On One Hand

November 25, 2005

The Baby

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:33 am
Tags: ,

My family has some black sheep. Technically they aren’t even part of the family, but an extended relationship between my mom’s brother and his girlfriend of many years has brought her and her three teenage children into the fold. They don’t fit in with our Irish/Italian Catholic traditions, and rarely bring anything to the frequent group gatherings, so many would just as soon have them gone. They’re bringing my uncle down, my mother contends, because he works to support them and they don’t pay their own ways. They point out that the mother is alcoholic and hasn’t had a job in years. Her kids are in trouble for stealing, for violence, for drugs. They’re all still living in a motel, and two of the three kids are jobless teenage high school dropouts.

Well, one of the teenage high school dropouts just became a teenage high school dropout father. He brought the girlfriend and her two-month-old baby to our Thanksgiving gathering to be introduced. The women in my family, who are usually the first ones gossiping and politicking and complaining about the unwelcome enclave, suddenly swarmed around the infant like some informal group-baptism, dancing and cooing and making the baby giggle for them for about half an hour.

So this kid is now a father, and I’m thinking while all this is going on that the differences between him and I are night and day. I’m a college student writing for a newspaper and have never been in any trouble in my life, while this ex-jock dropped out of high school and has been arrested and just got himself a baby with an equally young girl while having no full-time job. My impulse is to say that he’s made some pretty dumb choices compared to me. Dropping out of high school is dumb. Having unprotected sex, many contend, is also dumb, and to do so at such a young age with such little ability to take care of a child makes it worse.

And that’s pretty much how my family treated this kid – as someone who made a lot of stupid choices, and that he’s on track for obscurity and meaninglessness. But when I think of all the things I’ve accomplished up to now, including my college transcripts and newspaper articles and the part-time job and journals and endless amateur poems, I can’t be sure I’ve done anything really meaningful myself. I’ve set myself up to make a name later if I continue to work hard, but what I have now doesn’t do much good except kick off a slowly growing resume. It’s easy to ask “is what I’m doing really going to effect anything?” and not have a clear answer.

And this guy has a baby, a human being. He’s created, through a careless mistake, something that is obviously and inarguably more meaningful than all of my accomplishments together – a human life. He’s committed himself to a lot of responsibility and work, but at least he knows what he’s working for. The baby has all the potential he does so he’s basically doubled himself. When you get to the point where your “accident” is a living, breathing mind of its own, it’s hard to regret what you’ve done. It’s hard to say “he shouldn’t have fucked her,” or “she should have had an abortion.” I can’t even think like that.

So my family, agreeing on some deep subconscious level with me, swarmed and coddled this infant and treated it, like they should, as a member of the family. Most likely the young couple will drift away from our family gatherings, considering how loosely connected they are, but they’ll always be welcome with us – at least while they have a baby.

I guess thinking about this helps me define in a real-world way what family is about, what society is about, and what life is about. It reminds me that sitting back and judging others’ mistakes or attributing their misfortunes to personal faults is unproductive and ineffectual. I can only be responsible for my own good and that means being willing to take over when I see others lack. What I’m looking at is a baby, with scarred and unsure teenage parents who lacked good parenting themselves, and whether or not I can help is all that I should ask.

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6 Comments »

  1. ha, thats like when i go home and visit the kids who were my best friends all throughtout high school…its so easy for others to see them and scoff at their pride at getting a raise at wendy’s or at finally getting their GED….but its not so easy for me. they were there with me through everything, and i dont understand why im here and theyre still smoking pot in my best friend’s garage. it’s not family – ours are similar. it’s not socio-economic class or neighborhood. it’s not intelligence or friends or drugs or subculture….

    a girl in my family got pregnant in her senior year and worked hard to graduate a semester early…her grandmother [my great-aunt twice removed or something] cut off communication and even mentioned the incident in her christmas newsletter! thats cold…

    Comment by volatile_freq — November 25, 2005 @ 12:52 pm | Reply

  2. As a gay man who will probably never have a child, I always consider it somewhat insulting that folks with kids (whether they’re married or not) are almost always treated as if they possess some kind of “authority” or “maturity” that will always be totally beyond me. Like, “Oh my, how grown up they are, they have a BABY.” Yes, raising a child (and raising a child responsibly) IS probably the most difficult job on the planet … BUT merely HAVING one does not confer upon you some sort of magical wisdom or special powers. I’ve been with Andy for five years, and that acheivement in and of itself will probably never attain the respect and deferrance (even among very accepting friends) that the product of 10 minutes of sexual intercourse has among most people.

    Comment by randomcha — November 25, 2005 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

    • amen to that

      Comment by mozartian — November 26, 2005 @ 2:28 am | Reply

    • That wasn’t what anyone was trying to do. The facts still stand as they are about the life and accomplishments of the young parents, and everyone knows it. What changed is that no one in my family expects them to regret what they did when the fruits are so positive. No one wants to taint the baby with negative attitudes because the baby is totally innocent. It’s totally unproductive to be negative about this.

      And as for the 17/18-year-old parents: new birth gives them a clean slate. So it’s probably true that they aren’t going anywhere with business and likely won’t grow up to be intellectuals or movie stars. They’re going to be normal people. But they can re-define themselves as parents, and have a chance to be succesfull all over again at raising a kid. Nobody ever said a college dropout can’t be a great father; it’s a totally different set of skills, and it’s wrong for anyone to be condescending toward it.

      Comment by ononehand — November 26, 2005 @ 3:04 am | Reply

  3. Despite the fact that my mother was a junior in high school when I was born, my life as well as her and my father’s lives have all turned out quite well. They did not end up staying together very long after I was born, but they both found new spouses who helped to bring and motivate them to acheive more than they ever could have imagined.

    I guess my point is that while a lot of times these situations don’t turn out that well, we can always hope and pray for the best. Like you said, they’ve basically been given a chance to start fresh. Hopefully they’ll take and run with it.

    Comment by bradfordneal — November 28, 2005 @ 12:09 am | Reply

  4. do you remember what mom said the momtent they left?? she had to blurt out that it was the mother of that baby that was the first EVER to give me alcohol to get me to drink. the females of our family welcomed the child and his mother because that’s what they do, they pretend to love them. they may have been hopeing that now that justin was a father he would change his life around. but the mother’s past just proved what they had alway believed in that famliy “they will never be as good as us.” our family’s females will always judge others that’s who they are. they may help but it is not for the family, but to help their brother, to help ours.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 30, 2005 @ 7:25 am | Reply


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