Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 15:

My daughter turns 50 today.
She was my first child, and I was quite young, a little younger than my first wife, in fact. I have a large head and my first wife was small, so in the interest of safety a Caesarean section was ordered and the birth, therefore, could be scheduled, and it was, for noon, at a hospital in New York that no longer exists. Women's Hospital, I believe, was the name. We checked her in that morning, as I remember, and she was prepped, and I sat outside in the waiting room with the New York Times. It was before the days when husbands would be admitted to the delivery room, to be part of the action. A nurse wandered by and commented on how calm and cool I seemed. In fact I was reading the same paragraph over and over again, for probably half an hour, trying without any success whatsoever to grasp the sense of it. I was so young, hardly more than a boy myself in many ways. Then, around one, a nurse came out and said I could go and see my wife, and my child, a girl. We had already decided to name her Katherine, agreeing that it should be spelled in precisely that way, and we would call her Kate.
Perhaps it was my child I saw first, before my wife. It doesn't matter. What mattered was the emotion, the surge of it that turned my life and my understanding of life upside down, on the spot. I was totally unprepared for it. Suddenly I was a father, I was responsible for a new human life, and it was a beautiful life, I could see that right away. Suddenly nothing else mattered. My parents had made great sacrifices for my brother and myself, and at a young age you don't appreciate them. Now I knew why they had given up so much. The whole experience was a version of enlightenment, a kind of satori, and I loved that child as I had never loved anything before, and I knew I would never forget that day.
I never have. Kate and I have been through some bad times, and for too many years we did not see each other or speak to each other. During those years anything relating to fathers and daughters, good or bad, in the movies or on TV, would drive me to tears. But I never forgot that day and never stopped loving her as intensely as I did that first day. There's a line in Rilke, a love poem, where he says that some god has tossed him aside like a spear and is living his life. Maybe its original is in Sappho. It doesn't matter; the point is, that's what it felt like. It still feels that way. Kate and I are very good friends now, maybe all the better because of how much we hurt each other those years ago. Don't know about that. But this is an important day for me. This is the day she was born. In a way it's my birthday as well.