Proxy

Today was the Tiny Rhino’s two month check up and I wasn’t able to be there. I returned to work a week and half ago and each missed milestone is a piece of me that is not there. Still, part of me was slightly relieved not to be present for this one, since it would be the occasion of her very first vaccinations. Dr Mrs My Wife texted at the beginning of the visit to update me on her stats (she’s getting bigger!), and some questions we had been wondering about (she’s getting more than enough sleep!), before the nurse came in to administer the shots. I didn’t hear much after that, and had to wait for a call about an hour later.

The Tiny Rhino was inconsolable, and crying in a way that she hadn’t ever heard before. She’d calmed down a little after some cuddling, but was still pretty cranky. By the time I got home she’d been crying on and off for hours, finally falling asleep briefly on my mother’s shoulder. The rest of the evening was spent hearing her keening and wailing as my mother and then my wife tried to calm her down. She was in pain, and my heart ached as I sat in the living room. This underlined a fact about parenthood that I’d been ignoring: your children will be hurt, they will be disappointed. Sometimes it will before for their own good, sometimes not, but a big feature of these situations for you – the parent – will be your total inability to do much of anything about it. Thankfully, that wasn’t 100% the case here – we were able to give her some baby aspirin – but in some measure it was a harbinger of things to come. Vaccines are good for my child, and I won’t ask that she not get them, but they will cause her soreness, fevers and aches. Life will throw things at her, and there will be times when all I’ll be able to do is hold her while she cries and tell her that it’ll all be ok, while my own heart aches for someone to do that same for me.

Maracanzo Redux

people felt worse than this
one of the many faces of despair and sadness at the Brazil-Germany semifinal

Just finished watching Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the first semifinal of the 2014 World Cup. It was tough to watch for several reasons. Firstly, there is the fact that as a good Sudanese man, my World Cup support defaults to all African nations (except Egypt), and Brazil. True enough, this has not been the strongest of Brazilian squads, but their performance at the Confederations Cup last summer was somewhat heartening. Also, there’s Neymar, who has been able to put the team on his shoulders time and time again.

So when Neymar got hurt in the quarterfinal, a lot of questions were asked. Those questions were mostly answered today (though to be fair, the absence of Thiago Silva in the center of defense was probably as big if not bigger of a problem). I don’t want to use such an obvious cliche, but they don’t call it “ruthless German efficiency” for nothing. In the space of several minutes, the German national team (die Mannschaft!) put on a clinic, giving the semifinal the air of a rec league game at best or a training exercise at worst. The Brazilian defense was stretched and disorganized, being exposed again and again by the Germans who seemed to do as they liked. Meanwhile their offense was toothless and aimless for most of the game.

The loss, while devastating, may have other consequences, which are much more real. Brazil has been a nation split over the costs of hosting this tournament. The demonstrations and even riots in the lead up to the World Cup increased the stakes for the national team beyond what a football powerhouse typically experience. Brazil is expected to win the World Cup every time, but this time, the host team would have to justify all the expense as well. And all of this in the shadow of the Maracanazo of 1950. That loss overshadowed the team’s efforts from the moment Brazil won the right to host. Perhaps dropping out in the semifinal, before a potentially disastrous loss in the final to the Netherlands – or worse, to Argentina – is preferable. The infamy that would result from a loss like that would dog every member of the squad for the rest of their lives. But such a loss may not be distinguishable from what we saw today.

I felt bad watching it with my baby daughter. Even though she’s only a month old, it just seemed unseemly for her to see the once mighty laid low in that manner. She won’t remember this, but I’ll tell her she was there to see what looks like the end of an era. The question is whether this will seem like just a blip before they return to their all-conquering form or the beginning of the end that will see the Brazil of the past fade completely into legend and myth?

Baby Sounds

Fatherhood has only lasted 15 days and I am already learning so much. For example, babies have never burped and as such are terrified by the prospect (or at least my baby is). Also, why did no one ever tell me how loud newborns are? Our baby grunts, snuffles, clears her throat; half the times she sounds more like an old lady than a tiny baby. Or like the tiny rhino that we’ve nicknamed her after.

