Saturday January 26, 2013

Gus is 464 days old today and every day it seems my love for him gets grander and grander, threatening to overwhelm my own identity.

Before his birth, as Becky’s belly swelled to accommodate Gus’ inchoate body, we often talked about how we wouldn’t be anyone but who we were before he was born: Individuals with a collective 85 years of life experience between the two of us, fiercely independent and at the same time tender and fragile. We weren’t going to let a baby change who we were; he wasn’t going to define our lives or force us to adjust our ways to accommodate his existence.

Well. A little more than 15 months after his birth, I realize I am no longer just Bob. I am also Gus’ dad, an appellation that has become my declaration to the world. And I am OK with that. He is something to be proud of, and if Gus is the one truly beautiful thing I bring into this world in my lifetime, I am also OK with that.

Becky has struggled with this change of identity, especially in the first few months following his birth, when her body was recovering from pregnancy and labor and Gus was almost constantly demanding to be fed. She has been a slave to his needs and has responded admirably; it has taken its toll but she has been fighting to reclaim her sense of self that is separate from being Gus’ mom. She’s been writing, designing web pages and working on a big idea that is ready to take flight. I know when that project gets off the ground, it will be a turning point in her life, and I am excited for her. She needs to be something more than just Gus’ mom, and I wholeheartedly support that vision she has for herself.

Me? I always had this vision of sitting down and writing The Great American Novel, and have made half-hearted stabs at it, reams of printed words piling up in a drawer in my desk. Every now and then, I open that drawer and pull out the pages, say to myself I really should do a rewrite. I read through a few pages with red pen in hand and make marks and notes, but then I throw them back in the drawer and slide it shut; leave it for another day.

Before Gus, seeing that stack of printed pages would make me feel guilty for ignoring them, then depressed for not having the will power to do something with them.

But now, I look at Gus ... and then I look at him some more. I watch him bopping around the house, dancing in his herky-jerky way to music on the radio, picking up toys and throwing them down. I sit with him on the floor of his play area and read to him from books he chooses from a big pile, or I lay with him on blankets he scatters on the kitchen floor, rubbing his back and telling him how much Mommy and Daddy love him. I sing to him as we drive down the road, making up words for silly songs with stolen melodies. I cut tangerines into small pieces and watch as he crams them into his voracious maw, or fill a baby spoon full of mashed-up food and wave it tantalizingly in front of his eyes as he tries to snatch it out of my hands. I change his diaper and dress him in clothes he sometimes picks out for himself. In the middle of the night when he wakes in the dark, I go to him and I comfort him, pick him up and hold him, whisper in his ear before I lay him down again.

Gus fills my days with joy and wonder, love and laughter and, yes, at times, frustration and annoyance. And he fills my heart with an emotion that at times brings me to tears, a tide of amazement that threatens to drown me in its awesome power.

Now I look at those pages in the desk drawer and though they sometimes call to me, it’s no big deal if they stay there, slowly yellowing, curling at the edges. I have Gus. I have my love for him and Becky. We have our life together, a wonderful flower that blooms anew everyday.

I am who I was before Gus was born, but I am something more, something better.

I am not just Bob anymore. I am Gus’ dad.

Bob Audette is the day managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, and proud father to Gus. You can reach him at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.