A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 27 1998 3:30 AM


       Those sucking and gulping noises in the background as I write this are courtesy of my not-quite-five-day-old son, Paul, who, as midnight approaches, is savoring his 278th feeding of the day. Or something like that. The serene and sublimely lovely woman nursing him in a wicker chair in our bedroom is Caroline Mailhot, my wife or something like that. Though we're not exactly poster children for a William Bennett diatribe about moral degeneracy, we're not, if you want to get technical, legally married. Fifteen years ago, one of my brothers pulled this same stunt and, when friends asked how our parents were reacting, I told them my mother had said: "It's just fine, dear. We already have six wonderful grandchildren, and we know we'll come to love your bastard spawn just as much as the others." In Caroline's hospital room the day after Paul was born, we placed wedding bands upon each other's ring fingers. Did it disturb us that our only witness (best man? best baby?) was snoozing in his bassinet during this brief ceremony? No more than it disturbed us that the city of New York required us to sign an "acknowledgement of paternity" form before it would list my name on the birth certificate.
       After composing the previous paragraph, I fell asleep. It's now 4 a.m., and I've just returned from changing Paul's diaper. That's the division of labor around here: Caroline is in charge of ingress, I handle egress. At the risk of sounding like one of those insufferable Alan Alda types, I'll confess that I genuinely enjoy changing diapers. I got quite adept at it during a marriage that lasted 20 years and produced three sons, now aged 17, 12, and 12. I view the diaper change not merely as a bonding experience (that my inability to breast-feed otherwise deprives me of) but also as an early round in the tricky domestic negotiations that lurk in the distance. ("Some day, son," I like to say sweetly as I hoist the boy onto the changing table and de-pants him, "you're going to be a teen-ager who insists upon his right to dye his hair purple. And I suppose I'll have to let you do it, though of course I'll also insist upon my right to entertain your girlfriends with details of how as a baby you produced these monstrous green stools.")
       Several weeks ago, when I was invited to contribute a Slate diary, I resisted because I'm a writer, writers rarely do anything, and I would therefore have nothing to say. Then it occurred to me that I could exploit the new baby. (Samuel Johnson, as I recall, paid for his mother's funeral by pulling several all-nighters and pounding out Rasselas.) I strongly believe that if a child refuses to make a direct cash contribution toward his bed and board, he should at least be sufficiently diverting or quotable that I can milk him for a few column inches. (The less desirable alternative would be a Lewinsky Strategy: setting the newborn up in a kissing booth, where guys such as William Ginsburg could pay, say, 20 bucks a pop to nuzzle his inner thighs, figuring they'd somehow cash in on the experience 25 years from now when he does something notorious.)
       When my eldest son, Jeb, was born, in 1981, I manipulated William Shawn into publishing, in The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" section, one of those first-person "Letter From a Friend" pieces, in which I described the view of the East River from the delivery room at the instant of his birth. That dispatch ended, "For an eternal moment: dazzling clarity." The view from here, full-blown middle age--I turned 48 two days before Paul was born--is no less gratifying, though many of the details are different. I'll tell you more about it as his first full week on this interesting planet progresses.

Mark Singer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book is Citizen K: The Deeply Weird Journey of Brett Kimberlin. He is the father of four sons, including Paul Mailhot-Singer, who was born Oct. 21, 1998 (7 lbs., 10 oz.).