Early Sunday evening, I became a father for the second time. My son was born at 8:11 p.m. and weighed in at five pounds, thirteen ounces — not bad for a little booger who made his appearance nearly six weeks early. He was even bigger than his older sister, who was also born early back in 2006 and weighed in at five pounds, five ounces. The crazy thing? Both of my children, early as they were, were born at the very same gestational age: 34 weeks and four days.
I think my wife’s uterus may have a time limit.
Despite all of the similarities between my daughter and my son, the way that I feel in the aftermath of this most recent delivery is starkly, profoundly different. Part of it is that neither Joanna and I are scared of C-sections or incubators or feeding tubes or neo-natal intensive care units anymore; we’ve been here, we’ve done that, now let’s get to the part where we enjoy holding and snuggling our child. Likely part of that different feeling, too, is the fact that in May of 2006, we went from childless to parents, from carefree to held responsible, from disposable income to disposable diapers; this time, we’re going from one child to two, merely adding another happy, smiling face to a life and home that is actually ready for him.
Also part and parcel of that “different” feeling in me is my political consciousness. May of 2006 pre-dates America’s Right, and while I was busy reading and studying and beginning to get involved at that time, at no point was I as acutely aware of what awaited my first child as I am now with this newest addition. At that time, the war in Iraq seemed to be spinning out of control prior to the surge of 2007, the ouster of Porter Goss from Central Intelligence was the talk of the Beltway elite, and former President George W. Bush’s characterization of the Global War on Terror as “World War III” had the left’s undergarments in a twisted bunch. Beyond that, however, the value of our home was still appreciating, the unemployment rate was a mere 4.6 percent, and the word “bailout” was more often associated with sinking dinghies than tanking economies.
Sunday evening, however, my son was born into a very different world, and born to a dad who had a much greater understanding of its pitfalls and perils. While in a corner booth at Panera Bread studying for the Bar Exam back at the end of January, acutely aware that my wife was at home on physician-ordered bed-rest, I recall overhearing one patron at a nearby table say to the other in the context of a political discussion that he could not imagine “bringing a child into this world.”
Overseas, in the death and destruction so vividly captured in the images and video coming out of Japan, we see the arbitrariness of life. In the Middle East, which only recently has progressed from campfire to conflagration, we see how the trappings of money and power will be defended to the death, with Hosni Mubarak having been overthrown–regardless of what Mr. Mubarak may himself insist–in Egypt and his neighbor just to the west having taken to slaughtering his own people in an attempt to perpetuate his own power. Meanwhile, while similar protests have taken place across the region and the Arabian Peninsula, and in spite of efforts in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to stop the various popular movements before they take hold, the one country that has the means and the capacity to project strength in an attempt to foster stability–and, in the case of Libya, to save lives–has remained deafeningly quiet.
Stateside, over the past two years alone our rapidly expanding entitlement society has received an enormous boost from the most entitlement-sympathetic chief executive in American history, and just as France and Greece and England and Spain in only the past few months have witnessed firsthand the reaction of the entitled masses to the reining in of certain benefits, in state capitals from coast to coast we have seen the same thing. In Wisconsin, thousands of people have protested and leveled death threats against a Republican governor and state legislature who have done nothing more than remain steadfast and honor campaign promises to rein in the excesses of public union power. The level of discourse from the American political left has descended so far down into the doldrums of incivility that even Time Magazine referred to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as “Dead Man Walker.” The interests of this nation and her people have taken a back seat to political gamesmanship and theatre.
A few hours ago, I had the chance to feed my son for the first time. Staring at my little boy while seated in a rocking chair in the NICU, finding peace amidst the beeps and chirps of expensive machines and the vulnerably weak grunts and cries from little boys and girls in cribs and incubators on each side, I found myself telling him about his big sister and puppy dog back at home, explaining to him as best I could the trials and hurdles he must face and surmount in the next few days, and sharing with him our hopes and dreams for his coming life.
I did not have the heart to tell him that, despite only having drawn breath for approximately 24 hours, his share of the national debt was already a whopping $45,774. Nor did I have the heart to explain to him that, according to an already outdated and far too optimistic analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, his share of the public debt will reach roughly $60,000 by his 12th birthday, $80,000 by his 18th birthday, and $170,000 or so by the time he reaches my age now. I also did not feel right explaining that every American taxpayer owes more than $1.01 million as their share of unfunded liabilities such as Social Security and Medicare. And, frankly, if I had explained that costs associated with higher education are outpacing inflation by anywhere between 350 and 650 percent, he might have been confused because of all that prior talk of our hopes and dreams for his coming life.
To my right, here in the hospital room, my wife is finally sleeping soundly after a couple of long, difficult days. A few yards from here, my son is sleeping under bilirubin lights designed to treat newborn jaundice. I, however, am wide awake — partly because my lower back is in no hurry to assume the same position as last night, but partly because I look at the television and see the reality into which my wife and I have brought our son. I recall the news from just five days ago that the $222.5 billion budget shortfall in February set the record for the highest monthly budget deficit in the history of our nation, and I wonder how as a father I can really abide by our federal government’s determination to carry out this generational theft. Thinking about how small and fragile my premature, newborn son is, I feel absolutely helpless when it comes to protecting him and ensuring that he enjoys a better quality of life and more opportunities than did I.
In a way that I did not feel only about five short years ago, at this point it seems as though the world is conspiring against our future. In my daughter’s sparkling newborn eyes, I saw potential. In my son’s, I worry that it has already been squandered by forces out of my control. This is the United States of America — potential should always be within reach for those willing to push hard and reach for it. That I feel otherwise tells me just how much work needs to be done.