Monday, July 28, 2008

Mutual Benefit of General Life Good Hands Western Omaha Umbrella Insurance

I’m gonna die.

Well, not next week or anything (or at least not as far as I know), but to have a kid is to get hit in the face with a mortality bat. We’re all gonna die. And while I may have known about this in the pre-parenting days, I didn’t really believe it. But that’s not the most surprising thing about facing death. What is surprising is that I’m okay with it.

No, I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to outlive my son. And since I don’t expect him to live forever, I have to think about my own demise. If the FTS can make it into his 20s as a healthy, happy young man and embark on his own crazy journey, well, then let fate do what fate has to do. Besides, Social Security, AARP, false teeth, unbridled impatience, and a walker don’t seem all that great to me.

BUT(and notice that is a big “but”), I am terrified of going early. Specifically, I’m terrified of going before my life insurance application is approved.

I’m writing this post from the Continental Airlines frequent flyers lounge, and I can’t help but reminded of a news story from earlier this week:

(Associated Press) The 346 passengers were cruising at 29,000 feet Friday when an explosive bang shook the Qantas jumbo jet. The plane descended rapidly. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling as debris flew through the cabin from a hole that had suddenly appeared in the floor.

It wasn't until they were safely on the ground after an emergency landing that they realized how lucky they had been: A hole the size of a small car had been ripped into the Boeing 747-400's metal skin and penetrated the fuselage.

A car-sized hole in the fuselage? I’m about to get on an airplane to Phoenix -- it’s the first in a series of seven business trips over the next three months -- and I still don’t have my ****ing life insurance!

I recently gave blood, urine, and my net worth to a series of total strangers, and am now waiting for the privilege to pay $1500/year to some mega corporation that will hire teams of lawyers to make sure my wife and son never see a dime of insurance money should I meet an untimely end. (And yet, somehow, it still gives me piece of mind. I can be such a slave to convention.)

So, dear friends, should you read about a Continental plane slamming into the Continental divide, dig deep into your pockets and pledge a donation to the FTM and the FTS. (I’m still working on a mechanism for donating to an anonymous blog; in the meantime, you can just leave a paper bag full of money on the north bound side of the Springdale train station. In fact, no need to wait for me to croak. Leave the money now.) I thank you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God, God bo God, Bonana fanna fo God, Fee fy mo God…God

(In which yet another Fairfield County blogger posts on religion.)

I had this dream last night: I was with a friend sitting near the back of a large auditorium and we were both in a pretty good mood. All of sudden a cheer went up from the front of the hall and worked its way to where we were sitting. It became apparent that the cheer was for a group of priests (maybe they were monks) who were walking up the aisles and handing out diamond studded crosses and crucifixes. I was handed mine, and my good mood vanished. I flagged down the next priest to pass and tried to hand the cross back, but his neck went stiff as he said a curt “no” and kept walking. I turned around and threw the cross at him.

That dream should give you some idea of my feelings toward organized religion. This was brought home to me again last week when we took the FTS to the emergency room.

The doctors had just told us that they wanted to order an MRI, an EEG, and a Spinal Tap, all meant to explore the possibility that the boy had had a seizure. One of my first thoughts was “God, please don’t let this happen.” I’m an agnostic who prides himself on not buying into this sort of pandering, and it pissed me off. My father, a man who grows more spiritual each year he grows older, always tells me that I’ll be a deathbed convert to religion. I always dismiss the notion out of hand, but there I was seeking divine intervention at the first sign of trouble. I dismissed the urge to cry for spiritual help and brought myself back to reality.

A little later we were sitting just outside the triage room listening to our son wail in total agony as the ER pediatrician tried to administer the Spinal Tap. Through those tortured screams I heard a voice inside my head. It’s a voice I hear from time to time, and it seems hell bent on trying to find ways to draw me back into the flock. This time it must have known it had me over a barrel, because it said “if you worship me, I’ll save him.”

Before I get to how I answered that voice, let me describe my own views on religion in a bit more detail: Religion sucks.

Okay, more detail than that.

I’m not an atheist. The belief that there is nothing that science, given enough time and enough resources, can’t ultimately explain (my own ham-fisted definition of atheism) seems almost as arrogant as organized religion itself. No, I’m what you might call a militant agnostic—I don’t know and goddamit neither do you.

But even acknowledging that I don’t have any answers, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic explanation of theology has never felt right to me. First you have this omniscient, omnipotent, anthropomorphic god who plays mind games with the Chosen People for a few thousand years, always making it impossibly hard for them, but always demanding fealty. Then this same god sends his son to Earth and gives him the power to perform miracles and dispense good advice, but lets a bunch of fanatics nail him to a couple of wooden boards, leaving him to starve and bleed to death. Then Mohammed comes along, talks to this very same god, and finds out that what he (God) really wants is for his followers to wage war (jihad) on the non-believers.

Is it me, or does this God fellow seem like a bit of a wanker?

