On Becoming a Father

The birth of a child is also the birth of a parent.
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Feeeet

At 11:02pm, on Thursday, August 29, my son entered the world, taking his first breaths calmly in my wife's arms.

Since then, I've avoided writing about him. For one, I have not wanted to process this experience in real-time. Everything's always changing, like the little micro expressions that canter across his face and then disappear the second I bring my camera to the ready, and I just don't know anything yet about being a dad. 

Friends of ours who had a baby two weeks before we did refer to their own "birth" as parents when their little boy came into being. That's how I feel, like a newborn, unsure when to eat, in-and-out of the dream world, and as likely to provide a coherent answer about fatherhood as my little boy is when we ask, "Why are you the most beautiful thing on Earth?"

But I have thought a lot about him in time and in space, the way he came to be precisely where he is. 

A couple days after we found out my wife was pregnant, I took a 20-mile hike up in the Oakland hills, thinking. Near the top of the ridge, I was struck by a rock outcropping that I've returned to again and again in my mind as I stare at his perfect little ears. Thin plates of sedimentary rock stack vertically, like books. What was once ground is now wall, and time reads from right to left. Atop the rocks, where new soil has become fresh ground, massive eucalyptus trees have gained purchase, and their roots wind down through the rock, splitting it, and holding it together. Down at the base, I see myself from the perspective of the rocks: biology on this teensy-tiny human time scale, large in self-importance, small in duration. To the rocks, I'm a barely-there ghost in a long-exposure photograph. And yet, the asphalt I'm running on marks a more permanent humanity. I remember that at our wedding, a friend explained that Jews bless the wine and not the grapes because it represents not just that which was created, but also what we've done with it. 

On that walk, the sun had just come up, and that was another kind of time, eternal in its circles. And all I could think was that some time in August or September, we'd be holding our child, our contribution to the deeper levels of human time. 

It was not an easy moment to Tweet, and the light was not right to capture the rocks with my camera. And the blessing really was something that all my life had prepared me to make with my mind, anyway, the creation of these rocks and this light acting as the substrate for the flashes of neurons, as they drove down into what this simple geology could mean. 

So it is when I look at him. Of course I could go on forever about his toes and his emergent eyelashes. His triumphant feeding and the whimpers of his dreams. That's the right of every parent, obviously, and if I run into you in person, I will make no excuses for being madly in love. 

But I also think about his native American and Mexican ancestors, who came over aided by a cold climate and prodded by necessity. I think of his English great-great-great-great grandparents who rode the boats over from Europe and never went home. I think of his Jewish great grandparents, who left all they knew in Vienna and Russia for uncertain but hopeful lives in New York and Detroit. I think of his grandfather, a Mexican emigre, and his Jewish grandparents who settled in Colorado. He is a child of the globe, a member of La Raza Cósmica, a Westerner, a Jew, a Mexican, a Californian: an American. 

And he's perfect, perfect, perfect. Perfect. I love him so much.

I won't be writing much in this space over the next two months. I'll be bonding with him, and playing devoted and plucky sidekick to my superhero wife. Eight days in, fatherhood is the most epic thing I've ever experienced. As my friend Tim said, "It may be common as air, birds, flowing water, and the shade of tall trees, but it is a majestic and glorious thing to be a father of sons."

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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