Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Pill

I sat in the rocking chair today, Violet sleeping against my chest, and thought of two things. The first was the movie, The Matrix. If you haven’t seen it, it tells the story of the human race enslaved by machines, turned into biological batteries and encased in pods that power our technological masters. The machines construct a computer program and plug it into our minds, giving us the perception that we’re going about our normal lives. In one scene, the main character has to choose between two pills – one will cause him to forget what he’s learned and go back to living within the computer program, the fabricated life, when in reality he’ll continue to be a prisoner. Or, he can take the other pill and “wake up,” liberating his body from the pod, and experiencing life as it really is, in all of its harshness. It was a point of debate between Linda and me ever since we saw it – which would be the better choice? I always said it would be better to live the difficult life in the real world because it would be the truth, but she contended that, at least in terms of the movie, the real world of the future was too bleak. Better to live a “normal” life within the computer program. You wouldn’t know it was a construct, so why would it matter?

The second thing on my mind was a radio story I heard last year, a true story. From what I can remember, it concerned a man who had to undergo hormone therapy; due to a rare condition, he had to take a drug that limited the supply of testosterone in his body. He described how the removal of that one element from his system completely changed his personality. He went from a strong-willed, type-A person to someone who struggled with even the simplest decision, a person who could barely get out of bed in the morning, or if he could, he didn’t make it much farther than the couch. His entire personality shifted, and he found it unnerving how much of who we are, or who we think we are, is based entirely on chemistry.

So those were the thoughts going through my head as I rocked back and forth with my daughter, wondering why I feel so strongly for this little mass of muscle, bone, and onesie. We all read in books and tell each other in real life that you can’t love a person without getting to know them first, so does that mean what I feel for Violet, what I felt when I first watched her emerge from my wife’s body like clowns from a clown car, isn’t really love? Is it merely the chemical reaction designed by thousands of years of evolution to make sure that I care for my offspring? Am I, like the character in The Matrix and the guy on the radio, a kind of slave? Does it matter? Even if I could know the answer – take a pill and see where my fatherly instincts really come from – it wouldn’t change anything. Every dad makes a decision when that baby slides out into the world and wails hello – a decision about what kind of dad they’ll be, and they keep making that decision every day. The wiring behind those decisions has some foundation in chemistry and evolution, I’m sure, but more wires are put down by life experience, too.

Part of me wonders all of this, but sitting in the rocking chair, Violet’s head cocked in what looks to me like a very uncomfortable sleeping position, I know the questions in my head will invariably grow quieter every time our eyes lock, every time she smiles at me, and as her personality forms into someone knowable. Everyday, the links in the chain that binds me to her will grow thicker, and it will matter less and less why I feel for my daughter the way I do. I just hope I can make it through her teenage years.

78 days old

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