Vonnegut & the Tadpole

You’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. I know this because I have an app that tells me you’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. Your cells, masters of division that they are, are splitting at a furious rate. While you do that, I’ll share a bit of what’s happening out here. You know, I used to ask my parents what they were like before I was born. I’ve never known Norma and Phil: young irresponsible lovers. Their responses were spotty, and it’s understandable. If I had to think back twenty years ago, I’d be able to say I was in 6th grade and that I liked basketball. That’s about all I could give you. So for posterity’s sake, I figured I’d document what life is like for me right now while you’re still a tadpole.
I’m sitting in a Delta airplane in seat 1A. The worst of the first class seats. My luggage is several rows behind me, along with my brief case (it’s a back pack…who am I kidding?). It’s inconvenient. When the pilot finally rings his bell and lets us move about the cabin, I’ll have to stand up and walk to the overhead luggage cabinet to get my computer, while juggling my phone, my headphones, and my free gin & tonic. Where am I supposed to put that free booze for safe-keeping? Next to my single-serve friend in 1B? No. He’s a mouth-breather and brought a hot sandwich on board. 1B sucks.

This is an all-too-real example of the affluent me-first bullshit that you’ll hear me complain about from time to time. I see versions of this when I travel. People in American culture today call those first-world problems. Even as they rest their wide asses in the best seats in the house, some people feel like they were slighted by someone or something.

Your dad (still weird for me to say) flew in first class a lot before you were born because of my job, which boiled down to telling people how to talk to each other and making sure they do the things they were put in charge of doing. I pay for all of this fancy travel on my American Express credit card, which is then paid off by my employer. You may never use or understand credit cards. Who knows? Maybe they will go the way of the checkbook. I’ll have to show you a checkbook sometime. We may need to look online for examples. That is, if “online” is a concept by the time we have this actual conversation. Jesus, how the hell are things going to work by the time you read this?

Where was I? Ah…all these charges and reimbursements on the ol’ AmEx mean I accrue loyalty points. Like XP in video games. Shit, will I have to explain what a video game was to you? Focus, old man. These all add up to certain benefits. I’m rewarded for minimal effort. The lesson here is, don’t be fooled by false entitlement. And don’t assume you can predict how things will work in the future.

I’m headed to San Diego, California. San Diego: the city my mother romanticized when I was a child and the same city where I asked your mother to marry me. Mom was right, it’s a romantic city. I am here for five days to help a hospital change their electronic medical record. The company I work for takes all the different areas of healthcare and makes them work together by using the same software. The company itself is directly responsible for almost everything good in my life, including moving to Wisconsin, meeting and marrying your beautiful mother. This week’s main objective is to discuss the exotic world of medication inventory, or how to keep track of all your shit.

But let’s talk about you. According to my app, you’re a tiny little creature who just this week started developing lungs. Good job, sweetheart. I’m so proud of you. Only your mom and I know about the hard work you’re doing inside her belly. Staying tight-lipped is tough, but we’re supposed to wait a few more weeks before we share you with the world. Right now you’re more reptilian than human. But, just a couple weeks ago you were more fish than reptile, so you’re making your trek along the evolutionary highway. If you grow feathers you took a wrong turn.

Oh, and as for me? Well, I’m just sort of hanging out right now. Up to this point, my main contribution to your existence has been relatively brief. Over the past few weeks I’ve basically taken on your mother’s liquor quota and eaten whatever I shouldn’t. I have an all-access “get disgusting” pass. My young buff body has gone the way of the dodo.* I’m sure I’ll snap into shape soon enough though (I didn’t). I hope you’re working your tail off, literally, to become a healthy human. You’re an adorable little tadpole, but human lungs will serve you better above water.

Keep growing, little nugget.

-Love, Dad


*Little did I know, that my boy’s birth would be the one thing that encouraged me to finally exercise in nearly 8 years.

I. In the beginning, we knew nothing.

October 29, 2015
The sun is high and bright in the South African sky. The clocks say 7 a.m., but I don’t believe it. It’s got to be noon already. It’s our last morning in Cape Town and my wife doesn’t feel well. Struggling to sleep through the all-night house party a floor above us, she’s felt nauseous all morning. This must be it. She’s pregnant. We been trying since our August anniversary and two months has felt like forever. While she hugs the toilet, I’m standing on our small balcony taking in the views one last time. Our street leads up to Signal Hill; a hill much bigger than any mountain in Wisconsin. In the other direction the street descends into a maze of residential roads. Past the neighborhood’s trees sits a vacant Cape Town Stadium.

Black socks, black shirts, and denim shorts lay on the balcony’s built-in drying racks. Stiff and crisp underwear are spread across the patio table. As I fold our clothes to pack for our next stop, my wife is now peeing on a stick. A brilliant idea pops in my head. I start recording a video diary on the balcony. When she walks out of the bathroom, I’ll turn to her and we’ll have documented the moment our family math added up to three. After about twenty seconds I run out of things to say and sights to film, so I stop the video and wait for her to come out. She stays in there for about ten more minutes. Wow, morning sickness must be really getting her.

