December 16, 1999
Letter to an Expecting Parent
Prime Minister Tony Blair
10 Downing Street
Dear Mr. Prime Minister;
By now you have certainly received thousands of congratulatory messages celebrating the good news that you and your wife, Cherie, are expecting a baby next summer.
I imagine that most have come from people who went through the experience at a more suitable age. These best wishes come from one who fathered his last child (of four) at the age of 53 and is concerned that you be aware of some of the pitfalls that await the recycled father.
By this time all of your friends and colleagues have assured you that the new baby "will make you young again." This is arrant nonsense; it will age you faster than you can imagine. There is nothing more conducive to the graying of hair than the wail of a newborn infant at 4 a.m. after a long session of hostile questions in Parliament about Kosovo. I have never actually experienced the latter but I have plenty of knowledge of the former and in that, as with so much else in life, younger is easier than older.
I have never visited 10 Downing Street, but after years of watching "Masterpiece Theater" and "Yes, Prime Minister" I feel as if I know it well. Never have I seen a baby room or even an empty crib within its historic walls. Cherie's friends are certain to give her a baby shower before the event. A word of caution: They will all assume that you have retained the essential equipment for baby-rearing from your older children. If you are like most of us this is a dangerous assumption and those fitted sheets, cute jumpers and adorable snowsuits are now serving, via the Salvation Army, legions of tykes in Africa and Asia. Get the word out that it's back to basics for the new parents and leave the giving of luxury items to members of your Cabinet.
Never assume that, in child rearing matters at least, you have learned anything from past experience. Two months after my latest made her appearance, I spoke to the Jewish nursery school teachers association in Los Angeles on the joys and trials of late fatherhood. I shared with them a misguided belief that I would learn from my mistakes of the past. This child was not going to be educated by a TV set, but in schools and libraries, and would play Mozart on the violin at the age of 3.
In fact, I told my disbelieving audience, this child will grow up insulated from the more culturally debased elements in American life and develop into an admirable human being sans neuroses and sans commercial messages.
Nu, a nechtige tog, as they say in Yiddish -- it didn't happen.
The daughter from whom I expected all these things is now 19, a sophomore at Brandeis University, exceedingly talented in many ways and certainly too good for any young man who may some day wish to marry her. But she shares her generation's fascination with music I cannot begin to understand and she would rather watch the X-Files than Masterpiece Theater.
So, Mr. Prime Minister, enjoy your child, just don't expect too much, and keep in mind that he or she will provide you with one distinct political advantage. Some day, when the opposing bench is particularly unruly and abusive about some government policy you hold dear, excuse yourself from the proceedings because the baby's diapers need changing. No politician who hopes to win an election in a democratic country will dare to oppose you.
Providence, Rhode Island
Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.