As God blessed Mary and Joseph, so, too, did he bless Kristin and Brian. And not just once, but three times miraculously. As blasphemous as that might sound, it’s true. Divine intervention is the only explanation for our family. Either that or covert alien invaders.
Kristin and I vowed never to reproduce. That was part of our secret nuptial agreement. “A family is death to the artist. Let the breeders people this already well-peopled planet. Our paintings and books will be our offspring.”
So went our credo.
I cringe at our naiveté.
I choke on the crow I have since consumed.
We succeeded in staving off the blight of progeny for many years. But our future children were a determined lot. They wanted into the world. Now! And for some incomprehensible reason, they insisted on having me and Kristin for their earthling hosts.
When Grace came into our lives, I said, okay, we’ll have just the one. What the heck! It might be fun. And then came Jack. I was shaken – obviously I didn’t know how this whole procreation thing worked as well as I thought I did. But – Okay, we’ll have two, but no more. After Lee was born, I just shut up. You don’t argue with the mysterious scheme of providence.
Some people are born with that quirk of character that makes them a good parent, and some are born without it. I was of the born-without-it ilk. It wasn’t that I didn’t love these alien creatures who had invaded our life. One couldn’t help that. But my resentment of them overpowered my paternal instincts. Had I been a papa polar bear out in the wild, I might have devoured them just to be rid of the nuisance. I was used to having my freedom. I was used to not sharing my wife. I was used to sleeping at normal hours and going for a hike whenever I wanted without a monkey on my back who would inevitably spit up down my neck. I hated changing their diapers and the long process of putting them down for a nap. I loathed words like potty and sippy cup.
I had always enjoyed a certain degree of dignity out in public. People, I imagined, respected me. But all of that changed quickly one day when Grace, a toddler at the time, decided to get sick in the checkout line at the grocery store. The reaction from my fellow shoppers was divided between empathy and contempt. Some said things like, “the poor dear,” while others reeled away in disgust. I realized that I was experiencing the two camps of the world – those pathetic souls who had been where I was now, and those who had not. I also realized I had been demoted from the latter camp to the former. My dignity had been assassinated in one fell swoop of childish, out-in-the-public up-chuck. I was no longer cool. Ballet lessons and play-dates and minivans loomed on my dark horizon. I felt a cruel blow had been dealt – one I didn’t deserve.
Those first years passed in a sleepless blur; our brood grew; I got tired and fat.
Kristin, of course, was heroic throughout. That only made me feel all the more inadequate. We were no longer peers. I was a lesser half. She was meeting the challenge, even acquiring what one might call a spiritual glow, while I was being sucked dry of my vitality.
Woe was I.
A person must reach bottom before he can ever find footing enough to climb from his pit of despair. I had been plummeting into said pit for a while when I hit bottom. But instead of going Splat! as one might expect, I bounced.
It happened on a winter evening while reading a bedtime story to my kids. We were all piled on the bed, snuggled up close so they could see the pictures.
“What shall we read?” I asked. Not that I cared one bit what infantile drivel I was further being subjected to. It was all the same to me.
Jack handed me a book, somewhat small and sticky.
Now I had always thought great literature was only packaged in weighty, nearly incomprehensible, angst-ridden tomes. Dostoyevsky. Proust. Joyce. Those were the guys writing the stuff that mattered – stuff that would open windows onto the world’s collective soul. But that evening all of those fellows dropped away into laughable irrelevance as I read the first lines of Jack’s favorite book -
There was a little fur family
warm as toast
smaller than most
in little fur coats
and they lived in a warm
Something happened to me as I read Little Fur Family to my kids. I had an epiphany. It was kind of like when the Grinch’s heart grows from way too small to a size much bigger than normal. I could feel it happening with the passing pages. I was transmogrifying into a dad.
By the end of the book, my evolution was complete. Tears blurred my eyes. A lump swelled in my throat.
Everyone was quiet for a while, contemplating the story, and then Jack asked, “What are those creatures?”
“Well,” said Grace. (She was the oldest so she knew everything.) “They’re like us. They came down from the sky to learn things and be together and live here for a little while.”
Jack and Lee nodded, as if they understood just what she meant.
And for the first time ever, I kind of did, too.