Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chiarella and Whitman

I recently came across Tom Chiarella's "Wake-Up Call for New Dads." I usually love Chiarella's writing from beginning to end. But in this entry, he rails on new dads for their inexperience. And for their fancy strollers. "Bunch of arrogant know-it-alls, smug in what they clearly perceive to be the singular glow of the creation of their loins." I'm not sure these guys deserve this. In fact, I'm not sure these guys really exist, except as the straw men needed to launch into this kind of thing--an offering of wisdom to the rookie. A letter to himself as a new dad, really.

When he gets to the heart of his message, though, which is that a new dad will be challenged to appreciate the experience as much as he could or should, it's really powerful and confessional: "I should have opened my eyes wider every day to snap myself out of the torpor of pride and pleasure; I should have used every day to think about what I didn't know about being a father. And I should have sat there awhile in stillness, flush in the lessons provided by the company of my sons, then -- as now -- the most quarrelsome and deep pleasure I'll ever know."

I was reading Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" to find my favorite defense of contradiction: "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)" Then I came to this part in the same poem:

You are also asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear son,
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss
you with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress

Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
and laughingly dash with your hair.

I am the teacher of athletes,
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width
of my own,
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.