The Enlightened Father
A generation ago, fathers-to-be paced hospital waiting room floors, awaiting their cue to pass out blue- or pink-ribboned cigars. Today’s new father enters the delivery room eagerly focusing his camcorder to catch baby’s first scream. While my father managed to rear four children without once changing a diaper, my husband is of the new variety: “enlightened” and involved. There have been times I wish he were a little less so.
With our first baby, we were both novices. I read all the literature I could find and passed the most vital gleanings on to my husband. I informed him of the delicate psychological aspects of pregnancy (i.e. nix the watermelon jokes), the importance of plentiful rest and of plentiful consumption of dairy products (ice cream, for example). My husband tried to comply with the extra care the situation demanded, cooking meals while I rested, refraining from cracking Moby Dick jokes as my girth increased, and uncomplainingly making midnight runs for almond delight ice cream.
This pleasant arrangement was short-lived, however. He began reading the parenting magazines I left lying around, and became too “enlightened.” Now when I cited an article about the value of plentiful rest, he didn’t scoot me off to bed. Instead he referred to the preceding story about a woman who held three jobs, attended aerobics and welding classes weekly and single-handedly cared for her other nine kids until the moment she went into labor.
He began polishing off all the ice cream, assuring me that it was in my best interest not to give birth to an overweight baby. He started using my bulging belly as a convenient shelf for books, laundry, the cat…
I had thought a childbirth preparation class might help, so we could share in this learning experience. We did learn a lot; unfortunately we
weren’t learning identical lessons. My husband was apparently tuned to a different wavelength than I.
The instructor suggested relaxation techniques for us to practice: deep
breathing, imaging of pleasant settings, nightly massages and back rubs. These techniques, she explained, would enable us to attain a calm, relaxed state at the onset of labor. My husband was eager for this nightly practice until he realized that he was supposed to massage my back, not vice versa.
Somewhere down the line my “birthing coach” spouse transformed into a drill sergeant. He forgot the nightly massages, but he memorized the entire exercise routine I was to perform each day. As I dragged myself off to bed at night, he would suddenly emerge from behind his newspaper.
“You can’t go to sleep yet. You still have to do 50 leg extenders, 75 pelvic rocks and 100 Kegels.”
“I did those leg thingies this morning,” I argued futilely, “and I can’t even remember how to do pelvic extenders.”
“Pelvic rocks,” he corrected me. “And don’t worry; I’ll let you know if you’re doing them wrong.” And he did.
After Catherine was born, I found better ways to utilize my husband’s eager involvement. Afraid of bathing such a small, wiggly bundle by myself, I convinced him that bath time was a two-person operation. His job was to wash her, and mine was to mysteriously disappear until she was ready to be dried and dressed. Fortunately no magazine article came out specifying that bathing an infant only takes one person.
When Catherine started on solid foods, I again recruited my husband’s help. While he pretended to relish lukewarm, runny oatmeal for the baby’s benefit, I justified my nonparticipation by reminding him that I’d had the sole responsibility of breast feeding her for the previous several months. But really, I just wasn’t patient enough to deal with the mess and fuss involved in teaching her that oatmeal is for internal consumption, not a facial or hair conditioning product.
My husband eventually found enlightenment in these areas too, and I had my share of bathing and feeding our new addition. I’ve let my subscription to all of the parenting magazines lapse now. I don’t have time to read them anymore, and he never seemed to notice the articles I wanted him to anyway, the ones recommending that couples plan a romantic dinner out once a week for time together away from the kids.
I guess his is a selective enlightenment.
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