BY JEFF JAMISON
As my wife and I were preparing to head home with our new bundled of joy, we were both struck by the fact that there was no exit exam or licensing procedure to make sure that we prepared to handle this awesome responsibility. When I turned 16, I had to take an exam to get a driver’s license. Next summer (or next February- the second time is the charm), I will have to pass the bar exam in order to practice law. Even before my wife and I were able to get married we had to get a license from the state of Louisiana. So here we stand on the cusp of the greatest adventure of the our lives and there was no exam, nothing to say, you are qualified to be parents, now go forth and inflict the same sort of damage that your parents inflicted on you.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating some of sort of procedure to determine fitness for parents. Because, if there were such a test, there is no promise I would pass. Up till 24 hours ago, I had never changed diaper, and let’s just say that first experience did not go well…. My boy has good aim. A little tip, if you have a son: cover his privates when you change his diapers. No, what I am saying is, at that moment, when they were being push out the hospital, my wife and I had the same thought-oh my god we are parents.
As I drove my wife and son home, going 10 mph with the hazards on, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what my wife and started 42 weeks prior. I will spare you the details because no one needs those visuals, but let me just say, Prof. Coates, this is the reason that I got the grade I got on my Corps exam. It is not like my wife and I had not prepared for this experience. We had read every book possible. We have friends with kids and have a niece and nephew (hi Ben and Gracie). But it is not until this tiny human being (or not so tiny, as my wife, who had to push a 9 lbs, 8 oz child through a small opening without drugs, reminds me) is placed in your arms and you are told that this child is yours, till this thing becomes real, and you realize that there was no way to prepare for being a father.
My first real experience as a father occurred before we left the hospital when I got to cut the cord. Yep, my child will be able to blame me for separating him from his mother. At first, when I was asked about cutting the cord, I could only think, isn’t there someone more qualified to do this and do we get a discount on the bill because I did some of the work? But when the moment came to cut the cord, after watching everything that my wife had just gone through, I could not help feeling like the 4th stringer kicker who was brought in to kick the extra point following the touchdown that made the score 76-0. I was and still am in awe of my wife and mothers everywhere, and jealous that I will never have that experience. Who I am I kidding, one cramp in my leg in the middle of the night and I am in agony.
Each day since Harper was born has been adventure. Our living room is a graveyard of swings, bouncing chairs, and toys that failed to calm a crying baby. Yes, I know you have to be patient, but say that to two parents who are operating on fumes and would do anything to calm their child’s pain. I may have promised him a car at some point. There have been the trips to the doctor’s office for testing that sent us scrambling to every book and source on the internet to explain the bump on our child’s head. There have been the hours of just staring at my son, wondering what type of person he will be. Will he be an athlete? A lawyer? Or even worse…a Republican? I was worried that he was born a Republican, but my fears have since been allayed because he has opened his eyes and is keeping them open. Even if does end up being a Republican, I will love him just the same. A Republican… there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Republicans.
I have also found that the bubble of law school has burst. All of sudden Rawls’s Theory Justice meant something more than an intellectual exercise. As a friend of my said to me, “Bad judicial decisions and stupid government policies that previously were annoying or philosophically offensive, but that you could still shrug off most of the time, now become far more threatening because you’ll perceive them as messing up the world for your child.” As I hold my son, I realize that there is so much that I want to protect him from, including an overprotective father.
Each day there will be new challenges for Harper and his parents: his first boo boo, the day he learns to say no, when his heart is broken, and when he leaves home. There will also be wonderful surprises; his first smile, steps and words, the day he scores his first goal in soccer and when he graduates from college. Along the way I know that I will make mistakes and not know all the answers.
I guess it is okay that there was no test for Harper’s parents before we left the hospital, because the truth is that we really didn’t know what we were doing, and each day, through practice and improvisation, we are getting better at this. At this point, there only two things that I do know for certain. Harper is truly one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, and I hope that I never forget to tell him that even when I am dropping him off at his first dance and embarrassing him. And the other thing, you have to make sure to cover his privates whenever changing his diaper.