Great Expectations: A Father's Diary
Memoirs about preparing for the birth of a first child are easily located on library shelves. What aren’t so common, however, are those books addressing the particular experience of preparing for a second child. A second pregnancy is at once sobering and blissful—you know the rough waters that loom ahead, but press on toward the joy that’s also in store—and this paradoxical tone is reflected throughout Dan Roche’s beautifully-written nine-month diary of his wife’s pregnancy. As his wife says of their first child’s infancy, “I felt like I was making it up as I went along. I was off-balance. I guess now I want a chance to bring my attention more to taking care of a baby without feeling panicked about it. I want a do-over.”
Roche writes honestly and insightfully in this slim volume of his hope and apprehension over this “do-over”: the challenges of being an older father (he’s forty-five); the anxious possibility of having a son (will he be one of those little boys who, rather than speaking, will “act everything out physically?”); and the fulfillment parenting his five-year-old daughter has given him. He wonders how his love for the new baby could possibly match that—where will it come from, and will it feel like a threat to the existing love for his wife and daughter?
Roche not only reflects eloquently on birth, he is forced to confront death as well, with the sudden passing of his mother-in-law and the slow and painful demise of a beloved pet. Dealing with this subject, he’s thoughtful, yet acknowledges his ultimate powerlessness; it’s the same way he addresses the gender question. Roche struggles with his initial aversion to having a son: it will be so hard to raise a boy “ruled by empathy rather than ego,” he laments, and girls, anyway, are “new and interesting” to him. He talks himself through this internal struggle with humor and pragmatism.
Parents will recognize themselves in Roche and empathize with him, feeling all over again the emotions swirling around an impending birth. But this book doesn’t just speak to parents; anyone interested in relationships, the universal themes of love and death, or the joys of childhood can find something of value here.