Guest Post: Evolution of a Father, by Alexis Dahl

In the beginning, I looked at my fiancé as a specimen in a diorama at the Natural History Museum. Most of the time I got in there and interacted with him. But sometimes I simply watched. My fiancé became a father. Then a husband. Then he devolved, becoming extremely hairy and, coincidentally, started thumping his chest. He makes happy grunts when he stands in front of the mirror holding naked Poe. “Uurgh uuuuurgh. Bah bah bah.” That’s Andrew. Occasionally Poe responds, usually with laughter. “Why don’t you use words?” she silently asks. Andrew bahs back.

No, this is not a metaphorical device. Come on over at bath time or breakfast or playtime or whenever you want and you will witness the modern male Neanderthal loping around the apartment.

I write that with love.

We went out for dinner on Andrew’s birthday. He covered his loin cloth with a pair of baby blue pants and donned a linen shirt. He honored the day of his 9 lb body busting out of his slim, gentle mama by showering. He does this once a week, or so he grunted in reproof when I asked him when he showers. In his defense, our bathroom wall is hosting a thriving ecology at the moment. To be specific, mold and plant(s?), a tendril of which peeked through next to the shower-head.

At the pizzeria Andrew picked for our night out, I looked for ways to fill the silence. He adjusted his seat, seeking a neutral position for his back. He injured it lifting stones at our wedding while braying in salute of our nuptials. Tonight he was quiet. Tired.

What do Neanderthals discuss when their baby is being guarded back at the cave? Trump’s campaign manager. Hillary’s. The art on the walls. The way I eat pizza. The similarity between the restaurant host and a friend’s ex. Plans for the next day. The chewiness of the snap peas. Not Poe. Or not much of Poe. Not much of anything with personal consequence.

My life and Andrew’s are now like the contents of Poe’s colon. Lots of undigested bits remain distinct and intact. But do you really consider them separate when they exit the same hole? Can you smell a difference between that asparagus stalk and the sweet potato? I attest: you cannot.

I see Andrew. I feel his energy longing for the differentiation between my bit and his bit. (No, Andrew, I’m not referring to our private parts.) We each generated “nurture lists” and we put them on the fridge. Me: “doing yoga, meditate, have a family picnic, travel, read a novel, get a haircut, write a poem, etc.” Andrew: “read, walk, run, journal/blog, etc.” Our intention is to help the other person do one of the actions from the list every day. A few of my actions involve spending time with Andrew, but we both prioritized being alone, separate from our significant other.

Becoming a parent is rudely awaking in the alternate universe of sleep-deprived moms and dads, specters we used to pass through on the subway, in the street, everywhere. We’ve been sworn into the society of volitionally milk and shit-stained. We are constantly reminded of how un-unique our experiences are – gratefully, gloriously! common.

But I don’t want to be a “mom” in Andrew’s eyes, my colors muted by sleeplessness and daily chores. Moreover, I don’t want Andrew to blend in with that sea of dads, vanquished, denuded of their man caves. It’s in that space he cultivates his particular aroma, the one that made me want to stick my nose in his armpit and breathe deeply. So when Andrew asks to go for a walk while I sit with Poe, I say yes both begrudgingly and with relief. He widens the distance between me and him, a space across which I peer at his identity. Not as “dad”, but as intelligent, sexy, unknowable man. Apart from me. Not a part of me.

Back at home, I foisted birthday cake on my exhausted caveman. He ate each bite while affirming that yes, he liked the cake, wow, that must have been hard work, mmm, I now taste that saltiness. All this without language. That will come back, in the morning, or after another few years of our evolution. Meanwhile, I am content to stand on the opposite side of the glass tank. I am content to not be able to touch all that he is. He is not mine, neither is Poe for that matter. In preserving a self outside my reach, he preserves us.

–Alexis

One Year Older

One year older.

I injured my back at our wedding a couple months ago¹ and am now in physical therapy. I’m heavier than I used to be. My doctor is going to put me on blood pressure medication unless I get serious about exercising, then might do it anyway if the exercise doesn’t help. There’s some white in my beard.

Hi ho.

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Last year, for my birthday, Alexis took me to Daybreaker, an early morning, drugless rave. I wore a goofy top hat that Alexis bought me, and she wore her five-month-pregnant belly. We drank cold brew and kale juice and danced and jumped until our knees were sore, then went to a diner and ate like animals. This morning, Alexis joked that it was foolish to have done something like that last year — woken up so early. Instead, we should have slept the whole day, knowing now what lay ahead of us.

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Poe can stand now, so when she’s decided it’s time to get up, she pulls herself up using the bars in the crib and yells raucously for us to come get her. Being greeted by a grinning, bouncing baby when I come in to get her in the morning is one of my new life’s undeniable pleasures.

She only wakes once a night these days (nights?), and had we not taken two big, sleep-disrupting trips this summer, we would have likely eliminated that one wake up by now. In a week she goes into daycare, and sleep will no doubt be disrupted again.

Hi ho.

Daycare. Yikes. She will adjust. There will be a couple days of heavy, heart-rending crying, but she will adjust. She has proven herself to be a pretty resilient baby; it’s Mommy and Daddy that will likely have the hardest time.

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One of the biggest downsides/upsides to parenting is that I’m constantly referring to myself as “Daddy”.

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Parenting has gotten much easier for me since I battled the nap demon² during paternity leave. But anxiety still dogs me at every turn.

A month ago, we noticed a leak in our bathroom ceiling. There was some issue with the plumbing in the unit above us, and water was draining into our ceiling and walls. We didn’t get it dealt with quickly enough, and a week ago it became clear we had mold in the walls. The super came and sloppily tore a hole in the wall/ceiling, then realized that the dry-wall was still too damp to work on. So, he had to leave it alone for a couple of days to dry, leaving the gaping hole open to pour mold spores directly into our lungs and the lungs of our 8-month-old child. Alexis and I have been nearly catatonic with stress for the past week. It’s scary. I’m not especially concerned about my own well-being³, but when you throw a baby into the mix…

I had visions of Poe developing serious, long term health issues and Alexis and I never forgiving ourselves. You know…anxiety’s greatest hits.

It’s being dealt with. The management company ended up sending a kind and charismatic plumber, a welcome relief from our surly, obstructionist, corner-cutting, impossible-to-understand super. We still have a moldy hole in our bathroom, but it’s being dealt with. I lift my head out of the deep, dark waters of anxiety and the sun is visible. I will be submerged again, I know, but for now I can float all right.

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Poe waved at a waiter a couple nights ago. First time she’s ever done it. The waiter, a young latino man wearing glasses, stood off to the side, waving at Poe and smiling. She looked at him quizzically for a bit, then slapped her hand against the table a couple times, raised it, and rotated it back and forth at him. We couldn’t believe it. We’ve been trying to get her to mimic us for weeks, to no avail. Then she meets a kind stranger in a restaurant and lifts her impossibly small and delicate hand into the air to connect with him across the decades.


¹ HUMPING UR MOM.
² And motherfucking won.
³ Lost cause.