In preparation for the baby's arrival, I decide I need a new desk. No doubt this is due to a natural biological impulse common among expectant parents to start nesting. Why I feel the baby needs a giant old-fashioned government surplus steel desk for my home office is unclear, but that's what my nesting instinct tells me to go out and purchase. Our new house is in Peekskill, New York, one of those always-dying, never-quite-dead Hudson River communities that used to manufacture things back when America did that. We bought our home there because it is the only community within an hour of New York City that we can afford.
Among its many shortcomings is the fact that there are no stores in Peekskill that sell old-fashioned government surplus steel desks. I make some calls around the area and finally find a place that does in Poughkeepsie, about an hour north.
Driving up there in my silver Volkswagen New Beetle (not a girl's car), I lose the signals from my usual New York radio stations and have to scan around for another choice, finally settling on a random rock station called the Fox or the Cat or the Cobra or some other animal I do not associate with rock and roll. As I pull into Poughkeepsie, they play a song I have never heard before by a band I only know from their one previous hit, a band pretty much universally acknowledged to be shitty: Creed.
I am not a music snob. If anything, my musical taste is bad by any critical standards. My favorite song of all time is "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners. A close second is "MMMBop" by Hanson. So I am not out there claiming any musical superiority, but Creed really does suck. Bad music, pretentious lyrics, and a messianic front man. Also they are from Florida. No good rock music has ever come from Florida. Undoubtedly, there will be legions of offended Floridian readers who think to themselves, What are you talking about? Such-and-such band is from Florida and they're freaking awesome! No. Whatever band you are thinking of, if they are from Florida, they suck. Not as much as Creed, but they still suck.
So I am driving through downtown Poughkeepsie when this song by Floridian cock-rockers Creed comes on the radio. The song is called "With Arms Wide Open." It opens with
Well, I just heard the news today
It seems my life is going to change
I cannot reprint any more of the lyrics here because I asked Creed's permission to do so, but they refused my request. I'm not sure why, but I suspect it had something to do with saying how much they suck in the above paragraphs.
To summarize, the song goes on to describe the narrator's reaction to finding out he is going to be a father, a reaction infinitely more mature than my own. For one thing, he is going to greet the baby, per the title, with arms wide open, whereas I seem to be welcoming my own baby with arms resolutely folded across my chest. The song then discusses the "awe" the singer feels, his gratitude, and his fervent wish that the child grow up to be a better man than he himself is. I don't know what kind of man Scott Stapp is, but I certainly hope his unborn child is a better singer.
I am wholly unprepared for my reaction to this song, which is uncontrollable, sustained, violent weeping. Within seconds of registering the song's subject matter, I am crying so hard I feel like I've just been punched in the tear ducts with a raw onion. The tears seem to come from a deep liquid reservoir somewhere near my solar plexus, some gland I did not know about that stores salt water by the gallon. All of this smirking detachment in which I have encased myself over the past few months is no match for the awesome power of Creed.
I am crying so hard I have to pull my masculine automobile over to the side of the road so that I can sob without danger of driving into a tree. Thank God Poughkeepsie is in even worse financial condition than Peekskill; there is nobody on the sidewalks to see me hunched over in my front seat, arms crossed at midsection, holding myself into a solid shape so that I do not leak out of the car in a quivering protoplasmic goo. For long minutes, well after lead singer Scott Stapp has finished singing his stupid, pompous, corny-ass song that I love more than any song I have ever heard before, I sit in my car and cry.
I am undone.
At the time, I think these tears are nothing, a hormonal hiccup, a perfectly normal stress reaction. But now, years later, now that my son is ten, now that I have a daughter who is eight, now that I know fatherhood for what it is, I think that incident stemmed from something else. Or, actually, two things. The first is a deep recognition of time, the long stretches of time that have brought me here to Poughkeepsie, coupled with an unfolding future that extends to some distant dim place where my children will live, our children's children will live, and on and on. And here I am parked outside a surplus office furniture store, one moment in a long series of moments. The second is recognizing that these tears are nostalgia in its deepest sense, the sharp pain of remembering and the equally sharp pain of hope. There is no word for feeling nostalgic about the future, but that's what a parent's tears often are, a nostalgia for something that has not yet occurred. They are the pain of hope, the helplessness of hope, and finally, the surrender to hope. That's what parenthood is, ultimately, the hope of casting a message in a glass bottle into the sea with no sense of where it will end up. We have no control, none of us.
Creed changed my life.
Excerpted from "You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations" by Michael Ian Black. Published by Gallery Books.