So. Just over three months old now.
Kristen goes back to work today for the first time since mid-January; an end to a time that saw some of the toughest days of her life. The American approach to childbirth is, like most American things, rooted purely in the interests of the employer, and not the employee. The heavy price paid by citizens of a country fueled by a nuclear core of pure capitalism. Participants in a system that affords you only a handful of sick days every year, an absurdly limited amount of vacation relative to the standards of other nations, and only a bare minimum amount of time to keep your newborn baby alive before marching you back in front of the time clock.
As a father, you are entitled to virtually nothing. You expend as much of your accrued time off as practical, and you’re offered a token gesture known as FMLA. Which no one can actually exercise because it means that while you can be out for an extended period of time, you will not be paid. Rare is the working class family that is equipped to absorb that kind of cost.
It’s why I was forced to go back to work after only spending a week and a half with my daughter. Leaving Kristen to fend largely for herself over the next quarter of a year. My only consolation or encouragement offered in the form of texts, or gmail chats, or the occasional phone call. That’s what you get, and it sucks like you wouldn’t believe. It makes the experience exponentially more difficult than it has to be.
It is commonly understood that babies should be breast fed for a minimum of six months. Yet the standard in America is to give the mother three months leave. Many are afforded less. This leads to a series of logistical issues that are completely stressful and unnecessary. Not to mention the prospect of shipping your kid to daycare just as she’s transitioning from a highly dependent newborn. Her highest yet level of awareness, her developmental milestones begin in earnest, and you say goodbye to most of it. An hour or two tacked onto either end of the day is all you get now. You hope to catch something in that small window of time.
I look closely at Stella a lot, and when I do, often times I start to cry. There is something so incredibly beautiful there, when we are staring at one another; I find it overwhelming. Absolute purity and captivating innocence. I have this almost irrational fear that she is too good to be true, or that I’m not deserving of her, or that she will be taken away. Sometimes it is crushing, as it was last night. As it is when I hear certain songs and I think about her. Or when I see her face staring back at me through the glow of an iPhone. I could never, ever do anything to hurt her or to be apart from her.
This is my own psychological impairment to come to terms with, as the product of divorced parents and an upbringing in a terrible family environment. I was only three or four, but the memory of the night my mother told me my father was never coming home will never, ever leave me. It’s a permanent fixture in my head. My younger sister and I weeping at the dinner table in the kitchen that night. That alone is an incredibly difficult hole to climb out of.
Compounded in ways you could never imagine by the person who would soon become my stepfather. A positively rotten human being who put me though a never ending gauntlet of abuse. Living in the shadow of a resident adult with nothing but contempt for you, and a mother who supported his practices. No encouragement or interest in fostering the kind of ability I demonstrated. Just a disgusting, deplorable contempt that drove me to run away from home halfway through high school.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to be where I am today and not completely ruined as a person, down an entirely different path in life, which is the outcome in probably 9 of 10 similar situations.
I am so aware now, as a parent myself, of the critical importance of positive guidance; my consciousness so unbelievably high of the kind of influences that leave their mark. The immeasurable value of interacting with a child, telling them you love them, and having them know that. I am destined to reflect the exact opposite of the environment that I was left to claw my way out of. It is simple, innate, automatic for me. Somehow, it’s the only way I know how to do this.
To leave home, finding refuge with friends for the next several years, writing my way into complimentary tuition at UNH, encountering a professor who would inspire me to a career where I would attain one of the security industry’s most prestigious credentials; a school where I would cross paths with the greatest friend I will ever have, who would become my wife, it’s all a miracle. My wife, this incredible child. I think that is why I cry.