One day, I eventually summoned the courage to go baby visiting.
For a long time, I had avoided this task. The realisation that my female friends were becoming proud mothers had depressed me greatly, if irrationally. Despite the joy motherhood had brought to them, I (being organically younger) did not appreciate the sudden obligations of a vicarious parenthood.
With such irresponsible thoughts in mind, I had shied away from the attendant baby welcoming and naming ceremonies. No one likes being told one is growing old, and when you have nurtured and nourished a youthful, if not juvenile, attitude to life, you do not appreciate a couple of girls bursting your bubble, maternity style and holding up a bold “YOU ARE OLD” sign to your face in the shape of a new-born baby.
But eventually, as I said, I had to discard the ruminations on my eroding youth and live up to the responsibilities of friendship by “going to see the baby”.
Nothing prepares a man for baby visiting. I don’t think at any point in my life (or that of any other male) I had ever consciously regarded the idea of going to visit a baby as a future event worth planning for. Plans for visiting friends, the sick, the bereaved, the girls, the principal, the dean, the parents, even the unsaved (during a brief spell of teenage evangelism) were all thought out and anticipated. But visiting the baby? Not once. Women probably have the social code for baby visits wired into their DNA, but for men, it’s a serious and uncomfortable issue.
According to the Biblical lore, some men once went to visit a baby. But that baby was Jesus (and whatever your religious inclination, you have to admit a visit to that manger would be worth the trip, well, at least to settle some metaphysical points). However, as the well-known gag says, the so-called wise men were not sensible enough to ask their womenfolk for appropriate gifts to take along for a baby. Baby visiting is a problematic affair even for wise men.
Now these were wise men, and they nearly got the baby killed in their endeavour, until the divine came to their rescue. For ordinary men in general, with no hope of a heavenly intervention, it’s a serious and uncomfortable issue. Unfortunately for me, at this stage, I had two babies to visit and a few problems to surmount.
There’s the fact of paying a visit to a fellow man’s, well, offspring and wife. It’s akin to a monarch passing through the territory of another sovereign. You have to subject yourself to the rules of the locale and still maintain your dignity at the same time—a balancing skill I wasn’t quite confident I could perfect. For a household where the mother is the friend, you have to pander to the authority of the father. But if you and the husband are great buddies, no problem at all! You can simply make a funny remark about the shape of the baby’s head and then you two can go off to watch the ball game on TV.
Also, as a man visiting a baby, you have to be careful lest a worried husband begins to draw imaginary similarities between you and the baby—especially if the baby takes to you instantly. If you ask to play with the baby and when the child is in your arms, you go “aaaaah” and the baby goes “aaaah” too, “wheeee” and the baby shrieks delightedly, then suddenly you catch the husband staring at you intently. Of course you know what he’s thinking; men always know what the other man is thinking. Men all think alike. A smart visitor knows it’s time to get a move on. On this point, I do not envy the Three Wise Men; they had to watch their well robed backs against a baby-jealous, half mad Herod and then face a suspicious Joseph who (angels and faith aside) still had no logical explanation for his wife’s conception.
Another problematic point is this: babies may be women’s playthings but they are nuisances as far as men are concerned. A baby is something for the ladyfolk to pass around, admire, cuddle, bundle and fuss over. Women scrutinise new babies the way a buyer examines a highly priced item. The girls always know what to look out for in a baby’s shape and appearance and habits. They have a million things to say to the baby in English, their native languages and even in babytalk. Even more importantly, the female species has perfected the knack of picking up a wailing baby and turning off the noise. But men can only stand awkwardly and say “aaaah”, “wheeee and make a remark about the shape of the baby’s head. As far as we know, the Three Wise Men said nothing at all.
I bore the foregoing in mind when I went to see the first baby with fortitude, prayer and my girlfriend—the third armament being a defence against a husband with a hyper-imagination. Rosemary, the girlfriend, loved the idea of visiting a baby (a common female weakness which I could forgive) and determinedly we set out under a greying Lagos sky, eventually arriving at the doorstep of the new mother soaked through the clothes from the now pouring rain (and in which I learnt that rains don’t care that much about babies).
The little girl we had gone to see was as delightful as a fine artwork gracing a wall. I admired her delightfulness and after exhausting my vocabulary of “wheeees” and “aaaahs” and dangerously close to saying something about the shape of her head, I hit on the desperate idea of engaging in activity with her. The living room was a great playground and baby and I put it to good use. We rolled about the living room in her roller, walker or whatever her mobile contraption was called. The tiny lady had an absolute playfulness that made the baby-visiting worth the trip in the rain. I didn’t bring her gold or frankincense, but the two of us had a great time.
My second baby was a boy (baby-visiting wise, of course, but you get my point). I promptly adopted him as my first godson, and since he was too little to toss around the living room, or swap crude jokes with, I held him up gingerly like a fragile offering to the sun, said an appropriate “aaaah”, returned him to the ladies before settling down to watch a Nollywood movie—which, as brain torturing as it was, did not require me to rack my head for a great idea on what to do with the child (or on anything else, for that matter). Later in the future, if he does not grow up to be the king of the Jews, I’ll buy a beer for the boy and tell him the crude jokes.
And that’s the whole deal with baby-visiting for men: it’s a matter of will over inclination. And once it’s done, you can sit down and write a story about it.
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