Perhaps I’m more sensitive to sounds since becoming a father. My sleep in general has been getting lighter as I’ve gotten older, but with an infant sharing our bedroom I’ve become especially aware. I wake up at changes in her breathing, grunts that could be stretching or pooping or something unthinkable. Moreover, I’m very lucid when I do wake up, ready to react. No wonder parents always seem so tired! At the same time, I have learned to differentiate her noises. Which grunts mean “I’m hungry”, versus which ones just mean that she’s fussy. Whether they’re the cries of a baby in need of comforting or a baby still asleep, and that is a huge difference.

Ode to the World Cup

Every 4 years, an event comes upon us which brings unmitigated (mostly) joy. It’s the FIFA World Cup (of football [or soccer if you're bloody minded]), and this year it’s being held in the spiritual home of the game, Brazil.  This is the equivalent of (and this is as strong of an analogy as I can muster) having a Christmas party in the exact spot where the nativity of Jesus happened. I cannot express the happiness that comes with every World Cup for me. For a month, I feel young again, connected to the millions of fans of the sport in the world. I feel more African, I feel more keenly aware of justice, I feel like a human.

This may sound completely insane to you, like I’ve lost all perspective. In a sense, you’re right, though I haven’t lost all perspective. This World Cup (and the next two) are fraught with moral perils and I’m not unaware of them. Moreover, as with everything when you get older, I am aware of the creeping rot and corruption at the heart of the FIFA itself. I could go into gory detail, but John Oliver has done a much better job than I can:

You’ll note the final words of the clip serve to remind how even all that knowledge doesn’t dampen the love for the event. That’s what I’m talking about. I set out to write a paean to the World Cup, but frankly, I can’t find words to do that. Instead I’ll point you at any video you can find of fan reactions. The looks on their faces do a better job than anyone could do of describing the emotions associated with the Cup.

Open Letter to My Newborn Daughter

First of all, thank you for joining us. It’s been a long 40 weeks and I missed you the whole time you were away. This is made more odd (and hence affecting) by the fact that I’d never met you, and was going off of grainy black and white pictures that made you look like an alien half the time. The other half of the time, we could see glimpses, tantalizing snapshots of how you would look: how long your hair was, how big your cheeks were, your eyes. All of these did nothing to make that missing any less keen, or the waiting take any less time.

Last Wednesday evening, your mother and I (we weren’t quite your parents at that point) checked into the hospital and dressed on our comfiest clothes. She took a pill, intended to hasten the inevitable labor, and we settled in for the night. The nurses woke her up at 1am and gave her a second pill. That’s when the contractions started. They got worse, and I watched her try to breathe through it. We did everything they told us to do in the classes; we walked the halls, we got in a warm shower, we sat on the exercise ball. Throughout it all, I felt powerless to prevent her pain, to relieve it, or to even help her face it. She was trying so hard, her shoulders and chin shaking like she was caught in a blizzard (while I sat inside and watched). She threw up. Her water broke. We were spent.

Your aunt Stephanie came, and thank God she did. She had insight, she had techniques, and she was able to give permission to your mother. Permission to take care of herself, to get an epidural. The quieted things down a lot, and we all got some sleep. In Sudan, where I’m from, where mama Sameira is from, where you’re from in the end, they call it the sleep of the rooster on the clothes line. Falling off, waking up, falling asleep, falling off. In the light of day, I looked at what was to come and it seemed daunting.

Your mother wasn’t moving much, which turns to to be a good thing, because when she did move finally, we were treated to the sight of three nurses busting into the room. They shifted her from left to right, right to left, frantically and in silence. They stared at the monitors that had been on her all night and they seemed worried. Your heart rate was dropping, from 140 to 70, and that was scaring them. You finally stabilized, on your mother’s left side. They explained that they’d been monitoring and hadn’t had time to talk us through it. That’s how worried they were … but you were fine now.

And that’s how it stayed, for a while. Your heart rate was strong, but dipping with contractions as it should have been. Until they came in again, this time the dips in the heart rate were coming a bit late. The doctor was concerned, she said you were getting tired, that maybe your umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck. She was thinking that we might have to get a Caesarean. The ‘C’ word scared me, and it scared your mother. She was getting sore too, and the doctor seemed to know what she was talking about. Thank goodness for the doula. She advocated for you, she asked about options, she asked why we couldn’t do an amnio infusion. The doctor was reluctant but nurse Marion seemed convinced, and she caught up to recommend it be done. In the end, that stabilized you and we could wait for the contractions to be closer together.

