Did you catch yesterday's "Modern Love" piece in the NY Times? As we already know, the column might as well be titled "Neurosis And Narcissism," but even so, it can still leave you scratching your head and wondering what else you could have done with those lost five minutes. I daresay the latest dispatch is supposed to say something about modern masculinity, but per usual it says more about modern self-absorption. It's this guy reminiscing about his wife giving birth — the baby came unexpectedly and she had the baby at home — which, for some reason, ends up being all about him.So, the wife goes into labor, the dad freaks and calls 911, while he's on the phone, she has their daughter in the bathroom. "In the months that followed, I often told the story and would pay tribute to how Leslie gave birth. I reveled in our miracle, a testimony to a mother’s independence, a father’s irrelevance and the magic of our relationship," he explains. They listen to the 911 call all the time, which is all fun and games until their marriage falls apart and the tape becomes imbued with all kinds of sinister significance
It was perhaps fitting that the first woman I dated post-Leslie found the story appalling — despite my selling it, as I always did, as a kind of crazy and comical adventure. “It must have been terrible for you,” she said. Her response caused something to snap in me, and I opened a door to a closet. Inside was raw anger over what had happened that day.
Although this mythical incident becomes the fulcrum of the narrative, it's kind of hard, from the reader's perspective, to really understand the rage here. Is an at-home birth scary? Of course. Are the breakups of marriages and families devastating? Always. Maybe it says something terrible and jaded about me or our society that, while I'm sure this tape was a Big, Significant Deal to the author, this synecdoche doesn't serve to illuminate anything about his marriage nor about divorce and masculinity generally. I'm kind of left thinking, "and...?" Does a personal essay need to include some universal truth? Of course not — but good writing kind of does. The guy says near the end, "I hate that tape. And I know it’s amazing. It reminds me of how I failed to display any heroism, how I did the best I could in a tight situation — and how Leslie didn’t need any such help." Um, that's good, I guess. Thanks for sharing? Have That Baby, Dear. I’ll Just Watch. [New York Times]