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Let the Show Begin

If you are reading this column, there is a good chance that you are a dad. Or, maybe you are pondering fatherhood and have landed here hoping for insight. Maybe you are wondering: Do I even belong in the DadZone?

Upon initial consideration, the answer seems to be straightforward.

But, really, is it? I mean, when does one actually enter the DadZone? Is it when you first begin entertaining the notion of fatherhood? Is it the moment when a single gladiatorial sperm, lone victor over 200 million like-minded rivals, says, “How you do in’?” to the hot little egg at the finish line? Or the moment the adoption agency calls with news of a match? Or the moment your child, having sailed through four billion years of evolution in roughly forty weeks, emerges from her amniotic bath, the Universe’s very latest crown of creation?

My first son, Ben, was born fifteen years ago this month. Clearly, I am in the zone, have been for years. But it is only with fifteen years of hindsight that I can pinpoint the moment I truly arrived. It was neither at the celestial bing! of conception, nor Ben’s January birth, but somewhere in between. In the fall of 1996. On a Monday night. At birthing class.

Here it is, the exact phrase that marked the bright line between my life before the zone and my life afterwards: “Remember, there is a difference between the mucus plug and the bloody show.”

These words were spoken by the nurse leading the class, an earnest answer to an equally earnest question about the signs of impending labor. And here is how I know that I, and every other man in the room, had crossed the zone’s threshold: No one laughed. There was not a smirk, not a snigger, nor a chuckle. Just sixteen heads nodding solemnly, my own included. This was serious information, essential stuff for the proto-parenting crowd.

And yet, some small part of me, some sliver of my personality not yet beholden to the zone, flitted around, guffawing and elbowing every other guy in the room. “Dude! Did you not hear what the woman said?!? Mucus plug! Bloody show! Come on, people! Are these not the names of professional wrestlers? Can no one dish out a disgusting booger riff?”

I guarantee that if you go into any sports bar, any fraternity house, any locker room, and utter the phrase mucus plug or bloody show (assuming you are not in England, of course), the assembled men will either one, pass out, or two, immediately descend into the sewer system that masquerades as the collective male unconscious—unless those men happen to be the kind of men in the kind of place I was on that Monday night in the fall of 1996.

Every man in that room was fully in thrall to the zone. We were operating in an entirely new space, a universe where we gravely considered terms like mucus plug and bloody show to be essential threads in the heavenly tapestry of life. Most of us had greeted the news of our partner’s pregnancy with something less than complete understanding. My very own designated driver! or Sweet! Breast enhancement, fast and free! But a few months later, there we were, nodding with sober understanding at the statement, “There is a difference between the mucus plug and the bloody show.” We were all-in suckers for the zone.

I should point out here that the DadZone is about much more than achieving a Zen-like relationship with nature’s ickier biological phenomenon. (Although we should not underestimate that value.) It is a place where life unfolds more profoundly. My life before the DadZone was like good words penciled on notebook paper. My life in the zone is like better words engraved on vellum. I can run my fingers over them, apprehend further meaning in their tactility. The paper takes on the patina of passing time, and when I inhale, the sparkling memory of years settles in my bloodstream.

But I did not know any of that the night in the birthing class, nor three months afterward, when Dena went into labor. Twenty-eight hours later, Ben finally appeared, aced his Apgar test (he scored extra credit on the grimace criteria), and Dena settled him at her breast and began demanding explanations: midnight hiccups, fried okra cravings – and why, exactly, had Ben required her body to retain more fluid than a ShamWOW!

And me? I had a few hours to go home, get some sleep, and contemplate the journey ahead. I stepped out into the January day and was greeted with the unexpected benediction of seventy-degree warmth. Bedazzled by new life, drunk on the absurdly perfect weather, I forgot about sleep and just wandered aimlessly, a besotted, silly-grinned fool of a new dad.

This January, I’m raising my glass to fifteen years in the zone. I toast Dena and Ben, and Sam, who appeared four years later, making the fool in me complete. And I never forget to salute my two oldest DadZone buddies: Mucus Plug and Bloody Show.

A writer and photographer, Chris Moore lives in the West End with his wife and their two sons. A regular contributor to RFM, he writes features, contributes photo essays, and for six years, chronicled true stories of parenting in the DadZone.
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