A few hours later they still weren’t. Your mother’s back was hurting. We all stood around, or paced, in my case. It was so hard to wait. Nurses and doctors came and went, our lady Ob/Gyn was almost at the end of her shift. More talk of Caesareans, more fear. “If we’re going to push, we need to start NOW,” the doctor said. So we got your mother ready, and she started. I was afraid, so I stayed by her face, trying to stay encouraging, trying to stay strong for her and for you. Your mother, she pushed like a pro. Such strength, such focus. The nurses remarked that she was like a woman who’d done this before. The reports from the business end were encouraging. More and more of your head was appearing in the window, and soon your hair was visible. You did have long hair! Just like the ultrasound technician said! I told your mother to keep going, we were nearly there. Time dilated, you crowned, we cajoled, we encouraged. I looked at your mother’s face, I looked down, I looked at her face, I looked and there you were. Welcome, tiny rhino, we’re so glad you could be here.

Countdown

Went to the doctor with Dr Mrs My Wife this week, for a check and an ultrasound. Each ultrasound makes what’s to come more and more real. For example, this week we caught a clear view of Zoidberg (the fetus’ code name) breathing, and sucking on her arm, her little lips moving reflexively. I have to bite my tongue, hold back those anticipating words, if only for superstition’s sake. A watched pot never boils, and an expected baby will take as long as she can. I don’t want to wait any longer! Come home, Zoidberg, we miss you!

The Caged Bird Sings of Freedom

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill / of things unknown but longed for still / and his tune is heard on the distant hill / for the caged bird sings of freedom”

I was woken up this morning by an alert on my phone informing me that the poet Maya Angelou had passed away at the age of 86. I had no idea who she was until the mid-90’s when I heard her voice declaiming the words to the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in the Buckshot LeFonque song of the same name. I wasn’t a fan of poetry, though I loved words, having decided that prose was more my speed, but that song, those words, they held me. I felt a lump in my throat and a tightness in my chest, and for the first time a poem made me feel. That seed germinated in me and a year later, I watched Il Postino, the Italian film about a lovelorn postman on a remote island who befriended the exiled poet, Pablo Neruda. The film had Neruda’s poetry scattered throughout it, and upon leaving the theater I resolved to go to the library and check out a book of poetry.

 After  5 or 6 years I found myself miserable as an employee of a chain bookstore that shall remain nameless. Stuck at the help desk on the late evening shift, I started writing poems, mostly trifling stuff, some terrible love poetry and such. But I felt my spirit rising. Around the same time, I heard Dr Angelou’s “I Rise” and once again I felt something. It’s the rare poem that describes your life as you are living it right now, regardless of where or how you are living that life. It spoke to me, standing with armfuls of books and explaining to customers that I couldn’t help them to find that “book with the yellow cover that was on your front table about four months ago”. So I did, I rose, I quit that job, I wrote more poetry, I looked at the world around me, searching for beauty and meaning (as we all do, I suppose) and trying to put that beauty and meaning down on paper. On scraps of paper, in battered spiral bound notebooks, I put down thoughts unfinished, poems completed, ideas and observations.  Until one day, I just stopped. I have never been as prolific as I was in that period, words have never come as easily as they did then. I lived a different life, was born as a different man for a short time, and my mother was Maya Angelou, and my father was Pablo Neruda.

 It’s been awhile since I read a poem that made me feel. But I did feel something when I read the news this morning. In the same way that I realized that my parents were real people as I grew older, I learned that Maya Angelou was a real woman with a real past, and not just the emblem she had become in the popular imagination (of dignified black womanhood? Of exotic black wisdom? Take your pick, she was many things to many people). I didn’t know about her past, in the same way I don’t know everything about my parents, but it doesn’t lessen the effect she had on my relationship with words. Good bye, Maya Angelou, I hope these poorly crafted words don’t offend, but you accept them as you go to your just reward.

Peri-

The prefix “peri-” means “around or about, as in pericardial (around the heart) or perinatal (around birth) or peri… dadinal? I’m approaching an inflection point in my life, my own little singularity. Not long from now, I will have another person in my life; someone who needs me; who will love me, look up to me, hurt me. I am dreading and looking forward to this moment, in equal measure. In fact, part of the reason I revived the blog is to note down the experience, and chronicle the humbling. Tune in to share the experience, and to laugh at me from a safe distance.

