Somehow, at some point, I have become a slob.
My wife and I have debated the stages of the metamorphosis. It correlates strongly, though not exclusively, with the Spot's arrival in our family, though I don't blame him, even if on a daily basis my personal habits are coming to more closely resemble his.
But there has been a metamorphosis. While the traveling salesman Gregor Samsa woke in the bed Franz Kafka made for him, to find that he had acquired a chitinous exoskeleton and half a dozen legs, I woke up one morning to find that my eyebrows had grown together, and the hair that has receded from my brow has largely migrated to my nostrils.
Grooming myself has gotten to be like caring for an old house: as soon as you fix one thing, something else goes to hell. I'm lucky if I can get out the door with 5 out of 10 fingernails clipped; getting both hands and feet at the same time is out of the question. I'm sporting the hairdo that I last wore when I was 7 years old, and have picked up the habit, instead of washing my eyeglasses, of tilting my head to see around the smudge.
I live in t-shirts and jeans, find the feel of a collared shirt exotic, and recognize that my son is now better dressed than I am. For every new pair of knickers, overalls, sweaters, and funny little hats that we try to cram in his bedroom drawer, I chuck another pair of my own old pants or a hopelessly outdated shirt into the donation box, as if his wardrobe must be enhanced in inverse proportion to my own.
If I were a mom, this would be the point when I cry out, "I need a makeover!" and duly flip over to Lifetime or the Oxygen Channel in search of a vicarious personal renaissance. On comes the fantasy of a hot stone massage, followed by an avocado and oat-infused mud bath, the Beverly Hills stylist rescuing my hair while his sidekicks rescue my cuticles, capped off with the gift of a new and fabulously stylish wardrobe, all shopped for and paid for by someone else. At the end of it, out comes a new Father of Spot, grinning, feeling like Brad Pitt, and ready for the next diaper change.
An acquaintance of mine joked, once he had become a new father, about how he had now become "one of those guys": one of those guys, according to him, who you see on the train at 6AM with mismatched socks, a pant leg hitched halfway up his calf, and shoelaces dragging.
What is reassuring about "those guys" stories is the general understanding that they apply to new dads only. While some men experience the couvade, or "sympathetic pregnancy" while the mother is heavy with child, I suspect that after birth many more experience a phase of "sympathetic dishevelment," like the couvade a temporary condition for which I can find no precise term. A few months later, or once baby starts sleeping through the night, dad's ability to dress himself usually improves dramatically.
Unfortunately, the Spot started sleeping through the night 6 months ago and I'm still "one of those guys." My dishevelment is no longer sympathetic, but chronic. I worry that I might follow in my father's footsteps, entering into a life-long downward spiral towards utter slobbishness. My socks have steadily disintegrated, and some of my clothes now have that musty, "I don't get out much" smell. That's what happens when you're locked down like a prison guard assigned to the world's most dangerous inmate. He can't leave the house, and neither can I, which means goodbye to the shopping trips that made me the dashing man I was before I became the rock-solid care-giver I am.
There's no easy way out, no feel-good wrap-up to my story. Even the glow of a five-star makeover courtesy of Oprah Winfrey would surely fade after a few weeks, and my dilemma would return. Care-giving throws us into a different orbit, knocks us from a solar to a lunar calendar, from industrial to agricultural work rhythms, from a modern world of hard resins to an antique world of absorbent fibers. The common pleasure of knowing "what's up" that comes from spending a few minutes of the day on the bus, walking through the city, chatting in the office, and people-watching all vanish, leaving you with an entirely different set of cosmic orientation points.
So I'm on a fashion sabbatical and in grooming triage. A mother-friend of mine suggested I view it like a few years spent in Africa with the Peace Corps. Things are just different for a while. My wife, in her infinite understanding, does what she can: this very morning, on her way to work, she paused for a moment in the kitchen, long enough to give me a gift: a 20% discount card for the GAP.