The Daddy Diary: Part Six
A first-time father faces the surreal and sometimes lonely experience of looking in from the outside with a tender heart full of slumber-inducing song
By Chris Lackner
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.”
Good for him. In my “jungle” — AKA house — there isn’t much sleeping going on (especially for mom). Such is the life of newbie parents. Our little lioness has a mighty roar — mightiest after the sun goes down.
Our girl’s hunger — and gas-fueled bellow — is only satiated by two things: breast milk and songs (with musical numbers finishing a distant, distant second).
Our baby instinctively knows how to lay in wait and then pounce on her parental prey when we are at our most vulnerable. Is dad trying to watch the ninth-inning drama of a playoff race? Yup. Cue the crying. Are mom and dad trying for the 15th time that night to stream more than three minutes in a row of one TV episode? Yup. Cue our mighty hunter thirsting for an unsuspecting breast separated from its herd.
As for the singing? That’s daddy’s domain. It’s my primary way of trying to breakthrough the glass ceiling that is mommy-baby bond. I have no milk to offer (my daughter’s many searches have ended in a heady mixture of chest hair and disappointment), but I do come from a family of choral singers, so my voice can sing a passable lullaby.
And I control the playlist. Just as my family helped shape my love of classic musicians like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong, I’m in the early stages of brainwashing my own baby. Song-and-dance numbers can lull her into a trance. (Bonus: she can’t tell I have zero rhythm.)
Just as my family helped shape my love of classic musicians like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong, I’m in the early stages of brainwashing my own baby.
Baby talk in song seems to be a hit — whether the “awimbawes” of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or the “Lie La Lies” of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” Thankfully, she is too young to ask questions about lyrical verses involving sad-luck fighters and prostitutes on Seventh Avenue (I should probably learn some Teletubby). Given my wife’s taste in tunes, by 2030 my daughter could be the only 14-year-old on Earth with a playlist full of legendary bluesmen (My dear: I apologize in advance for your classmates’ mockery, but rest assured you’ll have far better taste than they do).
They say music is a universal language, so perhaps all the singing is just my way of trying to communicate. Given her set of pipes and elaborate hand gestures, you can certainly see our child’s Italian and Brazilian heritage. But I don’t intuitively understand her like mom. With her chirps and squeaks, our baby seems to speak a combination of gremlin, squirrel and — if the whining and drama are any indication — South American soccer player.
So the singing serves as an olive branch between daddy and daughter. Life as a freshman papa is disjointed, exhausting and surreal. Genuine moments of reflection or “me time” seem like a pipe dream. Most importantly, I don’t have the benefit of mom’s physical, almost-psychic link with baby.
Genuine moments of reflection or “me time” seem like a pipe dream. Most importantly, I don’t have the benefit of mom’s physical, almost-psychic link with baby.
These first few months of fatherhood can be lonely. It’s a time where dads can feel helpless to help, and find themselves on the outside looking in. But that imbalance begins to shift as a baby’s personality develops. When milk isn’t the only priority, and the world become a place of interest, daddy becomes more important. Most of my song-and-dance numbers have been met with either milk-glazed indifference or incredulous wailing. However, more recently, I can solicit occasional wide-eyed looks of wonder. (Translation: “Who is this strange creature that doesn’t produce milk, why doesn’t he ever shut up, and can someone please make him stop shuffling around so much? I think I am going to vomit again.”). In the last week, an impromptu mommy-and-daddy duet even convinced our toothless lion to gift us with a genuine smile and giggle.
As for fending off our baby’s nocturnal “hunting,” singing only goes so far. My most important contribution is a ritualistic 4 a.m. Eggo-making session to help re-charge mom for feeding. My new bedroom also feels like a bit of a jungle. As the lightest of sleepers, and part-time insomniac, I sleep in our heated solarium on weeknights to avoid being a complete office zombie. Instead of waking up next to my wife, most days I wake up at dawn to the sound of our resident skunk digging for grubs. We have a mutual understanding. Ever since the introduction of diapers — and a lack of daily showers — to our household, I’m pretty sure he views us as a species of bipedal brethren (Humunks?).
Between the skunk and our little lioness, I live in an animal kingdom. There are no peaceful villages in sight. On the other hand, we are starting to hear the unique language coded within our daughter’s roar. And dad is realizing that he’s not only parental prey, but is soon to become a full-time mentor to a fierce, little cub.
Top: Lioness Doesn’t Sleep by Victor Bonderoff. Above: Henri Rousseau’s Traumgarten, courtesy of henrirousseau.org
THE EX-PRESS, October 9, 2016