I have three daughters. Have I bequeathed a better youth to them than I had? They’d have to tell you. I can’t.
My first, Morgan, was a blessing beyond belief. I wasn’t ready for a kid (I’ve never been ready for a kid, never will be, never could be). During Julie’s pregnancy, our marriage was at one of its periodic nadirs, Julie pretending to attempt an abortion, than pretending suicide. I hated going to work each day at the Penn bookstore, hated even more coming back home to our two rooms and bath on Delancey St., in Philly’s Society Hill. In December we were married, simply because I didn’t want my kid to be labelled a bastard.
We walked to the hospital, about three blocks away, when Julie was having contractions. I was supposed to be with her for the delivery, but the floor changed shifts and nobody told me she was ready. I missed the birth, and I don’t think Julie ever forgave me (for much of anything).
We moved when Morgan was two months old to a narrow father, son and holy ghost rowhouse on Locust near 23rd. Morgan was the most joyous baby ever born. She constantly smiled and giggled and gurgled just to be alive. At six months (or whenever she could hitch herself up on her knees) she would look up with a big grin and actually say, “a-goo!”
Among her playpen toys were two or three cloth-covered foam cubical blocks, about four inches on a side. She would wait with quivering anticipation, and when we finally let loose with a block, bouncing it off her forehead, she would almost disintegrate with ecstasy.
Morgan was the first person in my life I loved in a direct, all-encompassing, unselfish way. I wanted nothing of her but her existence. She was the making of me as a decent human being (if, indeed, that has happened).
Erin came two and a quarter years after Morgan. With Morgan, I had expected a son – not wanted, just assumed, maybe because I was one of three brothers? Erin was planned, and I now wanted a daughter with all my heart – never again held interest in fathering a son. Twice I’ve had that wish granted.
Erin was born while we were still on Locust St., but somehow I can’t pin down the details of her birth. At least it was not beset by Julie’s games of self-destruction. For Erin I made the mahogany cradle that has since nurtured many a babe (she had the outlandish ability to project her liquid bowel eruption over the end of the cradle).
She was a different sort of delight, even a foil to Morgan’s incessant good humor. Once she learned to speak, she arose most days a simmering grouch that needed immediate feeding for alleviation. Yet behind that was the raucous sense of humor that’s followed her through life, an adventurous playfulness matched by a skewer-sharp toughness. She faces existence with a four-square certainty that amazes (and teaches) me.
Caitlin began 15 years later, recreating an aspect of my childhood which was highly peculiar in those earlier times – a third child who was a decade and a half younger than its siblings. By the mid ’80s it was hardly unusual, with so many couples re-formed in different combinations.
Linda and I had never considered having a child – we were both in our 40s (my father had been 48 at my birth). When she announced the unlikelihood as we parked whichever rattletrap car we had saddled ourselves with at the time, we both cringed: “Not another teenager!” She was delivered by a midwife – more on that later).
But Cait is ours, so completely and recognizably ours, an amazing amalgam of our interests, traits, strengths (and, yes, weaknesses). She has taken our lives along a path we could never have imagined, one that was denied Julie and me by the fate of an incompatibility comparable to gefilte fish and ice cream.
Morgan is now 54, Erin 52, Cait will soon be 37. How is that possible?
What have I given them? Something better than I had, I vastly hope. But I still have no concept of what a father is supposed to be.