On Friday night I sped through story time and rushed Jay into his crib with a kiss, a hug, and a promise to see him in the morning. Then I grabbed my keys and wallet, said goodbye to Caroline, and headed out the door, bound for my first night on the town since Wally was born.
I’d recruited my college roommates Rob and John to come with me to a performance by a local singer-songwriter named Suzie Brown, who I’d just finished profiling for an upcoming issue of Harvard Magazine. Brown’s story is an interesting one. For more than a decade she marched through intensive training to become a cardiologist, all the while harboring a honey-dipped singing voice. Finally, she decided she couldn’t ignore her desire to sing anymore so she took a part-time clinical job and devoted the balance of her days to her singing career. Her first full-length album, “Heartstrings,” came out this spring and it’s a fair bet it won’t be her last.
That night she was playing at the Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It was a hot night, as they all are these days, and probably the most humid of the year. It took us a little searching to find the bar, and as the 9pm start of the show drew near I began to worry that we were going to miss it. But when we arrived it became clear that none of the musicians were even there yet, which I took as a reminder that the rest of the world doesn’t move to the same urgent schedule our family does. The bouncer told us they had a new beer on tap that night—a double IPA called the Cape of Good Hope from the Yard’s Brewing Company. We hadn’t been there three minutes before the first round hit the table.
For the first five months after Jay was born I didn’t have anything to drink at all. There were a few reasons for my tee totaling, but the main one was this: Life as a new parent was extremely tight as Caroline and I tried to juggle her dissertation, my freelance career, and an infant we didn’t really know what to do with. Our days felt so precarious that at times a single beer seemed like it would be enough to send us into ruin.
Gradually, though, Caroline and I found our rhythm as parents. We started going out to the movies again, having friends over, drinking wine with dinner. I remember the first time I got buzzed as a parent. It was a dinner party at our apartment. I’d had a few glasses of Cabernet when all of a sudden I thought about Jay, then five-months-old, asleep in his bassinet down the hall. After being so focused on him ever since he was born, it felt strange that the alcohol clouding my brain was now standing between the two of us.
But I got over that feeling, and in the months before Wally was born both Caroline and I had resumed social lives that approximated the ones we’d had before becoming parents. I had a couple good friends in town who didn’t yet have kids and liked to stay out late. On a handful of occasions I stayed out with them, and in the wee hours of the night, with the jukebox playing, my friends at hand, and a son I loved asleep back at home, I’d feel like I’d managed to have my cake and eat it, too.
That, of course, didn’t account for the hangover. There is no more merciless a being in the world than a toddler; the next morning Jay always made me pay. Not on purpose, of course. It’s just that there’s no explaining to him, “Daddy’s head is killing him right now so maybe we can read Horton Hears a Who another time.” So I’d drag myself out of bed four hours after I’d climbed into it, take some aspirin, and begin counting down the minutes until naptime.
Suzie Brown went on at 11pm, by which point everyone at our table was in the mood to tap our toes. As she sang, we chatted and listened, got up and danced, headed to the bar for another trip around the Cape of Good Hope. It was only a little later, when I went outside to get some air and chatted again with the bouncer, that I learned that the amber liquid we were swilling was 8.1% ABV.
There’s a point in every good night at a bar where the world outside fades away and the night starts to feels endless. As Suzie was wrapping up her set I looked at the time and hazily calculated that Jay had been asleep for more than five hours already, while here I was, deep in the throes of a night that had nothing to do with him. It always amazes me how much life can transpire in the time a toddler sleeps.
By the time the music wrapped our table was covered with pint glasses. We reluctantly headed to the door as the band members coiled audio cables and the bartender recapped the gin. The cab ride home was a blur of street lamps and warm air lapping at my face through the open window.
Back upstairs in our apartment the door to Jay’s room was shut, just as I’d left it hours earlier. With a pang it occurred to me that he’d already probably begun his ascent into waking. Caroline and Wally were asleep side-by-side in the bed. I remembered, then, that I’d had a few too many IPAs to co-sleep with Wally, so I pulled the couch cushions onto the floor and laid out below him.
The next morning I must have slept through the declarations Jay makes each morning from his crib, because when I awoke he was standing right over me. I squinted at him through the sunlight and he looked at me quizzically. Caroline leaned over and whispered something in Jay’s ear and a broad smile broke out on his face. He pointed a finger at me and in an excited voice he said, “Daddy, have you no shame!”