And that’s just what I was thinking in the hospital room when I answered the voice in my head. “You mean the only way I can be sure my son won’t have brain damage and/or a seizure disorder is to genuflect before you…whoever or whatever you are?”


“F*** you,” I told the voice. I mean honestly, who the hell would allow a one-month old baby to feel that kind of pain, let alone inflict it, in exchange for forced adulation?

“You know that voice in your head is just superstition,” the FTM said to me when I told her the story later. And of course, she’s right. (More on my frighteningly large collection of irrational superstitions in a future post.) Because the god described in all the literature isn’t a god at all. He’s a tyrant. Milton said something about it being better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven, and I think there’s something to that. (No, I’m not actually smart. I know that quote from "Space Seed," the Kahn episode of the original Star Trek.)

In fact, religious literature is a big part of the problem. Sam Harris, in his two excellent books – End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation – makes the point that every field of study or thought in human history shares the common characteristic of progress. We challenge our own assumptions in physics, biology, economics, art, or you name it; we’re always moving forward. Except for religion. Question the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran, and you’re a heretic. For thousands of years those sacred texts have remained unchanged. It’s the one area of human thought where using our most precious asset, our intellect, isn’t really allowed. (Ironic, no?) We have to accept what we’re told, blindly, and without faltering. (And don’t talk to me about Bible classes, where the parables told in the Bible are discussed. Let’s talk about how what’s written in the Bible is actually wrong. I won’t belabor this point...I’ll simply refer you to Mr. Harris’s books.)

The religious among you probably think you can trip me up by asking this question:

“So, FTF, what will you tell your son when he’s three years old and one of your pets dies?”

Good question and I have a good answer: I’ll tell him the dog or cat went to heaven. That’s right, I’ll tell the FTS all about heaven.

“Aha!” you exclaim. “You’re a hypocrite!”

Uh, no. I will tell him about doggie heaven and people heaven, but I’ll also tell him all about Santa Claus; and maybe I’ll let him think there really are magicians and wizards and honest politicians, at least for a little while. You can’t put too high a premium on bedtime stories. Eventually I’ll come clean about all those myths and encourage him to do something no religion would ever encourage (or even allow) him to do: to ask his own questions, to do his own research, and to make his own choices.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Real Meaning of FTF

Two days ago, right before I left for work, I picked the FTS up to say goodbye. He smiled at me; I smiled back.

Then, without warning, he arched his neck and back and made his entire body as rigid as a 2 x 4, he turned bright red, and he foamed at the mouth. The whole episode lasted less than a minute, and when it was over, the boy crashed and crashed hard, falling almost instantly asleep in my arms.

We had seen three similar episodes in the weeks gone by, but thought we could explain them as the FTS straining to move his bowels. (Sorry to be graphic.) But this episode was more intense and had no clear explanation, so we called our doctor.

“Get ye to the emergency room,” we were told.

After hearing the FTM and I describe the episode, the ER doctors became immediately fixated on one notion: seizure.

Bit of back story here: A colleague at work has a daughter with a seizure disorder and developmental issues. I’ve watched him live through three years of this and I don’t know how he’s done it, because I can tell it’s been a living hell for him, his wife, and their daughter. Hearing the ER doctors say “seizure” about our own son made me feel like Jimmy Stewart in the opening scene of Vertigo. The world was about to fall out from under me.

Before we knew what was happening, a battery of tests was ordered -- MRI, EEG, Spinal Tap – and the FTS was going to be admitted for observation. There were two directions this could go. I could let it spiral out of control and become the basket case I very much needed to be, or I could figure out how to buck up under pressure and be there for my wife and son. Like Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger, I kept repeating the mantra, “Keep it together, keep it together.” I kept it together. (It helps to be married to a saintly rock of stability.)

After getting our pediatrician on the phone and hearing her concur with the opinion of the ER doctors, we set everything in motion. The next few hours were a blur, but here are my scattered memories:

* We sat outside the triage room in the ER listening to the hospital pediatrician try but fail to do a Spinal Tap; she couldn’t find any fluid. So the FTS felt all the pain, but with no benefit. Listening to him wail in agony was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

* When we were summoned to the MRI room, a six foot, three inch tall male model of a male nurse with a New Zealand accent wheeled the FTM and FTS -- the FTM was on the gurney cradling our son -- down the hall, and all I could think was not only am I going to lose my son to some horrible seizure disorder, but this oily Kiwi bohunk is going to wheel the FTM right out of my life.

* We were taken to the semi-dark and vaguely creepy hospital basement to wait for an EEG technician who never showed up. Instead of the oily Kiwi bohunk, we were wheeled there by a 90-pound, female, Slavic orderly who needed my help to push the gurney.

But the worst part of the day, by far, was waiting for the neurologist to come tell us the results and diagnosis. It was like waiting at the DMV combined with sitting in summer Saturday traffic on the Garden State Parkway combined with watching the phone and waiting for a prospective employer to call you back...times 100 million. It was the Bataan Death March of waiting. (Side note: I used to think that was called the “Rattan Death March,” but really, who would march themselves to death for bamboo furniture?) Finally, he arrived.

