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Authors: Michael Lewis

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BOOK: Home Game
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I'd done my bit. I'd found the leading sperm killer in a twenty-mile radius—the guy had shuttered some of the leading inseminators of the Bay Area. If the sperm of Northern California ever organized themselves into a fighting force, they'd lay siege to his office and run him on a rail out of the state. I'd shown up for the operation, resisted the temptation to flee the table, sweated through a hospital gown, sat around for days on bags of frozen peas, and then, after the scars healed, mourned in silence the death of my reproductive powers. That those powers still roamed the earth wasn't my fault. Or was it?

Was it possible that some sperm were simply invincible? So relentless…so
determined
…that no mere vasectomy was ever going to vanquish them? Just to ask the question was to answer it. By the time I pulled into the Best Buy parking lot I was almost giddy. Nature had created an impossible situation; this thing was out of my or anyone else's control. This fire would have to burn itself out naturally.

About then my cell phone rang. Standing between the Best Buy customer service counter and the shelf displaying the new Hewlett-Packard desktop computers, I looked down and saw that the good doctor was finally calling me back. I answered, and set out to explain how I was coming to terms with my sperm's invincibility, when he cut me off.

“Here's the thing,” he said. “They send us back this form and there's a box that says ‘between zero and one sperm.' That's the box they checked. But what does that mean? How can there be between zero and one sperm?”

“You tell me.”

“They found one sperm. It could have been one that had been attached to a tube and got knocked off when you produced the sample. Who knows?”

“But it says I have live sperm.”

“It says you had one sperm.”

One heroic sperm. This one final sperm had gone by itself into the death-dealer's lab at Quest Diagnostics. It had fought the battle, so that others might live. I should hunt it down and give it a proper burial.

“The typical sample has twenty million live sperm in it.”

“But if there's one there must be more, right?”

“Look,” he says, “who knows where that one came from? The bottom line is that you're not going to get anyone pregnant ever again.”

I think about this.

“You can come in to talk about it if you want,” he says kindly.

Oddly enough, I don't.

But that night I have a dream. I dream that Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, is the starting point guard for the New York Knicks. In this dream, the entire New York Knicks team, bench players included, lay slumbering in a giant bed beside me, when an old girlfriend of mine storms into the room and wakes me up. The old girlfriend doesn't resemble her old self, however, but appears in the guise of a large, hairy rat. Most of the dream involves wrestling her out of the room, avoiding her many attempts to lick me with her wet, sloppy rat-tongue, and preventing her from waking up the Knicks, who have a big game the next day.

All of which is a backhanded tribute to the sheer power of the sleeping pills they give new mothers with severe panic disorder. These pills are all that remain of Tabitha's postpartum panic attacks and they've been a godsend, not just to her but also to me: They'd put an elephant to sleep. Eager for what looked as if it might be a well-earned rest, I'd popped one of them—moments later Nick Lemann was dishing out assists and jacking up three-point shots.

And the only reason I remember any of it is that I'm awakened before it ends, by a small child standing beside my bed. Every few months one or the other of the girls shows up in our bedroom in the middle of the night—bright-eyed, sneaky smiles—to announce she's having a nightmare. Tonight, I see, we have Dixie.

“Daddy, I had a bad dream,” she says.

My mind is having trouble making the transition from my own weird space to hers. What was the point of that giant hairy rat? And the Knicks? Maybe after this strange and unsettling day I needed some professional athletes around as symbols of manhood—but then surely I would have picked the Celtics, or even the Hornets. Then I remember: It was Nick Lemann who said I shouldn't write about my kids, especially as they grew older, because I'd screw them up. Nick's usually right about everything, so he's probably right about this, too. Has the time come, perhaps, to stop writing about them? If so, what will I have to look back on at the end of it?

Like dreams, these fatherhood moments are easily forgotten and no doubt also a lot more interesting to the teller than to anyone else. But when they're forgotten, their lessons, such as they are, are lost. The vacuum winds up being filled by experts on child rearing, and books on fatherhood, and social counselors and psychiatrists—the outside world has a lot to tell you about how to be a father and how to raise your children, and its advice no doubt serves some purpose. It fails, however, to get across with sufficient clarity the final rule of fatherhood: If you're not bothered by it, or disturbed by it, or messed up from it, you're probably doing something wrong that will mess up your kids. You're probably doing something wrong anyway, but that's okay: You can only do so much to mess up your kids. They can always get back at you, in therapy or their memoirs. But if you don't monitor these small creatures closely, they have the power to screw you up forever. So watch out for yourself—but don't let anyone know that's what you're doing.

I'm still staring into the shadow of a six-year-old. “What did you dream?” I say, dragging Dixie into our bed, and noting that the digital clock reads 3:22.

“I dreamed I was all alone,” she says.

“How'd that make you feel?”

“Sad. I was crying. Real crying.”

With that she scrambles gleefully up and into the space between mother and father, and proves again that a California king-sized bed is so big that it can comfortably sleep three adults or one six-year-old child.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Much of this book appeared over the last eight years as part of a peripatetic series in
Slate
, the Web magazine founded by Michael Kinsley—Quinn's godfather—and subsequently edited by Jacob Weisberg. Jacob has children the same ages as my first two, and if he's never matched my self-pity he has often encouraged it. Al Zuckerman, who has represented me ably for many years, came up with the idea of expanding the things I'd written for
Slate
into a book. The first reaction of many readers to the original series was to pity the woman who was married to its author. Her name is Tabitha Soren, and I do, at times, pity her. Mainly I'm grateful to her, however. She served as editor, fact-checker, and, of course, incubator of the source material.

BOOK: Home Game
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