One thing the father of a first born infant must beware of is an alarm clock.
Those first few weeks when a young man is making the acquaintance of his first child are fraught with many difficulties. For one thing, he need expect no sympathy or understanding from anybody connected with his household. However enthusiastic he may be, everything he does will be wrong. But of all things in this dark, blundering and difficult time, let him put not his trust in alarm clocks.
A certain young man recently was presented with a large and lusty son. It might be said right at the start that from the moment of the arrival of this remarkable small son the poor young father entered on a career of unparalleled and unenlightened blunder.
The first thing he did was to rush down town and buy a beautiful blue enamel and gold locket, heart shaped.
This, with sundry gladioli, roses, zinnias, marigolds, candies, all-day suckers, rattles, dolls, horses, and teething rings, he bore triumphantly and proudly to the hospital.
Several female relations on both sides of the family, various nurses, hospital officials, and other people of the indignant sex were grouped around the sanctum where his new son lay.
Of course, they did not notice his approach. In fact, they had not been aware of his existence all day. They had told him of the arrival of his son merely as an afterthought.
The poor young man stood there, proud, smiling eagerly, yearning to be recognized as a party to this great event. The ladies were cooing and exclaiming, oblivious to his presence. So the father produced the blue locket on its chain, and advanced with an air of proprietorship to hang it about the neck of his son.
The cries of the multitude, when they beheld what he was about to do, filled the whole hospital. The young father was well nigh done to death by the infuriated ladies. A nurse threatened him with a chloroform pad.
It appears that heart-shaped lockets are for girls, and girls only. To present a boy with a locket is considered the most deadly of insults!
But who was to tell the young father that beforehand? Nobody! Nobody cared.
Now the young man is kept in fear and trembling by all his relations, who threaten to tell his wife all about it as soon as she is up and about. And he has hidden the locket, the horses, the candy bulls-eyes, and the teething rings in his desk at the office.
A book of hints to young fathers should certainly be written. The etiquette, for instance, of the drawing-room is a bagatelle to the etiquette of the nursery. When a father, beholding his first born son for the first time, sees him lying helplessly on his side, his little face pressed on the hard, flat mattress and crying fit to explode, nothing could be more natural for the father to do than to try to set the little fellow up on end and make interesting faces to amuse him. But it is astonishing the way every body will jump on him if he tries it.
Then again, they don’t feed a baby till it is two or three days old. Ordinary people may believe this is right. But you can’t expect a father to believe it, when he sees his child desperately trying to eat its own little hands.
This young man I speak of brought up a couple of egg sandwiches and a few arrowroot biscuits in his pocket the second day, intending to sneak them surreptitiously to his son. But the nurse caught him, and ejected him with violence from the room. They simply won’t trust you at all.
It is when the baby arrives home from hospital that the real trials begin, and young fathers should be warned of this period.
The last thing the nurse tells you at hospital is not to “spoil” the baby. If it cries, don’t pick it up. If you pick it up it will learn to cry until you do pick it up. Of course, if you think it has a pain you can pick it up for a moment–
In the case I speak of, the baby slept all day and all evening of its first day home. But at midnight it opened up. Naturally, it was in pain. Father, mother, and maternal grandmother All took turns till dawn in relieving its pain. The minute it was laid down it was in pain. The minute it was picked up and sung hymns to its pain departed.
After two nights of this, the father stated it was his opinion that the baby was not in pain, but was, in short, in danger of being spoiled.
In vain he quoted nurses. He might as well have been a murderer. What little respect for him was left in his family’s eyes was by this statement dissipated into thin air.
Now comes the alarm clock. This young man wound up his trusty, old alarm clock and set it for two o’clock in the morning, the baby’s halfway feeding time.
To the ladies of the household he said:
“Retire. I will keep watch. I will let him cry little, before lifting him, to see if he won’t stop of himself. And don’t worry about the time. I have set my alarm clock for two. I will get up and bring the baby in.”
This speech, delivered with a dignity and an air of authority, did much to restore the prestige he had lost in recent weeks.
Now, this is what happened. At two o’clock the baby was in his mother’s arms, and had been there for some hours. Maternal grandma was sitting rocking into the small hours. Father lay in the adjoining room sound asleep on his couch.
Suddenly the alarm clock bursts forth. It rings and rings. Even the baby’s cries are stilled by it.
Father moves drowsily. He reaches out and turns off the alarm, and with comfortable snuggle sinks again into profound slumber.
And in the other lighted room, grandma and mother and baby look significantly at each other, in silence.
To what greater depths of ignominy can that father fall? Betrayed by sleep and an alarm clock, he let his little son go hang! Go starve!
He will not hear the end of that. It matters not that the family all was and the baby warm and cuddled.
It to the spirit, not the performance, that counts, that cuts.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a number of stories Greg wrote about in the early 1920s about being a father.