Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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On having a son and after…..

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 22, 2008

Being a father  Is quite a bother. 
You are as free as air  With time to spare, 
You’re a fiscal rocket  With change in your pocket, 
And then one morn  A child is born. 
Your life has been runcible,  Irresponsible, 
Like an arrow or javelin  You’ve been constantly travelin’. 
But mostly, I daresay,  Without a chaise percée, 
To which by comparison  Nothing’s embarison. 
But all children matures,  Maybe even yours. 
You improve them mentally  And straighten them dentally, 
They grow tall as a lancer  And ask questions you can’t answer, 
And supply you with data  About how everybody else wears lipstick sooner and stays up later, 
And if they are popular,  The phone they monopular. 
They scorn the dominion  Of their parent’s opinion, 
They’re no longer corralable  Once they find that you’re fallible
But after you’ve raised them and educated them and gowned them, 
They just take their little fingers and wrap you around them. 
Being a father Is quite a bother,
But I like it, rather

    ———- Ogden Nash

Jay, my good friend on campus was always teased for making oracular statements. When I was getting married he told me: “Once you get married your life is going to change for ever”. The bachelor that I was, I almost laughed at him. However, life did change for me. In fact it did change a great deal despite my ability to resist and comprehend and aided by a few simple tricks to maintain a marital harmony. I followed a simple principle which kept my married life blissful:

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

Two and half years later I broke the news of our impending parenthood to Jay again. Once again his oracular instincts were up and he made a similar statement. This time round I was cautious and refrained from making any snide remarks. It was the case of once bitten twice shy. It is true. Life does change once you have a child and in my opinion it changes for the better. For many, marriage and children are positive checks. If at all anything they instill a sense of responsibility, a sense of wholeness, a sense of joy, a sense of purpose and above all a sense of apprehension

When I saw my son in the hospital for the first time I was awash in a flux of emotions and thoughts which ran as follows:

Be it a girl, or one of the boys,
It is scarlet all over its avoirdupois, 
It is red, it is boiled; could the obstetrician
Have possibly been a lobstertrician? 
His degrees and credentials were hunky-dory,
But how’s for an infantile inventory?

My first reaction was a sense of cautious hesitation in touching him. Yes hesitation!. A tiny little ruddy mass with uncoordinated movements, sporting the contours a human being squeaking and crying for attention and nutrition. Then it turned into a sense of guilt for entertaining such thoughts about a helpless little infant who is my own. Immediately after this I was inundated under a gush of indifference.  Then there was a rush of love. (While the first three feelings cumulatively lasted for at most half an hour the last feeling has persisted and is growing by the day).  It was at this point I started observing my son carefully, oblivious to the stream of congratulations that were pouring in. I started telling myself the following:

Here’s the prodigy, here’s the miracle!
Whether its head is oval or spherical, 
You rejoice to find it has only one, 
Having dreaded a two-headed daughter or son; 
Here’s the phenomenon all complete,
 It’s got two hands, it’s got two feet, 
Only natural, but pleasing, because 
For months you have dreamed of flippers or claws. 
Furthermore, it is fully equipped:
 Fingers and toes with nails are tipped; 
It’s even got eyes, and a mouth clear cut; 
When the mouth comes open the eyes go shut, 
When the eyes go shut, the breath is loosed 
And the presence of lungs can be deduced. 
Let the rockets flash and the cannon thunder, 
This child is a marvel, a matchless wonder. 
A staggering child, a child astounding, 
Dazzling, diaper less, dumbfounding, 
Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed,
 A child to stagger and flabbergast, 
Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn,
 And the only perfect one ever born

Honestly, I could not make out anything of his resemblance to me. The confusion aggravated on account of various interpretations of my near and dear ones. Towards the evening I left the hospital with a feeling bordering almost on certainty that he resembled my wife more than he resembled me. I was a relieved lot for they say that a son who resembles his mother is lucky. And as Somerset Maugham once said “In the long run it is important to be lucky than to be clever or intelligent or rich”.  My parents were ecstatic to see their fourth grandchild and I overheard my father say to himself:

Senescence begins
And middle age ends 
The day your descendents
Outnumber your friends

I returned to my place of work with the thought and shared the good tidings with friends and colleagues. The inevitable distribution of sweets followed. It was after two weeks that I returned to see my son. I was amazed at his transformation. He was different from what I saw of him at the hospital!! There was a perceptible weight gain and now he was not looking like my wife anymore!!. Whether he resembled me I still could not make out. The first thing that I noticed to my horror was that his sleeping patterns were exactly 12 hours out of sync with my sleeping patterns. His nights were our days and his days our  nights. Then followed a saga of soiled clothes, sleepless nights and diaper changing till I returned to work

It was not before another four weeks that I could lay my eyes on the little fellow again. Six weeks and a doting mother can do wonders to an infant. Weight gain was unabated. Now I could identify his facial orientation. The shape of his head was akin to mine but with all the features of his mother. I am now happy that he resembles me a bit

I am introspective by nature. Even as a part of my mind was trying to grapple with issues of resemblance, features and habits of my kid, a large part of my mind was actively planning for his future.   As mentioned earlier bringing up a child instills a sense of responsibility, joy, purpose and challenge. I think that the greatest joy of parenthood is to see a young mind flowering to full bloom under ones guidance. While being a source of joy it is also the fountainhead of one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. How do we as parents imbue our child with a love for education, a passion for knowledge, a general respect for all positives of life and a sense of discernment to separate frippery from fine shine? How do we equip him to differentiate the good from the bad, the chaff from the grain? I and my wife do not have answers for many of these questions. Honestly, not even a nebulous roadmap. To shoulder this responsibility which can result in uncertain outcomes and to succeed at it is probably going to be the biggest learning of our lives. As Oscar Wilde once said: “Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them

I am of the opinion that a lot of parents equate shouldering the parental responsibility with an automatic right to thrust their unfulfilled wishes and desires on to their kids lives. We solemnly vowed that we shall not do this. Responsibility in my opinion is to provide the child with appropriate resources, create awareness of his potential and the numerous possibilities in front of him and equipping him with the ability to choose the right path for himself. Without a doubt this is going to be a tight rope walk demanding for a fine balance from our side. As young parents we only hope we will succeed in this project of ours.  As a parting thought for all the young parents and the parents to be, I quote a poem by Kahlil Gibran about the predicament of parents

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable

(This was a piece I wrote in 2001 and am rehashing it. I was introduced to Ogden Nash‘s poems and also had our first addition to the family at this point in time. I thought I will experiment a bit by rallying my thoughts around some poems of Nash)


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