A part of me hates to see my one year old cry. But given that she cries over trivialities like falling ten inches from a standing to sitting position, a part of me loves to see her cry, because when her lips wrinkle and tears flow my love for her wells up. There is a disturbing paradox in love: we take pleasure in loving; the beloved's pain intensifies our love; therefore, we take pleasure in the beloved's pain.
Though I loved my daughter before she was born and very soon afterward, surprise, not love, was my chief emotion as the doctor pulled her from the birth canal. She entered life a rough-looking creature: her skin was covered with a white film, her wet black hair was matted to her head, and her right ear, the first feature I saw, was so crumpled from delivery that I briefly thought she had cauliflower ear. Looking past her disheveled condition at her face, I saw no resemblance to my wife or me. Though I had no real expectation of what she would look like, her unfamiliar appearance startled me by reminding me that I did not know her yet. I had loved my mental idea of her, talking to her through my wife's skin during pregnancy, but now her reality and particularity said to me, slow down with your love, I am not made in your mental image. How could this be my daughter, my dearest, the flesh of my flesh, when I could not have told her apart from a total stranger?
I've sometimes felt a milder version of this estrangement from expectation when arriving at a vacation rental that I had visualized incorrectly based on photographs. Imagine, too, the soul's alienation when, the veil of mortality lifted, it beholds God and discovers that the God it loved in life was only a fantasy, and it must now learn to love all over again.
By pleasure rather than labor, by release rather than exertion, we create life. Meanwhile, in all our other endeavors, we work much harder to produce a far less impressive result. It takes me months to write an essay; it took minutes to create my daughter.
True, my wife had to carry our child for nine months, and together we must guide and raise her for eighteen years, but these are outward and trivial aids. My wife in pregnancy, though I honor her suffering, was more acted upon than acting, a Petri dish for our fused cells to grow in. I am installing gates to keep our daughter from tumbling down the stairs, but she is mysteriously engineering her own ability to crawl. We parents are mere managers, facilitating rather than performing the critical work. We provide milk and play mats and cribs for naps, and out of these raw materials our babies assemble brains, speech, movement, emotions, and consciousness.
Why pore through parenting books as if a child's development hinged chiefly on our methods? Overzealous parents are like software managers who don't know how to program yet think projects will fail unless they tinker with the few superficial details they understand.
I used to come home every night to a childless house, and I was happy. But since my daughter's birth, if I come home and she is away for the night at a grandparent's house, my evening goes poorly. I check the video monitor of the nursery and feel empty to see an empty crib. My evening walk, without her in a carrier against my chest, is exercise without pleasure. How can I be dependent on a being who, six months ago, did not exist? I did not need her when I did not have her. But she has entered my life as a nail enters a block of wood, simultaneously creating a hole and filling it. Remove the nail, and the hole remains. Love completes unhappy people, but uncompletes happy people, because love means we can no longer be happy alone.
Mr. Stanley’s Aphorisms and Paradoxes are outstanding examples of the long-form aphorism... inevitably studded with discrete individual aphorisms that could easily stand on their own.
-James Geary, author of The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism