It is 10:42 p.m. on the second day of my son’s life.
I am strolling him down the hall of Hillcrest Hospital’s postnatal unit, so my wife can snatch an hour’s sleep.
We’ve promenaded this corridor so often that I’ve memorized the number of steps it requires: 150. That doesn’t count the eight or so it takes to turn a bassinet around to begin the return trip.
The walk serves three purposes. The motion lulls the boy to sleep, it allows mama a chance to rest and it gives me something to do besides worry.
My worries are typical of first-time parents. Why doesn’t my child eat more? Why doesn’t he sleep longer? Am I doing something wrong? These concerns will fade with experience. But, for now, all I know is that my son likes to move. So we walk and, as we amble, we get to know each other.
During this lap, I tell him how we picked his name.
“Your last name is my last name. It’s a family name. It’s how people know we’re part of a bundled set,” I begin. “But there’s more in you than we were able to squeeze into a surname. You’ve got Bonnar and Swain and Lipinski and Mangione and Ainsworth. All of these are your family. They made you possible.”
We pass by the nurses’ station, but I’ve been strolling long enough that they no longer notice me.
“And your first name… well, honestly, your mom and I made an enormous list of names we didn’t hate, then we threw them all out because we decided we hated them. Then we made a second list; and, of all those names on the second list, we hated your name the least. So it was an aesthetic compromise. There might be a life lesson in that, but I don’t know what it is.
“But your middle name has a story behind it. Patrick is my cousin. We named you after him for a couple of reasons. First of all, we love Patrick. Of course, we love a lot of people, and we can’t name you after all of them.
“But Patrick’s special. When he was younger, he had something called hydrocephalus, which means he had water in his brain. One day, they were revising the shunt in his head, and something happened. Debris blocked the tube and the breathing center of his brain shut down. Long story short: for 15 minutes, oxygen couldn’t get to your big cousin Patrick’s brain. But somehow he survived that. Miraculously, the score is still Patrick: 1; Death: 0. Patrick might not walk or talk so well now, but he’s alive.
“And here’s the thing — the thing that’s more important than the walking or talking or anything like that. Patrick’s this big old battery of joy. He’s joyful all the time. Not just happy — see, happiness is circumstantial. Mommy will be happy when you can eat without screaming, and I’ll be happy when you sleep for more than 45 minutes. And, you, you’ll probably be happier when everyone stops trying to weigh you and stick you and measure your bilirubin.
“But joy isn’t circumstantial. You’re joyful because you’re joyful. And that’s why we named you Patrick, because we hope you get that from him.
“Also, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll have red hair, so we figured naming you Patrick steered into that particular curve,” I add.
We’re nearing our room, but I have more to say — I’ll always have more to say — so I slow my steps.
“Here’s the funny thing about your name. We gave it to you because its parts meant something to us. But you get to decide what it ultimately means. All these gifts from us — your mother’s eyes, my ears (sorry about that), whatever we manage to stash in your 529 — they don’t mean anything until you do something with them.
We reach our room, and my wife is awake and waiting for an opportunity to feed the boy.
“So I hope you like your name,” I whisper to him. “But more than anything, I can’t wait to see what you do with it.”