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People tell me I’m a calm person. Rarely do I panic: not at the sight of blood, not even when I realize I’ve left my wallet in the back seat of a taxi. But after my wife called with the news that she was pregnant, I went to my office cubicle, clasped my hands behind my neck, stared at the ceiling and let the floodgates of anxiety open wide.
Suddenly our life, which I had thought was a good one, seemed booby-trapped with quandaries that were mine to solve — alone. All that passé stuff about being the provider reared its mummified head and said, “You wimp.” It was as if I’d only been playing at being a husband.
My fears were primal. If my wife quit work, we’d never be able to afford a bigger apartment (a scary thought, because our current place was tiny). We both believed that she should stay home to nurse and be with the baby for the first year, so that meant I somehow had to boost my income by at least a third, if not by half.
“Impossible,” I thought. My job at a boating magazine paid poorly. But getting a new job would mean losing the chief advantage of the old one: the time and opportunity to travel to my wife’s native Hawaii. The islands were where we were most ourselves, where we surfed, swam and relaxed in the bosom of a large extended family. Say aloha to all that.
Expectant Father Fever
That night, when I shared my fears with my wife, she said: “Don’t worry. Things will work out. We have lots of time.” It didn’t matter. Within 24 hours, I had succumbed to Expectant Father Fever — the sum of a guy’s conscious and subconscious fears about pulling his weight during and after the pregnancy.
I’ve witnessed The Fever among many male friends, and if you think an expectant mother’s belly looks big after nine months, you ought to see the size of an expectant father’s fears. They’re huge. In his mind, he suddenly is eating for two, thinking for two, worrying for two. At the office, he’s scared by well-meaning older guys who explain in gruesome detail how they screwed up their kids and marriages by ignoring the distinction between term and regular life insurance. And his boss (if mine is any example) makes matters worse by loading him up with work on the theory that he can’t afford to complain.
My friend Greg reacted by slashing every possible frill from his budget, including holiday visits to family, clothing allowances, a weekly dinner out, and all magazine and cable TV subscriptions. “I had a vision of Shakerlike simplicity,” he told me, ignoring the fact that the Shakers didn’t last too long.