=This story was written and performed by David Marchbanks for the live, personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True Life Tales) at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas on November 5, 2011. The theme of the show was "Fresh Start."
"David, through his irreverent and unflinchingly honest portrayal of becoming a father for the first time, had me in stitches," Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart says.
When my wife first told me she was pregnant, I thought, "Oh sh*t." She saw it in my face, seeing as how my normally "unflapped" manner was clearly flapped. The inconsequential words that came out of my mouth were something akin to, "That's great!" But they may as well have been, "Screw you!" for the way she started crying.
We had lived in our house for less than a year. Buying the house was a new start for us, it was our first bold step into independent adulthood. We were doing it. The American dream, living the lives that would make our parents and grandparents proud. We didn't have a clue.
We were in over our heads; we were scared as little ducklings staring down the gaping maw of a wolf. We had taken on a house payment that would barely leave any money in the bank each month, and locked shut the manacles of necessity that our jobs already had clamped tightly on our ankles and wrists. We had made a few trips to Ikea for the sensible and attractive furnishings the Swiss provide for us, and made the trip to Home Depot for the appliances and lawn care items we needed. We were set and completely prepared for our brave new lives as upstanding members of the middle class. We were members of the HOA, damn it!
But a child? I was going to be a father. I was going to have a life to mold. A human being to make from birth to death. This child would be largely a social and emotional result of the guidance that I gave it. It was still an "it." I couldn't begin to think of this inconvenient thing that was happening to me as a human life. What about my free time? What about my extra money for stuff I want? What about getting a scooter to be the hip, environmentally-conscious commuter that I always wanted to be? I can't tote a baby around on the back of a scooter!
Life barreled on, giving me little time to ponder the horrible things I was being submitted to that robbed me of my independence. Things like showers and registries and doctors' visits. I was sickeningly sucked into the life of a suburban dad and I hated it more than you can imagine.
I saw these assholes driving around in their SUV's with the ridiculous stick figures representing their families on the back windows and their pretentious bumper stickers telling me what stupid school their dumb kids go to and how honorably they roll. I sold video games to them at my retail job while they blew off their kids and texted on their iPhones and paid no more attention to the human spawn at their side than they did to the shopping bags in their hands.
I want to say I promised myself that I would be an amazing father and do better than all of the other schmucks, and that my child would be intellectually stimulated and challenged at every second, but it actually just depressed me. I barely had time to go and get someone to change the oil in my car, much less time to rear offspring. I was overwhelmed, and pissed off.
My wife, in the meantime was in a pink, chiffon, cloudy wonderland dream of ultimate bliss. I don't know why the pink chiffon comes to mind, but it just seems the fabric of the girly, ridiculous happiness of being the imminent owner of transferred DNA brought to her. All the while, I was becoming the brooding, black rain cloud of ever-looming domestic enslavement that followed around her happy, puffy, pink dreamland of forthcoming motherhood. I was starting to hate her.
She was in a cheery blur of preparation, reading her books and giggling with her mother and mine alike. I couldn't have been more disinterested. The chasm between male and female never seemed wider or more impassable to me. The only positive thing I could think was that there would be at least one member of our family unit that would be emotionally able to provide love to this alien creature medical science would call our child.
As the pregnancy drew on, complications arose and my wife had to be placed on bed rest. Now get ready for a shock ladies, and men, get ready to hear what you already expect: I was pissed. Now I not only had to pretend to be excited about the arrival of a life-ruining bundle of biomass, I also had to do, like, 90 percent of the work around the house. I had to do the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the laundry and other go-getting in addition to my current chores. I had to change the cat litter when it was her damn cat!
The labor was just that. We were in the hospital for four days, most of which were preparation, seeing as how this nine pound, eight ounce "bundle of joy" didn't want to come into the world. My wife was uncomfortable and in pain for three days, which made me uncomfortable and in pain for three days. My in-laws were there for the entire experience. This was a culture shock to me, seeing as I come from a family of six kids and childbirth had gotten to the point where Mom would call to make sure we were doing our homework or chores really quickly before she had the kid. That happened three times in my life.
Childbirth is a kick in the pants. I have never been so close to breaking down in my life. My wife had to have a caesarean, so she was under anesthesia during the procedure. I was on pins and needles. It doesn't help that to the hospital, a caesarean is as difficult as making a ham sandwich and they treat it with as much care. We were hustled and bustled through every step as the 12-year-old doctor explained exactly zero percent of what we should expect. When they began cutting my drugged wife open with knives with no more ceremony than opening a can of Pringles, I almost passed out.
When they finally pulled the red-headed invader out of my wife's body, they put him in my arms before putting him quickly in an incubator. I didn't have a magical "I am a Dad now" moment. I didn't fall immediately in love with this little bundle of sweat, blood and afterbirth. I was grossed out. I was mad that I had spent the last four days of my life bringing this thing into the world. I was tired from the lack of sleep and I wanted to be at home with my computer and my Xbox. Father of the year, I know.
When our son, whom we named Eli Greer Marchbanks (Eli because we loved the name, Greer after my wife's dad's last name since he had no male children and Marchbanks because, well it's my last name) was born, there were more complications. He was having trouble breathing, and he wasn't eating as well as he should. He had to go the neonatal ICU, and we were on limited visitations. He was there with children in such severe need of neonatal intensive care that we were vastly relieved and appropriately frightened at the medically horrifying possibilities of raising a child. We left the hospital drained.
Having a child at home after that was not the spiritual revelation that so many Reader's Digest stories and Lifetime movies seem to think it must be. It was a freaking nightmare. We got no sleep, we cleaned up biological waste most of the time and we were constantly worried that lack of knowledge or attention on our part would cause the end of a human life we were now somehow charged with safeguarding. It was terrifying, and it never ended.
Eli is 3 years old now, and something magical did happen in the last three years. I did not become dad of the year by some mystical replacement of responsibility and selflessness for my childishness and irresponsibility. I didn't become Mike Brady overnight, or suddenly fall in love with the idea of being a dad. I did, however, fall in love with a cool kid that I get to make cooler if I work at it enough. I fell ass first into being a father.
I genuinely miss him when he is not around, and there are few, precious people on Earth that give me that feeling. I think he is funny and smart. I am proud of his childish accomplishments. Hell, he could write his name when he was 2. Amazing, right? I get to do cool dad things like teach him that when you tickle someone, the appropriate thing to say is, "I got you, sucka!" and I get to use the knowledge that I have gained in life, both sh*tty and awesome, to try to make his life more awesome than sh*tty.
I am not a typical dad. I didn't dream of it, I didn't want it. Goodness knows, maybe I still don't. Holy hell, this kid will need to go to college someday! But now I think it might be the most important thing I ever do. I've screwed up a whole bunch, but if I can give him the tools to screw up just a little bit less, maybe I will be able to consider myself a success. I woke up one day and discovered I had become a father, and I didn't hate the thought.
As much as I want to promise I will never do -- or always do -- the terrible or awesome things my dad did, I have come to realize that I will probably do both; some better, some worse. I will look back fondly and with regret at the choices I made as a dad, as a human, on the upbringing of my child. But every time I put a Star Wars shirt on him for pajamas and ask him who owns the Millennium Falcon, all I need to hear is, "Han Solo!" to make me think this whole fatherhood thing might be worthwhile.