What I Learned When My Son Was Born

I didn't learn all that much on the day my son was born, other than that women should definitely get the epidural right away, out of politeness to others. But I also learned that I had no idea how we start out.
05/24/2012 02:56pm ET | Updated July 24, 2012
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The very manly trait of boyish delight comes built into most of us, and our job is not to let it get removed.

I walk outside and jot down that idea. When I look at it, I realize it's not good enough for The List. Ever since Cassandra got pregnant, I started writing a list of life advice for my son, Laszlo. It's my philosophy: a combination of what I've learned by doing, seeing, reading, and listening. The List is the most embarrassing thing I've ever written. And I just wrote about owning an Easy‐Bake Oven. But this idea about being born happy and having to exercise that happiness, while not being good enough for The List, does make me think about the day Laszlo was born, which, despite all the talk about it being the most memorable day of a person's life, doesn't pop in my head often. I didn't learn all that much that day, other than that women should definitely get the epidural right away, out of politeness to others. But I also learned that I had no idea how we start out.

I assumed women struggled and pushed and a baby popped out and everyone clapped and shook hands. What actually happened was that, over and over, Cassandra struggled and I saw the top of Laszlo's little fuzzy head poke out and go back into her vagina, like the worst Thai strip show ever.

Eventually, Cassandra pushed Laszlo out, and I couldn't believe how enormous he was. I went to go get him, when I realized that was only his head. The rest of him slithered out of her, red and angry and screaming. For three very long seconds I feared I wouldn't love this furious demon child, that I wouldn't be able to calm him, that he'd hate me. But then, because Cassandra had some excessive bleeding, the doctors immediately put him in my arms, and the red left him, and he calmed down. And as soon as he stopped crying, I started.

I'm not entirely sure why. Part of it was that I thought about all the people I loved who had died and would never get to meet him. Part of it was that, for the first time, all my decisions seemed to matter: meeting Cassandra, staying married, deciding to have a child. So much could have derailed this: other men, other women, a lack of forgiveness, one of a million tiny acts of cowardice of not saying how we felt calcifying into irreparable resentment. Part of it was because of how unmarked by experience Laszlo was. I fought an urge to run out of that hospital, leave Cassandra forever, and drive with him to a cabin in the woods and raise him alone. I didn't want anything to corrupt him, not even Cassandra. Everything was out to hurt him, to ruin him. This feeling lasted for several weeks. And, in retrospect, was something I probably should not have told Cassandra about. I got halfway through describing why I thought I might have these reactions and how it didn't reflect on her or my deep love for her or how great a mom I knew she'd be, and how animalistic and discombobulated your emotions get right after having a baby. She left the room, pondered the deep emotional experience I was having, and sent me this email:

"You do not have boobs! You do not have breast milk! I'm doing all the work. All! The! Work! You! Could! Not! I! Do! Everything! You are useless! You and your woods!"

I think the main reason I cried, though, is that I assumed being born was awful: You suddenly went from darkness, wet warmth, and a feeding tube that hooked into your stomach to bright, hungry coldness where you had to breathe yourself. I had a good childhood, but I remember it being really difficult and confusing and lonely and vulnerable and full of heartbreak in a way that adulthood isn't. But after those first three seconds of red‐faced crying, which, in his defense, were probably due to the fact that his head had just been squeezed by Cassandra's super‐tight vagina, Laszlo wasn't upset. He was curious, looking up at me with total trust despite the fact that I hadn't finished one parenting book and wanted to raise him in a cabin even though I'd never spent one night in a cabin. The Buddhists were wrong: Life isn't suffering. It's awesome. And that was making me cry.

Excerpted from "Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity," by Joel Stein. Published by Grand Central Publishing.