High Praise Indeed

A Rare occasion on pitchforkmedia.com today, an album got a 10/10. Pitchfork is undisputedly the best music website in the world—in fact it is also better than any magazine. Bearing this in mind 10/10 is high praise indeed.

The album in question is not a new one; it was released in 1998 by ‘Neutral Milk Hotel’. I only got hold of it a couple of years ago myself but I was hooked from the first strum. It is an extraordinary album and if you missed out the first time I strongly recommend you read the review and purchase the reissue.

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How is Fatherhood?

Bill Hicks once said “Any man who thinks he wants a kid is no longer a man”, he is “pussy whipped.” He was my first favorite comedian and I still think about him often. One of his best routines was his excoriation of ‘People in Advertising’. He asked of his audience “Is there anyone here in advertising or marketing? If there is… kill yourselves!” He carried on: “No really, kill yourselves, this is not a joke, you are the scum of the earth the suckers of Satan’s cock, kill yourselves, now, quickly, do it now! Kill yourself! Rid the world of your evil scum, kill yourself!” He kept this up for a good five minutes and I was with him on every caustic syllable.

Twelve years after first hearing these words I’m walking around the apartment with a pudgy baby fixed to my left shoulder and today I started a job in advertising. Somewhere along the line something has changed, I’ve done an about face. Bill Hicks is 11 years dead. I wonder if he would have mellowed had he reached his forties? I doubt it.

The other day a friend asked me “how is fatherhood?” I thought he ought to know my feelings by now as he reads this page and this is my brain after all. He got me thinking though: how do I actually feel about fatherhood? Do guys really want to know this? Feelings? Ugh.

But this is America. Even the ruffians carry their hearts on their sleeves over here. So I’ll devote a post to mine—just this once. (It’s Oprah’s fault)

There’s one thing I get to do with Billy that Heidi doesn’t. I get to forget about him. It happens most days—unless I have nothing to do at work and my mind is allowed to wander home. One day I forgot about him from 8:30 in the morning to about 3:00 in the afternoon. It is only after prolonged Billy blackouts like these that I receive the full guttural thump of recall. He appears in my mind like a forgotten deadline, scrambling whatever I was thinking about and rearranging my inner life until he encompasses every element. He is a paradigm shift. An existential landmine.

As a student I liked to struggle with concepts like ‘Alterity’ or ‘Otherness’, or was it ‘Otherwise?’ Best not dig myself into a hole. I remember that certain thinkers liked to acknowledge the immensity of other people’s minds. When I look into Billy’s face I become quite philosophical. I can see his nascent consciousness struggling to take hold, I follow his darting eyes which occasionally settle on something with contrast, and as I watch him I can picture the dendrites in his brain coiling themselves into ever more efficient configurations. Then a pain from his belly distracts him and his whole frame contorts involuntarily. When he recovers he fixes his eyes on me, and he knows nothing. He doesn’t even know what a frog is. I am a blur that makes him smile. He is barely even here, but the potentiality he represents is awe-inspiring.

And it is getting better, with each passing day his awareness nudges outward, literally inch-by-inch. He’s still not sure where his fingers are but he’s learnt how to punch himself in the face with a vigor that can leave bruises. He can also grapple fistfuls of chubber, tweaking it until it hurts like hell—both his and ours. He also loves digging his clammy foot into my naked chest and tearing the hairs out with a forceful thrust of his leg. He loves to do anything that annoys. He’s already bored of being rocked in our arms, now he has to be upright so he can see what is going on. I knew this wouldn’t take long but the time is really beginning to fly now. I suppose we’re lucky that he seemed fragile for such a short time. I was getting tired of prodding him every half-an-hour to make sure he was still breathing.

When he wakes me up each morning, which he does every morning, I have an immediate dilemma, should I try to go back to sleep or should I lean over and play with him. As his talents grow I am increasingly drawn toward the latter. I used to put my head under the pillow and let Heidi occupy him. Now I can’t wait to see his little smile, which is always biggest first thing in the morning. I think he regresses into a solipsistic rut during the course of the night. The first sight of our faces in the morning must remind him that he isn’t alone in the universe and he is always thrilled.

Heidi gets annoyed that he smiles at me more than her. I think he must see Heidi as an extension of himself; they’re always attached after all. She’s going to have to get used to me being the favorite though, she’s definitely the disciplinarian of the family; Billy and I will bitch together about her cruel ways when he’s old enough.

The worst thing about having a kid is the knowledge that they are entirely at the mercy of chance. I know this is a trite observation and it applies to us all, but suddenly it feels very real and very scary. I know he could die in his sleep for no knowable reason, our house could collapse as it is so old, a terrorist could detonate a bomb in a car Heidi is walking past, a lunatic could steal him or stab him in his tiny heart and there would be nothing I could do about any of it. All these things are highly improbable, but that 0.001% chance somehow occupies 10% of my brain’s activity. When he smiles at me I always feel pleasure but I also feel the weight of all these terrible possibilities.

On a slightly embarrassing note, and as a corollary of the above, another thing he’s gone and done is make me weep at dumb TV. If there is so much as a sniff of a dying kid on TV I have to rush for the tissue box like a middle-aged woman suffering the emotional onslaught of the menopause. I was watching Star Trek Enterprise the other night and the first Human-Vulcan hybrid baby died. I was more upset than its screen parents. Heidi walked in and spoke to me just as my throat reached its maximum constriction. My long pause and suspicious choking gave me away. She took great delight lavishing me with mock sympathy.

Generally speaking I’m quite a lazy person and babies are extremely demanding. I often decide not to do something for him because I can’t be bothered—change his nappy or play with him when he’s restless as examples. Sod him I think, I want to play on my computer. It isn’t as easy as that though, he creeps into my mind like an enfeebled imp and I am forced to imagine his docile little face staring into empty space, starved of stimulation. Then a fierce guilt overwhelms me and I have to drop everything and rush over and play with him. This even happens when I’m doing stuff for him anyway, like washing his stuff. Babies demand more than 100% of your devotion at all times and being at the mercy of your genes you foolishly try and accomplish the impossible.

I know men worry about what will happen to their social lives when they have kids but not going out really isn’t so bad. It isn’t even an issue anyway as I can go out if I like. Heidi and Billy are usually asleep by 10:00PM so if I wanted to slip out and see a band or get some drinks with a friend, there’s nothing to stop me. Except my lack of friends of course, mustn’t forget about that—but you know what I mean. Letting kids ruin your social life is a choice like anything else, a choice too many Americans and increasing numbers of Brits take for no rational reason. I choose not to—I’m following the example set by the Spanish, I’m going to keep going out and we’re going to keep going out together, just like before. Kids need parents with lives.

Do I feel jealous of Billy?

I asked my sister a cruel hypothetical question a couple of weeks after her first child was born. I asked her whether she’d rather lose her kid or me. I didn’t expect an answer, but she replied before I had time to apologize. When I tell you I was a little bit hurt by her response you can guess who she chose. Being an egomaniacal masochist I asked Heidi the same question. I’m taking her refusal to respond as another black mark against the life of Simon N. Weaver Esquire. I now know where I stand in the scheme of things. On the bright side, at least human females don’t bite our heads off. In all seriousness though, I haven’t felt even slightly jealous since the day he was born. He’s a pain, he’s stolen all my alone time and he ensures I never get more than 6 hours sleep, ever, but I don’t begrudge him anything. Becoming a father is the best thing that ever happened to me. (Well second best after my iMac)

And for the record, I think Bill Hicks would have made a fine dad.

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