Photo Credit: Natalie Lape
I am not Ernest Hemingway. He stood six feet tall, wore a heroic beard, and–after being struck by a mortar shell while volunteering as an ambulance driver during the First World War–carried a wounded Italian soldier on his back to safety. I am just under five-foot-nine. I cannot grow a beard. I have never served in war. Hemingway hunted big game in Kenya. I’m pretty sure I’ve never even held a gun, and they make me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable. In his lifetime Hemingway wrote seven fictional novels, two non-fiction novels, and six short story collections (several others have been published posthumously), most or all of which you have heard. I have struggled to produce a single tangible product. Hemingway. Papa. A yardstick by which the American male is measured. Hemingway was the voice of the Lost Generation. If he was exceptional, I am seamlessly average.
When my wife, Jacklyn, was 26 weeks pregnant, our doctors diagnosed him with a severe case of hydrocephalus, and we instantly became overwrought with grief, panic, and helplessness. The weeks that followed felt like months. We made all the necessary appointments and ensured to the best of our abilities that Liam would have a lifetime of quality care and the best chance at a normal and happy life. As the panic waned, we readied the nursery and prepared ourselves for whatever the universe planned to throw at us and our precious boy. Let me explain.
Hydrocephalus occurs in approximately 1 in every 1,000 live births. It is a fairly common abnormality, yet frustratingly difficult to prognose, especially because there exist nearly 200 causes for the condition (all of tests for which, in our case, came up negative). Hydrocephalus refers to an enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, which carry cerebral spinal fluid across the brain and through the spine. At 26 weeks a fetus’ lateral ventricles (the two running the length of the brain from front to back) should measure between four and eight millimeters. Our son’s measured around thirteen. By week 32 they each measured close to 30 mm. Hydrocephalus puts an enormous amount of pressure on the child’s brain and, as a result, the head will begin to enlarge. Babies diagnosed with hydrocephalus often experience problems with motor function, learning disabilities, and seizure disorders. 
Our son, whom we have named Liam James, will be born via Caesarian section at New York University Hospital today, September 14th, 2015. Our doctors will not be able to determine the type or severity of his symptoms probably for several months. Liam will require brain surgery almost immediately after his birth and continuous observation thereafter and for the rest of his life. We have most of the same worries any new parent experiences. We hope he can be independent. We hope he will be happy. We hope he will have amazing friends. We hope we do a good job teaching him right from wrong. We have worries too. We worry he will never be able to walk or feed himself. We worry he will never be able to speak. We worry he will undergo a life of physical and emotional pain. There comes with these worries a tremendous amount of almost unimaginable guilt and fear. Questions arose: Is this our fault? What could we have done differently? I remember her face not thirty seconds after the news broke. “What are we going to do?” she asked, as tears flooded her face with such pain that I felt like I had broken a central tenet of my wedding vows to her. I was to protect her. I was to protect Liam. And in this moment I felt I could do neither.
I feel I need to address an important question I have been asking myself over the past several weeks. Why am I doing this? Why am I writing this thing in this way at this time? I have two great passions in life: food and books. I have been in the restaurant industry for over a decade and I have been an avid reader for my entire life. I originally intended these writings to reflect the mores of American fatherhood and pair those thoughts with some favorite books I have read and foods I have eaten over the years. I can trace just about everything I have learned about life to a great book I have read or a great meal I have eaten in some respect or other. Maybe that’s untrue. Maybe it’s reductive. The project has changed, but not incredibly. I still want to discuss food, books, and the nature of fatherhood, but I suppose if nothing else I have matured over the years. I have been forced to adapt the model and, more significantly, my outlook and attitude have changed dramatically during these last several weeks.
I absolutely adore Ernest Hemingway and all his work. I reread his novels more frequently than those of any other author. I read The Sun Also Rises at least once a year, and I believe it to be the greatest and most American novels of the twentieth century. Hemingway’s first is a novel about bullfighting. It’s about exile. It’s about food and drink. It’s about love. His characters party through Paris, Pamplona, and Barcelona. Their exchanges and the surrounding environment are beautiful in content and style, without deigning to extravagance:
“We drove out along the coast road. There was the green of the headlands, the white, red-roofed villas, patches of forest, and the ocean very blue with the tide out and the water curling far out along the beach.”
By the end of the story it becomes abundantly clear that true love and modernity are an incompatible and too-often-imbalanced “exchange of values” system, in which each of the players’ character arcs results in incredible dissatisfaction. Compounded by the habitual self-medication wherein Hemingway‘s protagonist Jake either drinks “just enough to be careless“ or enough to lose “the disgusted feeling and [be] happy.” Eventually, as the pattern of diminishing returns concludes he proffers, “I began to feel drunk but I did not feel any better.” This is the plot: A carefree adventure becomes a restless struggle for love and ends in desolation. This is true both of the novel and our pregnancy, or so it seemed. Novels have for their own benefit the advantage of ending. Jacklyn and I have struggled to endure, to cope, to find peace and love and happiness with our continued journey.
For all the beauty and accuracy concerning the Lost Generation on which it comments, I have developed very recently many and the same type of philosophical problems with the novel as I have with the man who wrote it. The American male of the twentieth century, particularly before and during the terrible wars, was defined by a romantic notion of expatriation and a lack of loyalty to one’s country or even one’s own wife family. Hemingway married and deserted four wives—leaving three by way of infidelity and divorce and the fourth by suicide—and three sons. Hemingway married Elizabeth Hadley Richardson in 1921, when he was twenty-two years old. By 1925 he had begun working on The Sun Also Rises and had engaged in an affair with journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. By 1927 he had divorced his first wife—and with her left his first son, Jack, behind—and married Pauline. Within the family mixed stories about the nature of his parenting abound. His descendants describe him as passionate, fun, unusual, abusive.  Beyond the exaggerations of his legacy or the extent of his transgressions, commitment never seems to have been a part of his personality.
Departure, expatriation, infidelity, disloyalty, divorce, suicide. These are the defining characteristics of a man with whom myself and the American imagination have held in such high esteem. Hemingway’s personal tragedy seems to have been an inability to cope with boredom, both in his daily experiences and in his interpersonal relationships. My point, I suppose, is that for all his masculinity and all his bravado and all his achievement, Hemingway seems to have lacked either the patience or the inclination to be a good husband and father. He was a living Byronic hero, which for this discussion means he lacked the dependability, involvement, compassion, empathy, and honesty required for truly valuable fatherhood. This list comprises the qualities to which I plan to aspire as a new father, especially one who has had to mature so abruptly as a result of Liam’s diagnosis. Hemingway and his Lost Generation defined themselves by exile and departure. But I refuse to flee. I’m not going anywhere.
To Cook From the Book:
“We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple-pie and cheese.”