Ten years ago today we were married, Ashaki and I. She was well-prepared -- in upbringing and temperament -- for this state. Me? Not so much. "But," she says, teasingly, "I have taught you well, my Benjamin." And she has, and so have they. Who are "they?" My children -- all three of them, with the fourth due any day now. Ashaki and my daughters have taught me how to be a husband, how to be a father. Although, they have not always had it easy. I can be selfish. I can be moody. I can hold grudges. But, little by little, maybe I'm changing my ways. At first, changing my ways was the only way I could survive being a father. Being a father is a much different kind of a thing than being a husband. As a husband, you are dealing with another adult -- your wife -- who is (hopefully) somewhat mature and rational, knowing how to give as well as how to take. But, being a father? Not much give and take there. It's pretty much all "give." Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't change anything. Because I recall it most clearly. Walking with my first little baby, late one night -- as she fussed and fought off sleep -- so that Ashaki could get some much-needed rest, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I felt truly happy. Exhausted? Yes. But, happy.
It was frightening, that first labor and delivery. Of course, I was not with my wife. That is not the custom here. There was a midwife. An authentic, medically trained, and certified midwife. And there were several women from the village by my wife's side, making her comfortable, giving her support. But, I was terrified, waiting outside with Ashaki's brother and a few of my other male friends. Some of the older women brought us food and drink, whispered encouraging words to me, reminded me of how strong my wife was (and is), how healthy. But, still... If something should happen to her -- or to the baby -- I didn't know how I could survive it. These people were there for me, though. They understood how I felt. And then, at twilight, I heard her cry. The cry of my first baby girl -- Hadiya, a name which means "gift." And then I was really frightened. As much as he had already been subdued, I knew in that moment that the "old Ben" had to die completely. Because the "old Ben" would totally screw up with this new life -- the new life crying her first (very loud and piercing) cry inside of my home -- and that was just not acceptable. I could not fuck this fatherhood thing up.
The midwife sent one of the women out to get me after a few moments, and I went in to my wife and new daughter. Both so beautiful. Ashaki was smiling at me. She looked tired, but so content with our little girl at her breast. We have been blessed that our babies have all nursed well, right from the beginning. And it always amazes me to see them, only a few moments after being born, snuggling close to my wife and taking nourishment. Certain American men I have known think that watching their wives nurse their children somehow makes the women seem less attractive. I could not disagree more. It is not a sexual thing, this feeding of babies at the breast. But, as I watch my wife smile and stroke the skin of our children as she holds them close and nurses them, well... She never looks more breathtaking to me as she does in those moments.
And now I have three daughters -- 9, 6, and 2 years old -- and a new babe on the way. Boy or girl? I don't know. Ashaki still insists on being surprised. And I must admit, it is kind of fun, waiting for that "big announcement" to come from the very private and well-shaded back portion of my home. Has it become less scary to me, as I wait while my wife goes through the birthing process. Not exactly. Ashaki trusts God. I trust Ashaki, and I try to trust God.
What kind of a father am I? Probably far from perfect. I do love it, though. Teaching my girls, playing with them. I even love holding my babies, bathing them, changing their diapers. I had no idea I would enjoy my babies so much. Of course, I knew I would help Ashaki. I didn't want to be one of those "cave men," refusing to assist with the multitude of chores associated with infants. I was determined to pitch in. But, what I didn't anticipate was loving it so much, loving them so much -- those tiny babies. My favorite thing? Late at night, after Ashaki has finished feeding the little one, she lays the babe on top of my chest and we sleep that way -- my child and I. Feeling that warm weight on top of me, breathing as I breathe, there is nothing like that in all the world.
So, when Ashaki tells me that she is "ready for another," maybe I do feel a little bit terrified. After all, I had never envisioned myself with more than two children. But, I also feel more than a bit excited. Yes, there are those times... The times when everybody comes down with the stomach flu simultaneously, or when everybody is just tired and cranky at the end of a long day... I mean, life isn't a fairy tale -- for anybody.
But, when I think of where I was all those years ago, at the end of my less-than-praiseworthy LAPD "career," I am just grateful to be loved and to love. When I think of how things could have turned out for me, when I think of what I actually deserved (and maybe still deserve), I tremble inside. And so the hardest things about my family life? I just count them as joy. Well... I count them as joy after I get over being tired and cranky from cleaning all the vomit up.
Maybe you are wondering if I ever speak to anybody from my old life, my LAPD days. No, I don't. Although, I did speak with Sammy once. It was a few months after Hadiya was born. As I rocked her one morning while Ashaki bathed, I started thinking about little Nate. I was his "Uncle Ben." And I was suddenly and overwhelmingly ashamed at the danger I had exposed him to when I had Chris stage the break-in at Sammy's. Of course, I didn't realize Chris would actually encounter Nate and the sitter. But, I knew things could go awry with my plan. Of course, I knew. But, I was willing to risk it for my own damned self-interest. And that's what it was -- my own selfish interests. My plan had nothing to do with caring about Sammy. It was all about protecting myself, my reputation, my career. And I had put a small child in danger. A child I supposedly loved. A child who trusted me. And when I looked at Hadiya resting in my arms, looking up at me with those big, hazel eyes (all of my daughters have gorgeous hazel eyes, rich chocolate skin, and wavy ebony hair), I knew that if Sammy were to do to me what I did to him? I would have wanted to kill him. Literally. And in that moment, looking into the eyes of my daughter, thinking of the danger I had placed Sammy's son in, I loathed myself. So, I called him. I didn't know if he would accept my call, but he did. And I apologized -- an apology that, if I had been in Sammy's position, would have been much too little, way too late. But Sammy, being Sammy, actually listened. He listened while I told him about Ashaki and Hadiya and being a father. He listened to me tell him, rather lamely and awkwardly, how sorry I was, how I finally "got it." And Sammy, being Sammy, actually forgave me. "I don't deserve your forgiveness," I told him. "No, you don't," he answered. "But, I'm fucking giving it to you, anyway, you fucker." And then he actually laughed and told me about Nate -- and about his second wife and their small daughter. And he told me that sometimes "the job" -- that whole cop thing -- was too much for some guys. He told me that, for some guys, being a cop is like being caught in a whirlpool that sucks you in and then spits out your lifeless body. He told me that I was one of those guys, and that he was glad I got out of the whirlpool before it killed me. He also told me I should never come back. I didn't argue.
"Benjamin," she whispers to me in the night, just after I return to bed after getting a thirsty little girl a drink of water, "it is time."
So, I go to wake the midwife, and I fear once again for my beautiful woman and the child who is preparing to make his (or her) entrance into this lovely, though troubled, world. And I wonder if we will have a little boy this time. As I wonder, though, I realize that it doesn't really matter to me whether we are given a baby boy or another little girl. And -- in this realization -- I surprise myself, once again.