A couple of nights ago, a bit after 11 pm, I was at a bar where I'm a regular and the bartender let out a couple of yawns a couple of minutes apart. I asked Todd when he'd been up since, and he said, a two-hour nap aside, since 4 am. He elaborated that "newborns will do that to you." I remembered that he had mentioned months ago that his girlfriend was expecting.
I "demanded" to see pictures of the baby, and he handed me his phone to show his daughter, and I handed him my iPhone to show the picture of Elizabeth (this being 2010 and not the "I Love Lucy" 1950s with the Ricardos and Applebys). He joked about having fallen asleep that afternoon with his four-day old daughter cradled in his arms and how he was glad he didn't have any weird or vivid dreams.
I then jokingly asked Todd, "so when are you gonna go legit?" And I got an answer that I still cannot comprehend. He told me, "We're not. We're gonna share custody."
Now, there are a lot of immoral or inadvisable things that I perfectly well "understand" or can "get." I can understand not waiting for the wedding night. I can understand shacking up if you plan to marry. I can even understand finding oneself in an unwanted pregnancy and, even if only for the fleeting instant Sarah Palin once mentioned, going to the clinic to have it "taken care of." And sometimes marriages don't work well or become impracticable and, in such a situation, it's easy to believe (and in some cases it is the case) that joint custody might be the least bad state of affairs.
But even after all that bending-over-backwards (my skull and heel are now neighbors) -- i still don't get this. What kind of person or couple will aspire merely to joint custody right at the start? Without even making a go at marriage or living together (and maybe marrying later)? How little love can there be between the two of them that even a child can't awaken any sense of duty or aspiration? And it's not as if Todd (at least in his public persona) is particularly a "playa" or "party animal." Indeed, he told me once in an unrelated conversation that he goes to Mass every week, taking along his grandmother.
I know Todd well enough to bust his chops bartender/customer-style about "going legit," but not so well that I could appropriately ask him "what the hell are you thinking?" But frankly -- that was my reaction. And I don't even want to think about what's gonna happen when the mother acquires some (but not too much) sense and realizes she needs a concrete guarantee, beyond his mere word, of support for their daughter. A co-worker to whom I told this said it sounded to her as if the two had broken up and had breakup sex, or maybe thought about reconciling and decided to celebrate right away, and ... ooops.
I remember seeing an episode of some shout-gab show about 20 years ago, on which some libertine, a woman, was defending shacking up and was asked by a religious-right woman "what happens when you have four kids and he walks out on you, legally untied to you?" And the libertine responded, "oh, I'd have a legal tie to him before I even had one child." Remember back in the 80s when sexual revolutionaries were smarter than now (thanks to 20 fewer years of the sexual revolution)?
I can only reflect on how screwed-up sex makes us, how irrationally we can behave under its spell. And pray that God can enlighten a better path for Todd and his girlfriend, toward a marital love that will bless the child with whom they've been gifted.
UPDATE, 6 MAY: Well, a couple of nights ago, it was almost 2am and I was at the same bar and had a conversation with Todd that was ... something less than encouraging. In fact, if it was serious, it was profoundly discouraging. He walked up to where I was, after he had served on another floor of the same bar. Here is the conversation, best I can recall (keep in mind, he doesn't know about Topic H, otherwise I would not have started this conversation as I did).
HIM: What are you doing up so late? Isn't it past your bedtime?
ME: Is that an invitation?
HIM: I don't think so.
ME: That wasn't what your wife said last night.
HIM: I don't have a wife.
(At this point, I'm mentally kicking myself for blowing the joke "I knew that.")
ME: OK, your girlfriend.
HIM: She's not my girlfriend.
ME: OK, your baby mamma, whatever you wanna call the chick.
HIM: Hey, fine with me. You wanna take her you're welcome to her and take the kid off my hands as well -- great.
I said nothing more after that and chuckled a bit. And obviously, "take my wife, please" jokes go back far before even Henny Youngman. And obviously this was ball-busting bar banter.
But ... nevertheless ... there was something about Todd's insistence that she wasn't even a girlfriend to him and the precise way he said the last line that told me "he's not really joking." Or if he is joking, he's doing so to ironize and minimize some ugly truth about himself in order to make it tolerable (like how WC Fields played a souse while being a bona-fide alcoholic). Easier to joke about something rather than stare into the reality that you have a child you don't want by a woman you don't love. (A temptation I'm prone to myself, I hasten to add.)