Neglecting the baby.

Notes on fatherhood.
June 12 2002 11:27 AM

Neglecting the Baby

For the new father, something has to give.

The first rule of fatherhood is that if you don't see what the problem is, you are the problem. For most of the past couple of weeks I hadn't been able to see what the problem was. Everything had been going swimmingly. For the first time since the birth of my second child I was able to get back properly to work. My fear that my children would starve, or, at the very least, be forced to attend public school, was receding. The time I needed to earn a living had to come from someplace, of course, but it hadn't been obvious to me where in the family it should come from. Not from my wife, to whom I am addicted. Not from my eldest child, who has made it clear that she can't survive on one minute less of parental attention than she received before her sister was born. The only person who would be perfectly untroubled by my absence was the baby. Having worked up enough feeling for her that I could say honestly that I preferred having her around to not, I could now, in good conscience, neglect her.

Sure enough, by laying Dixie off on her mother and various baby sitters I was able to slip back into something like my old routine. By the end of last week I had a new book up and nearly running. All was well. And then her mother turned up in my office, with that look in her eye. I tried to head her off before she got started, by telling her just how secure I was making our family's finances. She was uninterested in the family's finances.

"You need to set aside time to spend with Dixie," she said.

"Oh," I said. "I've spent time with her."

"You just went an entire weekwithout seeing her."

"It's not like she knows."

"You know," she said. Which was true. Sort of.

"How often do you want me to see her?"

"I think you should have enough material about Dixie to sustain a biweekly Slate column," she said.

My first thought was: What kind of father is it who sees his child just enough to generate material for his column? My second thought was: my kind of father.

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