Daddy Writing

chain reactions

At one point he was simply a photo op, someone you saw a lot on Facebook or Instagram. When included in any photograph he made the situation immeasurably more cute. Now that has all changed. He has become a person who has created his first chain reaction, a cascading series of circumstances that portends what will be.

Here is how the chain reaction happened. His mother was carrying him past a potted plant. He grabbed a leaf. Both plant and pot toppled from their high shelf, ricocheted off a rare, discontinued Kovacs lamp, and banged to the floor, launching potting soil like a spray of blood at a crime scene. The lamp suffered a scar but was not broken.

And what of the baby? The baby has been exonerated, pardoned of plant-smashing and deadly intent to kill a lamp. He has been declared innocent by judge and jury. That’s because he has the best defense lawyer in the business – his mother. I can’t forget the chain reaction, however, because it has set the past in motion.

Today my older son brought by boxes and bags of my old writing: stories, novels, screenplays, all smelling of mold, fungus, and paying my dues. His mother is moving from the house we’d lived in for decades. It was time for me to reclaim the pages of the past, the typewriter I’d used to write plays on, and a mysterious box with film in it.

Some of those stories from long ago are spooky, some are good, and all of them pull me back into the tac tac sound of a typewriter late at night as a baby slept in the other room. I stood tall then among imaginary people in an extraordinary world. I wrote fiction for money, I wrote fiction for love, but mostly for the latter, which is why I stopped writing fiction. Sometimes, when you use fiction writing to make money, it is too easy for other people to take away your power. They don’t buy your script, decline to publish your story, and you have to find another way to buy food. It pretty much sucks, and it can suck the love out of the writing. This is what happened to me, I think. This is a pattern I plan to break this time around.

People ask me, ‘What’s it like being a dad again?’ It’s completely different this time. I see the future and I see the past, and I see how they mingle. The baby is teething now, so we are back to getting little sleep, just as it was when he first arrived. But that will change. He is eating a lot more, so we need more money, reminding me of the desperate tac tac of a typewriter in the night, tapping out a story to sell.

Being a parent is like water. So much is in motion, moving back on itself. He is climbing on things, encouraging us to baby proof as he reaches for electrical plugs and wobbly tables.  Suddenly, he has become a thinking, desiring entity, more than a miracle machine of life force. You can feel the consciousness of him. This is no small achievement.

People say he has his mother’s hair color, his grandfather’s blue eyes, his brother’s height. I say these qualities are all him, intrinsically his, alone. Being a parent is like water, but there is a quality to our baby that is like a rock. We parents must flow around the steadiness of his personality. He has become formed in a way that will remain for a hundred years should he live that long, and he probably will because he will be living in the future.

You know how you can look at somebody who is quite old and then look at their baby picture and see the same person? The same glint of the eyes, set of the jaw, the crooked smile?  Today, I can turn that time machine the other way. I look at him and see him at twenty, at thirty, even at seventy if I squint to de-focus my eyes. This is the chain reaction he has set in motion.

The mysterious box with film in it that my son brought over today contained my first film made in high school. I wrote a careful script for it, blocking out every move. The day we were to shoot it – in Super 8 – the script was lost. We had to improvise all the dialogue. The effect on the movie was that it made little or no sense. Like scenes from a marriage or memories of laboring to birth a baby, it washed over you, a series of disconnected situations flowing from moment to moment, like water. Later, of course, we found the script, but it was too late. We’d already made the movie by our best instincts.