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Changing Identities

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Some time back, I covered a midnight shift at the hospital and had an interesting and brief conversation with a guy.

As I was walking out of the hospital, this glowing young man was walking back in. In a voice that sounded just this side of celebrant, he grinned and said “I’m a daddy, man!”

I’ve heard this many times, and in that same almost-giddy tone. I don’t know why this one caught me differently.

The first thing I noticed about my own reaction was that it wasn’t cynical. My own internal response is usually “after a few weeks of early-morning feedings and a few years of overtime to buy food and clothing, he won’t be so giddy about daddyhood.”

What really kept rolling over in my head was the words he chose. “I’m a daddy.” I am a daddy.

He didn’t tell me his wife had just had a child, or that his wife and he had just had one. That would represent that he was thinking something had happened in his life, or that he had just accomplished something.

He didn’t mention anything about new capabilities of which he was aware or a new belief system he’d just adopted.

He didn’t even say he’d become a daddy, or he was now a daddy. That would say that he was fully aware that there was a time he wasn’t a daddy, and something happened, and now he was a daddy.

He said “I am a daddy.” A completely new, as-if-from-scratch identity, out of what seems to be nowhere. As if he’d been a daddy all along and just now figured out what that meant. As if he’d never been anything else. I believe that if I’d asked him at that instant where he went to high school or what kind of car he had when he was 16, he would have had to stop and think about it. I doubt he’d remember it in the same way he remembered it last week.

It occurs to me now that when someone says becoming a parent is a life-changing experience, they don’t mean–or don’t realize consciously they mean–the rest of your life has been changed. It seems to me, from this incident, that one’s subjective experience of one’s entire life, from point of gaining sentience, is changed.

Written by Michael DeBusk

November 17th, 2007 at 12:39 am

Posted in Articles,Linguistic

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