After September 11, one man wonders if there's ever a perfect time to become a dad.
The smell of ash and smoldering steel lingered over Brooklyn the afternoon my wife broke the news. Beth held a stick with two pink lines on it between her index finger and thumb as she made the announcement. I lay sprawled on the couch.
I’d envisioned this moment many times: I’d shout a hearty “You go, girl!” We’d high-five, embrace and dance idiotically around the room in slow motion. But no one was dancing—not then. We hugged and spoke of the possibilities. I confess I danced a jig on our bed the next morning, when a second test revealed the same. But deep down, I shivered with uncertainty.
It was my 38th birthday, 11 days after two hijacked jets toppled the World Trade Center towers. The fear I was experiencing wasn’t the kind that first-time dads normally experience. I wasn’t consumed with doubts about fatherhood, crying over forfeiting my independence, my nights out with the guys or even my sex life. Rather, I feared for a child cast into this all-too-real episode of The Twilight Zone: I was jobless, a victim of the dot-com crunch. The stock market was in a free fall. The roar of low-flying planes sent us into a panic. Neighbors stocked up on gas masks. And we washed our hands after we touched the mail.
Beth and I wanted a family badly, but the timing was awful. During the years we’d waited for the right moment, I built a career as a media executive and she as a teacher. Together we marched determinedly toward parenthood. Having moved from San Francisco back to New York, closer to our families, we felt that moment had come. But now, nothing seemed right. I’d gone from a six-figure salary and a new Jeep Grand Cherokee to marking up want ads and renegotiating my rent. Beth and I began to question everything—including our decision to be parents.
Two weeks later, after the doctor confirmed the pregnancy, we had a huge fight. I remember Beth sitting in the bathtub, hunched and sobbing: “What’s happening? Everything was going so well.” She insisted I take a full-time job—no matter the pay or my qualifications. We had no choice, she said. I told her I’d invested too much in my career to settle. She wasn’t having it.
Convinced she was in the early stages of nesting, I had to let her despair run its course. But I watched her face contort unrecognizably. She clutched her belly, practically hyperventilating, and sighed from somewhere deep. I thought about our child in there, so unaware. My gut wrenched. Then I said it. “Whatever it takes. If I have to get a job as a busboy, OK. We’ll get by.” Beth’s eyes scanned my face for a minute, and her breathing gradually slowed. In retrospect, my words were more symbolic than real. I never did get a job busing tables, and Beth never raised that possibility again. Rather, we spent the months ahead focusing on our love and the child who came of it.
I’m still looking for a job. Beth and I still worry about money and whether this planet is safe for our son. We even pause now and then to look up when a plane flies low. The truth is, we’re still unsure of so much—except that we want to be parents and that the right moment we had waited for all those years was merely a mirage, a moving target.
At least when it comes to having babies, there is no perfect time. We now know that sometimes you just have to go for it, say a prayer and let things happen.