Cos

IMG_4815

We had the pleasure of taking some friends to see Bill Cosby the other night at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.  Dr Mrs My Wife and I had seen him once before, at the SF Jazz Center, where he’d done a two hour set for a fund raiser. I had been seeing him make more appearances on television, and it seemed like he was building up towards something bigger. And now here we were in front of the Paramount, watching the fruits of all this set building.

The Paramount itself is one of the old movie palaces that are scattered around the Bay Area. It’s a relic of a bygone era, all gilt edges and Art Deco flourishes.  It’s a beautiful venue for a show, and that night it was filled to the rafters for the man, himself. Half the crowd were young folks, “Cos-playing” in Cosby sweaters (to quote my friend Andrew); the other half were older folks, who’d no doubt followed Bill Cosby since he was playing Vegas in the 60’s. It was kind of heartwarming to see so many different kinds of people gathered together (I think this is a symptom of my own advancing age, but speculation on that will have to wait for another post).

Cosby himself is not quite the man he was, though he is still funny. He reminds me of footage I have seen of Groucho Marx in his later years, doing interviews (in this case on Bill Cobsy’s talk show). He’s bemused, slightly bored, and incredibly sharp beneath it all, as he rambles seemingly aimlessly. He also reminds me of my old man, who, it turns out, has been lifting material from Cosby for as long as I have been alive. He sat heavily in his folding chair, in a hoody and sweat cargo pants, holding court like a man in his own living room, occasionally breaking out of his stories to heckle the crowd. Just another evening in our living room.

Dad’s Haircut

I cut this man's hair for the first time in my life and he's got nothing bad to say about it
I cut this man’s hair for the first time in my life and he’s got nothing bad to say about it

Like most children, my first haircuts were at the hand of my mother. I sat on a chair in front of the rococo mirror in the entryway of our apartment in New York, an old bed sheet around my neck, and asked my mother for Tom Selleck’s haircut. In the era of Magnum PI, and with my curly hair, it was my best guess at what could be done. Those were the best haircuts of my life, certainly.

Flash forward last week. Dr Mrs My Wife had decamped to Hawaii for a week, leaving me with my parents, who have been visiting ahead of … well, let’s just leave that news for a different post. Suffice to say, while it was nice to have the old folks around, I found myself looking for a project to occupy them. Fortunately, I was well overdue for a haircut, and so I asked my mother to oblige.

Nowadays, my haircuts are much simpler than in my Magnum PI days. Armed with a pair of clippers, Dr Mrs My Wife has been cutting my hair very short for the past few years.  So, I asked my mother to oblige. Predictably, my father decided he needed a haircut also. Somehow that involved “supervising” – which is to say, literally standing over my mother’s shoulder and pointing out individual hairs. The simplicity of the haircut worked in my favor, and we were done fairly quickly. Mom takes things very seriously, and does her best. She brings an artist’s fine touch, even with a pair of clippers in your adult son’s bathroom, even with your husband looking over your shoulder and commenting. She still managed to make it clean and sharp.

Then it was Dad’s turn, but he didn’t want my mother to cut his hair, so it fell to me. My father’s head is like a sculpture of my head sent from the future. Our hairlines receding to the same point, sparse on top with a tendency to go all Larry Fine on the sides, and peppered with gray; it’s a before and after picture with 30 years in between.  I approached it with some trepidation, partly because I didn’t want to make Dad look completely bad, but also because of his tendency to mock mercilessly. Starting with the biggest guard I had, I worked around the sides of his head, making sure to get the stray hairs. The dark cloth in the sink, which had been camouflaged my dark hair, was now lit up with salt and pepper tufts.

My father was strangely quiet. As I cut his hair, I got a rare opportunity to look at him up close, from angles I didn’t typically see from. He wasn’t focussed, and hence not busy making mischief. Instead, he was quiet, staring into the mirror (with fear?), clenching and unclenching his jaw (a habit I have found myself picking up).  His face was softer, more doughy than I remembered it, with more fine lines than I remembered. Hie eyes near hidden in drooping lids, with the same impish flicker I knew so well. I was overcome with a tender feeling towards this old bear who had shrewdly, clumsily, purposefully, accidentally helped raise me to the man I am today. I had a vision of shaving his face in 10 years with a grandchild or two waiting to play with jiddu Awad.

10 minutes later, the moment had passed. Dad’s hair was cut, and not too badly, he was smiling broadly, his missing bicuspid more present than when it was there. I cleaned up the salt a pepper fuzz in the sink and we all went back upstairs to the present.

my glasses! I can't see without my glasses!