Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Beginnings
If only I could have seen the writing on the wall. It would have said, Your wife's pregnant! Run away! Run away!
Sex and Its Side Effects
WARNING: The Surgeon General advises that sex may cause children. Sex is an appropriate starting point for us to ponder the wonder of fatherhood. After all, this is where the journey begins.
Because you are actually reading this page, I can safely assume that you have already passed this first crucial test. With flying colors. For this reason, and in the interest of good taste, I shall refrain at this point from elaborating any further on how much fun you had in the process and it was it good for you too, baby?, and all that.
But we know what happened. While you were sitting in bed, sighing in post-passion euphoria, an armada of about 300 million of your sperm set off from Port Penis on the first leg of their six-inch (or so) marathon swim through all that female plumbing, the names of which I can never quite remember.
(I will probably never come to terms with all those bits and pieces of the female anatomy. As a teenager, sitting in a health class at an all-boys school, I was always perplexed by the textbook cross-sections of women's insides. You know the picture I mean? That's right, the diagram of the one-legged woman. I could never follow all the bulbous squiggles and channels with the funny names. In fact, it was only years later that I discovered that the cross-section diagram was in fact a side view, not a top view. Maybe I should have paid more attention, instead of cutting up at the back of the classroom with Paul Brinkman, trying to put diaphragms on our heads like swim caps.)
Anyway, while nothing to you, those inches are a veritable New York Harbor to these little tadpoles. Like salmon swimming upstream, they have to swim from the vagina, north through the uterus (or womb) and climb one of the two Fallopian tubes, where an egg is hiding. And there can be only one winner! There are no consolation prizes. If they don't win the victor's trophy (the egg or ovum), they're out of the picture for good. And with odds like 300 million to one, much worse than any lottery played in the history of humankind, the competition is fierce. An hour or so later, with the swim mostly over (probably while you were snoring loudly, totally oblivious to the creative energies you had unleashed upon the world), only a few thousand of the strongest sperm had survived the journey. The finalists had navigated the obstacles and the plumbing with the complicated names and had located the prize, the golden egg.
Now, this is not an egg in the chicken-type, hard-boiled, fried or sunny-side-up sense of the word. It is more like a dot. A cell. A little pinprick. A dot on the back of a cell sitting in the middle of a pinprick. The point is, it is very, very tiny. It makes the period at the end of this sentence look like a beach ball.
Like the sperm, the egg too has undergone a journey. Women have about half a million of these ova stored in their ovaries. Each month during ovulation, the mature, or ripe, ovum leaves its sisters and bobs on down one of the Fallopian tubes, like a little planet waiting for the strange aliens with the tails to come and visit.
So it sits there, waiting.
Time is critical, because this ovum has a use-by date of about 24 hours. So for the next couple hours after their journey, all the remaining spermatic contenders go into Stage Two of their biathlon, which is basically a head-butting competition. The sperm all find a spot on the ovum they can call their own, stick their heads down and start spinning around and around like fence-post diggers. The winner is the one who breaks the ovum wall and gets in first.
The instant this happens, the ovum gets all coy and undergoes a chemical change, which shuts out all the other contenders. It's disappointing for them, probably, getting all that way, only to be locked out at the last minute just because they couldn't dig fast enough. But hey, it's a jungle out there. They probably get depressed and swim around until they die.
Anyway, what you have now is a fertilized egg sitting in its own little dark, warm universe. You can almost imagine the Starship Enterprise zooming past through this microscopic universe with Spock at the viewscreen musing...It's life, Jim...but not as we know it.
So there you have it. The egg is officially fertilized. The wheels of fate have spun and, although you don't know it yet, you're going to be a dad.
This is the miracle of life. The miracle of sex. And it is a miracle.
God really was clever to have thought it up.
And this child of yours is unique in the universe. You and your wife are the only combination in history who could have created him. Think of it this way: Your wife has about half a million ova. You have about 300 million sperm per ejaculation. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that you have sex once a week over a ten-year potential parenting period. Your child could be any combination of any single sperm and any single ovum. So if my mathematics serves me correctly (which it might not, considering I got only 42 percent correct on my math final in my senior year), then that makes your child one of 78,000,000,000,000,000 (78 quadrillion) possible people combinations.
God really was clever to have thought it up.
This is a humbling thing for a father to think about. Without getting into a philosophical debate, it's kind of awesome to think about the infinitesimal beginnings of human life -- the beginnings of the life of your child. What is at this point an indistinct speck will grow to be a person whom you will know and love intimately, a person, I might add, who will change your life.
You will see this infinitesimally small spot learn to crawl, walk and talk. It will create bizarre drawings for you to stick on your refrigerator and say great stuff like, I love you, Dad. It will get dressed up as a bear for school-play night. You will worry when it goes out on its first date and you will lie awake at night because it borrowed your car and is two hours late getting home. And then one day that microscopic cell will leave home and you'll wonder what you ever did before it came along. <%=fontsmall%> Copyright ©2000 by Fisher Books; text copyright Peter Downey, ©1994. <%=xfontsmall%>