Baby NoirJoel Stein
The maternal instinct is pretty earnest. There’s not a lot of “Oh, my poor baby, fell! Come over here, sweetie, so I can make fun of you for being such a pussy!”
Active mothering has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and for most of that time, humankind was focused on activities that didn’t invite irony, such as killing and enslaving each other. To dads, however, all this baby stuff is totally new. Plus, it’s not our bodies that our kids leech off for the first couple years, so we’ve got some distance on how hilarious it all is. Lactation, I’m guessing, is less amusing when your nipples hurt.
So Michael Fertik, in his novella Little Trouble in Tall Tree (available here) has taken the 21st century dad’s perspective and turned it into new a genre: Baby Noir. The book is about a group of babies who form a gang and try to rip off a refrigerator worth of bottles of milk and precious colostrum that are pumped by mom’s during their breastfeeding class, and then sell it on the street. But it’s really about how sneaky and mysterious babies are:
I was contemplating all this, plus the caper and my boss’s brain, plus the ingredients that somehow make each of my ten fingers taste so delicious, and why they taste so differently delicious one at a time as compared to when I suck on them together, and how the different combination all have different flavors, and I was close to working out how many combinations of fingers I might be able to stuff in my mouth at once and I was partly wondering when I could get my own email account, since that seemed to be a pretty popular topic with mom and dad, when she pulled up next to me in her stroller.
She was a knockout. I’d put her at 26 inches tall, big oval pods of blue for eyes, and a monkey patterned onesie that showed off exactly the right amount of décolletage for Story Time. This gal was class. What got me, though, was her bright red hair. Mom’s hair is auburn, so I know I’m supposed to have a thing for redheads. I do.
I decided to play it cool. I stuffed both hands into my mouth and waited for her to make the first move.
She turned her head my way and beamed me a smile. She had a beautiful tooth.
When my son was a fetus, I set up a Facebook account using his sonogram photo, and he went on people’s pages and mocked their updates and threatened to pee in their faces. He’d see adorable three-month-olds and talk about how he was going to tap that ass. It was my way of dealing with the incredible assault of cuteness society was making me prepare for, and that I’m not built for.
Likewise, Fertik a Harvard Law grad who runs Reputation.com found a guy way to process all these new experiences. “I found myself going to maternity yoga. This is a new day. So we’re all figuring out what our voice is. My voice is the Baby Noir voice,” he said. “I don’t think our dad’s generation would have appreciated this book.”
Girls grow up thinking about babies and pregnancy more than we do. Then, all of the sudden, we’re immersed. And shocked. “I didn’t know what colostrum was until two days before the birth of my son. Maybe it was two days after,” Fertik says. “Express? That’s the word? Really? Express? You’re thrust into this stuff.”
Now that he’s created characters such as Harry the Rash and Squeezy the Cheeks, he’s thinking about his second book, about Steve Mob and the stolen prototype of his last baby smart phone that the Korean gang wants to steal.
I’m guessing that once Fertik’s kid can talk the part where dads typically relate more easily he’s going to stop writing Baby Noir. But until then, I’m enjoying reading him trying to work it all out this way.
Order my book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity on Amazon.
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