OG DAD #11: How To Depress A Baby


Ideas, as famed vegetarian and human breast milk fan, George Bernard Shaw, once said, are not responsible for the people who embrace them. Sucklin’ George got him some nipple every day, and lived to a ripe 95. But – case in point – guess how thrilled Shaw was when the most famous vegetarian of his generation turned out to be, not Shaw, but Adolf Hitler?

(My own breast milk experience, thus far in Old Guy Dadhood, does not involve ingesting. Though I did, one groggy night in July, nearly lose an eye when E had a pap mishap and shot a 1963 Alabama National Guard firehose-level blast of Mother’s milk directly into my unibrow. Three centimeters left or right and I’d be sporting a patch and turning in my driver’s license. Instead I just wiped and went back to diapering. Which may be just as well.) [1]

Then there’s Rush Limbaugh, AKA America’s Keith Richard.

I have no idea if Rush is a fan of Mom-Dairy. From the look of those womanly hips – no disrespect, Big Fella! – more likely Mom-butterfat. But, thanks to a well-publicized, huge-enough-to-destroy-his-hearing Oxycontin habit, Rush has become, front and center, the pasty face of contemporary drug addiction, here in the USA. Right up there with contempo narco-poster children like Whitney and Kurt. What’s not to be proud of? [2]

Had Limbaugh been top dog Dope Icon when I started shooting, I would have steered clear of the stuff and stuck to boilermakers. Dope was much cooler when spokes-junkies like Keith and Jimi, not to mention Lenny, Billie, Miles and bouncing Bill Burroughs were the ones in the phone book when you looked up addict. But Rush? Give me a double Methadone, three bear claws, and a Narcan back. I’ve said it before, but Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske should give the man a medal for making painkillers repulsive. (Imagine how Jesus would feel if He had to listen to Christian rock!) Again – Repetition of Theme-alert! – ideas aren’t responsible for the people who lame-ify them. (Other case in point: Walmart, who happens to the biggest corporate user of Solar Power, and is, even as we shriek, the subject of a strike by warehouse workers in Riverside, California, who, for $8  an hour, work in buildings as hot as 110 degrees inside, with either no water or water provided by bosses and described by workers as “foul and full of debris.” Braving 95 degree heat – outside – workers opted to make a fifty mile march to Los Angeles to call attention to their plight, which has been largely ignored in the media obsession with the bold and world-changing 2012 elections. And yes, Michelle Obama has decided to partner with Walmart, whose board have actively supported her anti-obesity campaign. Presumably, establishing oven-like Middle Passage warehouse conditions, Walmart will help employees shed unwanted pounds.)

All right then. It was a long way around, but there’s a point in sight. I have come to discover that Shaw’s Theory applies to fatherhood. Deep as I am in Show Business Denial, there’s still no way to hide from the fact that every other movie and TV show dropping wet and slick from the curdled loins of Hollywood involves a human being with male genitals and his relationship to his recent newborn. One stellar recent example being ABC Family Channel’s “Baby Daddy”. Whose promo describes it thusly: Ben becomes a surprise dad to a baby girl when she’s left on his doorstep by an ex-girlfriend. Ben decides to raise the baby with the help of his mother, his brother Danny, his friend Tucker and Riley the girl who is harboring a secret crush on him. Talk about TiVo heaven!

Right now I’m watching another network Daddy show. Guy’s With Kids. One guy’s newly divorced. One guy’s the happily married hipster father. And, hot off Law and Order, Anthony Anderson crushes it as the stay at home Dad. He’s so tired, he says he gets up in the morning and tries to put his legs in his shirtsleeves.

Comedy gold! Sort of. I mean, I’m not saying it’s Louie. (CK doesn’t use a laugh track.) But what the hell? Just because your idea of fun is doing the Sunday NY Times crossword in magic marker, drunk on gin and lighter fluid, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good Word Find.

No, my problem with the spate of TV pop-coms is not with the jokes and tone. (What do I know, anyway? I’m twice the age of the demographic.)

I can relate to the nonstop fatigue and sleep-deprived dementia. And my baby does cute shit, just like the babies with agents. What fucks with me is what’s not in the TV version of newborn daddy-hood.

Unlike network wack-a-daddies, I know there’s a fucking world outside the one I inhabit with my adorably adorable spawn. I am not, for you cynics, talking about the Big Issues. Like the fact that by the time Baby N is 20 all natural aquifers on the planet will have been bought up by Monsanto, Nestle or the Bush family, who may well decide to sell fresh water only to those who can afford them. Making non-fecally challenged bacterial water the H20 equivalent of Cristal for future generations. Or that, thanks to he greenhouse effect increasing mean temperatures by a degree a year, an anomaly like the Hantavirus (let’s all visit Yosemite!) will become the norm, and those whom the sun has not yet baked into melanomic stress monsters will be huddled in air conditioned hovels, assuming they have power. (Or, for that matter, hovels.)

