You’re not the kind of guy about whom I’d think, “Yes. Total dad material.” Similarly, I’m not fit to be anyone’s mother. I live paycheck to paycheck. I use my floor as a closet. I am a sympathy barfer. I can barely take care of myself, let alone care for a tiny infant who needs everything done for them or else they will die.
When I pictured our life together, I never pictured kids. I thought about us going on trips together or seeing shows or drinking at parties or attending each other’s work functions. I thought about making out on rooftops and holding hands at the beach and running in the rain back to your apartment.
You’re wonderful and loving, but like me, you’re also young. You still whine about going to work. You get bratty when the Indian place doesn’t get your order right. You want to sleep when you want to sleep and watch movies when you want to watch movies. You’re not selfish, but you’re definitely not about to bend to someone else’s erratic schedule and illogical will — someone you can’t reason with like, I don’t know, a baby.
I also don’t really want a baby. Or I guess a better answer would be that I’d never thought about it. A baby never factored into how I saw my future. I don’t get particularly bananas over tiny socks and dresses. I don’t see a stroller and flip out about what’s inside. I’m way more likely to compliment someone’s dog than someone’s baby.
But last night, I saw you with a baby and now, I’m confused. It wasn’t our baby, obviously. We were at a family event and you reached down to a tiny, adorable, shirtless diaper-ed thing and picked it up effortlessly. You put it on your hip and bopped it up and down making coo-ing noises. The baby smiled in toothless glee. And you smiled too — in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile. It was pure.
There’s a lot of training that intense parents go through to “perfectly” handle a baby that I imagine goes by the wayside when the little bundle actually arrives. In that same vein, there’s some child-rearing techniques that apparently come naturally.
And it looked natural. The way you picked up that baby. You didn’t know I was watching you, but you played with him for a while — poking his small pot belly until he giggled, tossing him lightly while he squirmed and laughed, zooming through the air playing “airplane.” You were so good with that baby — stunningly good. You looked happy. You looked like a dad.
At dinner, I fed the baby squishy potatoes and it looked at me with huge eyes and when I looked up, you were watching me feed the baby and I felt like I’d done a really important thing. And later, when the baby pooped and we worked together like a well-oiled NASCAR team to change a diaper and clean up a mess so horrible it will probably be our Vietnam, it struck me that no one taught us how to do that. We just knew. We pulled it through. Together.
And when that tiny thing fell asleep on your chest on the bed, its eyelashes fluttering in dreams, its soft limbs around your torso, it looked…nice. You stroked the baby’s hair and kissed its head and I’d never seen you quite like that before. You seemed like a different person — older and gentler and sweeter. I watched you with that baby and I thought, is this what we want?
Babies are more than just nurturing tableaus like this. The night before, the baby’s mother told me the baby had been up all night puking. She was exhausted. She hadn’t slept. Being a parent is very hard and not romantic like it seems when I see your face when you play with the baby. But maybe that’s why people keep making babies or caring for babies they adopt. Maybe seeing this, feeling like this is what triggers your biology to want a family.
Maybe I just got to see another side of you when you were holding that baby. And it was a side I really liked.