 13

I can’t stop sniffing my son’s head.

You may have noticed that I just used the words “my son.” I’ve been employing this two-word construction since June 1, and it doesn’t sound any less weird. It should be logical by now—my wife was pregnant, she gave birth, we cried, he cried, he continues to cry, and so goes on the miracle of blah, blah, blah.

Sorry. I don’t mean to diminish the I-can’t-believe-it awesomeness of birth/parenthood, but I’ve always feared the day when I felt obliged to write about having a child. I’ve seen otherwise thoughtfully trend-busting writers resort to neutered “everything changes,” surface-level moralizing (I’m looking at you, Michael Chabon), and I was scared that the day I wrote about having a kid meant it was the day I’d give up being a “real” artist.

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to having a child, but that I was petrified by the idea of having to talk about it. I knew there was a script I would have to memorize upon entering daddy-dom. People would ask cliché questions, and I’d have to bottle-feed them cliché answers. And if I deviated, they might go home and tell their family they’re “not sure about that Bryan raising a child. . . .”

The thing is, I’ve never been very good at learning my lines for social situations. Take this recent interaction with the UPS guy:

UPS: Thanks very much.

Me: [stares, blinks] Thanks very much.

Both: [elongated, awkward stare]

When I know I’m supposed to act and say specific things, I overthink everything and end up saying “good” no matter what the person says, even if it’s not a question about how I’m feeling. On the surface it’s social awkwardness, and below that, it’s pride—I’m too good for this plebian knavery!

However, I swear to you it’s because I’m dying to share something real with the interlocutor—I want us to make meaning so that, together, our lives will be enriched by our little chat. But making meaning on the spot about something as huge as parenting is frightening, particularly when you feel that every day as a dad is an act on the improv circuit, and the audience is ready to pelt me with rotting fruit.

So, I end up trying way too hard to impress my audience, starting with some out-there detail, talking about the struggle to overcome fears on overpopulation (a task I’m still kind-of ignoring), or how instead of reading Goodnight, Moon to my son, I read him excerpts from an outdated field guide on how to identify constellations, rife with Greek letters (the star β is common to Auriga and Taurus!) and instructions on when to use an opera glass.

This is to say: I’m overthinking this.

I know dads will never have it as rough as moms, but just like when we rate our pain for the doctor, the maximum amount of suffering we can quantify is only based on experience. And my experience is that I often don’t know how to stop the pain of thinking.

Therefore, no matter how much I torture myself with how on earth any parent is able to successfully pass on the materials of faith (as mine did), I have to let it all go and trust that something will keep my mouth from speaking every little tindered, paranoid thought. After all, the mind is closer to the mouth than the heart, and what is existence if not the attempt to reverse that condition?

I know, I know. Overthinking. Right.

Well, then let me return to the beginning, because isn’t that what birth—and hey, being born again and again—is all about?

Just when I thought I’d prepared myself for parental clichés, I smelled my son’s head, and everything changed.

But no, that’s not quite right. I felt my eyes cross and my brain quiet itself until the blood pumping through its folds became shadows in the light of my heart endlessly trying to change everything.

bryan parys holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction. This fall he returned to Gordon to teach creative writing and to serve in the Education Department. He’s now held a Gordon parking pass as a student, staff, and faculty member, and he’s kind of disturbed by how fulfilling this feels.

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