But hey! Time out from the Eternal Bleak! I have to get up and take a pee. And, I’m not going to lie, whenever I carry my four-month-old little sweetheart into what my mother used to call “the john,” I feel like I may be committing some kind of crime against propriety. Standing there, baby in one hand, johnson in the other, relieving myself, I wonder if suddenly copters will begin whirling overhead, klieg lights suddenly light up my house, and some branch of Law and Order SVU come sweeping in, so my heinous neighbors will see me led off in infamy by Ice T. That said, what’s a cashew-bladdered Dad supposed to do – leave his little munchkin lying on the carpet to be eaten by the family dog? Happily, I’ve talked to other Dads, and to a man, they all say the same thing: it’s not something you’d do with your four, fourteen, or twenty-four year old, but hey, a baby’s a baby. And yet – this is the fun part – to the man, as well, all dads make sure their baby’s head is facing the other direction. I mean, what are we, priests? How insane is that?

But back to serious issues. Am I being Don Depresso here? I don’t want to come off like some kind of whinging eco-global panic freak. Thank gosh, there’s plenty of local splendor to get worked up over, too. I’ll never forget that heady thrill, the first time my first daughter and I stepped over a homeless sidewalk sleeper on Silverlake and Sunset. She was maybe one-and-a-half, and I could think of absolutely nothing appropriate to say. Instead I blurted, “Hey, somebody else has poopy pants!” At her age, I wasn’t sure she could grok the implications of global outsourcing and then president Bush’s special brand of economics. Her only experience with ‘trickle-down’ was a leaky Huggie. (Cue laugh track.) Instead I gave the guy a dollar and headed on into Tropical Bakery for our traditional Sunday morning Guava pie. (Full disclosure, I also didn’t mention that I’d shot dope with the sidewalk recliner a year or so earlier. Our children have a lifetime to be disillusioned about their parents, why rush?)

Anyway, fuck me. It’s been a while I’ve written a column. For weeks I have wanted to write about the giddy weirdness of hanging with the tiny faux-hawked newcomer gurgling up at me this very minute, combined with the mind-numbing rage incurred when trying to assemble a pack’n’play, a singing electric baby swing, and a Joovy 3-wheeled ‘jogging stroller.’ (Not that I jog, but I might take it up.)

We’re talking real sitcom fodder. But every time I try to bang out some wacky, device-assembly gag, the gelid, rictus grin of Mitt Romney curdles my psyche, dominating my brain like the giant poster of Orson Welles’ jowls in Citizen Kane. Heinous trumps Lovable, every time. It hits me, inextricably, that Romney, the best friend Monsanto ever had, will use my child’s world with all the love and temperance of a rich teenager jerking off in a sock.

But enough about me. Ultimately, too many obscenities abide to became insanely neurotic about any one of them. Maybe the soul crushing secret of 21st Century post-environmentally inhabitable Planet America is to just… find a way not to think about it. For brief periods of time. To not let the specter of a grotesque future steal the sleepless wonder of whatever babified present you happen to inhabit.

For the past week – by way of explanation – I’ve been reading the Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco masterpiece, Days of Revolt, Days of Rage, which focuses on what Hedges calls Sacrifice Zones. (The sacrifice, in these cases, going to the Moloch of Capitalism.) The authors take us to Pine Ridge Reservation in Nebraska, where the average life expectancy is 48, one out of every five girls attempts suicide before the end of high school, and the locals spend their days sprawled on the ground guzzling malt liquor, when they can scrounge enough change to buy some. Hedges also writes about Camden, New Jersey, a high crime inner city inferno, whose government can no longer afford a police department. And Welch, West Virginia, where coal companies have blasted off mountain tops, turning the once-lush landscape into a pitted, oozing boil of carcinogenic runoff and poisoned dirt. We’re talking about entire towns where residents have lost their gall bladders, along with their loved ones, to the unregulated, unrepentant greed of mine-owners.

Hedges’ point is that these pockets of unimaginable despair are not grim exceptions. They represent the template for the future of America, in the same way that what was done to Native Americans was the template for what was done to people in the Philippines, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Now, as Hedges and Sacco illustrate, “it is finally being done to us.”

But forget all that. How cute is my little munchkin when she makes her Liberace face and craps pumpkin pudding? Cuter than George Bernard Shaw with a human milk moustache.

NEXT:  A man wonders if my baby is wearing a toupee… Why does Paul Ryan have Eddie Munster’s hairline?  Did Andrea Mitchell ask her plastic surgeon for Cameron Diaz’s face – and how does that affect my child’s future?

[1]These days, breast-feeding packs its own potential tragedy. If I may quote from M.G. Lord’s excellent review of Florence Williams life-changing work, Breasts, in the September 16, 2012 New York Times Book Review. “The practice also typically transfers ‘paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline by-products, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungicides’ and varieties of flame retardants, one of which, Penta-BDE, was banned by the European Union because of its chronic toxicity to humans.”

[2] FUN FACT! Rush isn’t the first fatass fascist opiate addict to leave titanic skidmarks on the skivvies of Western Civilization. That distinction goes to – what are the odds? – another Nazi: Hermann Goering.


Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.

Jerry Stahl has written 8 books, including Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex On Speed, and I, Fatty. His new novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, is now out from Harper Perennial. More from this author →