The pediatric neurologist was a young man with a bedside manner that put us both immediately at ease. He interviewed us, examined the FTS, and told us that while he wanted the radiologist to confirm his reading, the MRI looked good. “You know what,” he finally said, “this just doesn’t smell like a neurological problem. I don’t think it was a seizure.”

Clouds parted, a choir of angels sang, sunlight shone through a hole in the ceiling of the hospital room. Hallelujah… Halle-freakin-lujah!!!!

24 hours later the EEG confirmed the doctor’s instinct, and neurological problems were all but ruled out. “I can never promise anyone that a one month old didn’t have or won’t get a seizure -- seizures are deceptive -- but I just don’t think that’s what’s going on here, and the evidence supports that theory,” said the neurologist.

The ultimate diagnosis is that the episodes are caused by some form of Reflux, with formula sneaking its way up the esophagus and sometimes causing distress and maybe a bit of choking for the little guy. This is something we can get our heads around and manage. And while it may make for a long infancy, a healthy, normal childhood is waiting for us on the other side. (And if we can successfully burp the boy, things will go even more smoothly between now and then.)

So what did I learn from my ride on this emotional Yo-Yo? I learned that FTF doesn’t really stand for First Time Father; it stands for Full Time Father: As I stared at my son, with 23 electrodes being taped to his scalp by the stoic EEG technician (it was like something from A Clockwork Orange); as I sang him to sleep in the MRI room, so he wouldn’t need anesthetic; as I somehow managed to block out my own basic needs for sleep and nutrients, I knew with metaphysical certitude that I would do anything and everything to protect my son, to make him comfortable, to give him every chance to have a good -- strike that -- to have a great life. From here on out, there is nothing in my life that doesn’t somehow involve, even tangentially, the FTS. And as trying as the last couple of days have been, this realization makes me very, very happy.

Coming in a future post -- the one "person" who was absolutely NO help during this ordeal: God.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


If you’re an expectant or an aspiring First Time Father, there is one thing I can promise with metaphysical certitude: you will experience sleep deprivation. The days of sleeping eight or even five consecutive hours will end with the birth of your child.

Sleep will come in negotiated stretches of two to four hours, with you and your partner bartering and haggling for rest like Egyptian rug merchants. But those blissful few hours won’t be enough, so you’ll find yourself supplementing them with MicroNaps.

What are “MicroNaps” FTF? Glad you asked. A MicroNap is defined (by me) as a period of time not less than 5 minutes but not more than 15 minutes during which your mental state straddles the border between consciousness and unconsciousness. Typically you MicroNap when it’s your turn to watch the baby and you and he are both drowsy. He might be on your lap or in his swing or in the Pack and Play, but he has to be somewhere safe enough that your brain can switch off.

You can identify a MicroNap pretty easily: You’ll still be able to see everything in the room in which you’re resting, but none of it will seem quite right. For example, when your one month old son climbs out of his swing, climbs on the dog, and rides her happily around the living room, you’re MicroNapping. The MN ends as soon as the baby makes any movement louder than a housefly landing on a marshmallow: You wake up, see the baby in the swing, see the dog sleeping near by, put the pacifier an inch or two deeper into the baby’s mouth (or if you’re really out of it, the dog’s mouth), and lie back down, starting the process all over again.

While MicroNaps are enjoyable in much the same way certain hallucinogens are purported to be enjoyable, they don’t leave you feeling rested. And if I can’t get rest at home, maybe I should be getting rest at work. It’s for this reason that I’m starting N.A.P.S. – The National Association for the Promotion of Siesta. Americans work more and vacation less than the citizens of any country in the industrialized world. The least our employers can do is let us get some ****ing sleep. I encourage you to visit the site and join the movement.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Good Night Charlie (A bedtime story)

There once was a boy named Charlie
Who lived in a house that was red
And he would put up such a fuss and such a fight
Whenever it was time for bed

“No!” he cried, “I’m not tired!
There so much in this world that’s making me inspired.”

“But Charlie,” his mother said,
“You need your rest. Now please my angel, go to bed.”

“No!” he cried. “I don’t want to lie down.
I want to see all there is to see, from the forest to the farm to the country to the town.”

“But Charlie,” said his father’s stern voice,
“This is not a request, you haven’t any choice.”

“No!” he screamed, “I have too much to do!
“There are books to read and songs to sing and games to play and friends to make
And I have get smart, because someday I want to go to school.”

“But Charlie,” said his dog Cheyenne,
“You need your sleep, now close your eyes, try, see if you can.”

“What...? Dogs can’t talk!” Charlie screamed.
“So maybe I’m already asleep; maybe this is just a dream.”

So he closed his eyes
And his father turned out the light
His mother kissed him on the cheek
And they all said, even Cheyenne the dog, we love you Charlie…good night.