When she finally comes out, I’m onto new things. “It was negative,” she says, defeated. Damn. “Maybe the hormones just aren’t elevated enough this early in the morning. We’ll try again later today.* Let’s pack up and get coffee and head to the botanical gardens.”

After a walk to Shift Espresso I take us on an anxiety-inducing car ride to Kirstenbosch Gardens. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of a car is about as intuitive as wiping my ass with my foot.^ The gardens are breathtaking and I feel like I’m prancing through Jurassic Park. It’s way more amazing than I expected, yet my ghost-of-a-wife is barely keeping up. I’m taking it personally. “You’re not pregnant yet, and we’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Can’t you just suck it up?”

That I am this disconnected from my wife’s needs reveals a much deeper imbalance with my stress and self-happiness. I am ready to quit a job that just a year ago had been very meaningful to me. This sabbatical is my company’s way of thanking me for five years of work, but it’s my way of escaping and spending their money to do it, with two emphatic middle fingers pointed towards Wisconsin. I deserve this, dammit. Now we’re at the edge of the world, and my wife isn’t feeling well. It’s not fair. (Later that day she’ll spend six hours sweating off a really nasty sickness, and I get the honor of staring out at the ocean alone and reflecting on how much of an asshole I have been.)

We sputter to Kalk Bay for a three night stay at a Nordic-inspired guesthouse. My wife goes up to our room — the Impala room, to pass out. I’m still pissy about the gardens. Self-rationalizing that I can’t help her anyway, I make my way down Norman Road to the Main Road shops. I practically sprint into a bookstore, appropriately named Kalk Bay Books, and imagine owning a book store similar to this one. From the bar of the newly reopened Kalk Bay Café I stare out at the ocean, drink white wine and Savannah cider, and write (the drafts of which you’re reading right now) in my travel journal. I chat with the owners about showing the rugby world cup finals tonight on their newly installed flat screen. Springboks vs. All Blacks. They’ll keep the café open if people will come, they say. I never found out if they showed the match or not.

With a little drunken strut in my step I stagger up Norman Road back to the Impala room. The ten-foot-high linen drapes breathe in and out with the ocean breeze. The crisp cool bedding holds me like a cloud coffin. My wife’s fever breaks like a levy while I’m watching the rugby final from bed. She wakes up in a small ocean of sweat. It finally clicks in my big dumb brain that she’s actually just flat out sick.

I mistook the symptoms for something grander.


*We confirmed again when she took another pregnancy test at London’s Heathrow airport during our layover to Dublin. We were incredibly naive about a lot of things, from symptoms to realistic timelines to get pregnant. Also, why did we keep peeing on sticks? Like it was going to magically change the results from two hours ago? The only thing I thought I was sure of was how to make the babies. But even that took a while to get right. More on that next time.
^I have been writing a lot about ass-wiping, and I think it’s directly correlated to what I have going on in my life right now. It shouldn’t be an ongoing theme. But it may.

Allow myself to introduce…myself.

I’m seven weeks late for the birth of my first blog post. I planned to post this eight days after the birth of my first son. Eight days turned into nineteen. Nineteen days turned into eight weeks. But it’s going to happen today.

You see, I’m really nervous that if these words don’t captivate you now, then you’ll never look at this page again. Your general indifference to me explaining parenthood is really just a microcosm of the world’s inevitable judgement of my value as an artist. If I can’t keep your attention through a few sputtering paragraphs, then I may as well throw all subsequent writing aspirations out with the bathwater.

That paralyzing anxiety and the fear of failing is a motherfucker. That’s why I have to post something.

A lot of shit has happened over the past year as my wife and I decided to have children. I needed a way to write down all of the thoughts and experiences I’ve been having, and what safer space to expose my hopes, flaws, and fears than the internet?

Preparing for fatherhood over the past 15 months has forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in 2017. We’re living in an ever-shrinking world, with one half of humanity hating the other half at any given time, depending on the topic of discussion. Society feels more chaotic and closer to the brink of collapse with each passing day. And we’re choosing to bring someone into it. It’s our responsibility to raise him to be a happy and decent human being. But first, I have to learn how to wipe his ass without getting peed on and make sure he doesn’t suffocate in his sleep.

I want this to be something you enjoy whether or not you have kids or even want to have kids. I don’t plan on referencing statistics, sharing best practices, or parenting methods. What the hell do I know? I’ve been a father for like two months. You can find a bunch of facts and alternative facts and random bullshit all over this wonderful web of information. You don’t need me to add to that mess.

Finally, I have no idea what I am actually doing with this site. So as I grow as a parent and as a writer, so too shall this site. Join the ride. Thanks for giving Something Grander a chance.