A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

Normalizing Happiness

By Josh Wilker

I.
There’s a great photo of my wife and son in a park near our house. It was taken just after our son was safely over an illness that had required a trip to the emergency room. In the picture, my wife is breastfeeding Jack and the sun is shining down on both of them. Abby posted this happy picture online, wanting to share it with friends and other mothers, and doing so led her to realize that there are people capable of acting negatively to a picture of pure happiness, a mother feeding her baby in the sunlight. To some people, it was an eyesore.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder, breastfeeding in public,

II.
There’s a great photo of Jackie Robinson that makes me think of the happiest moment of my childhood. I wasn’t a great athlete, but I loved playing little league baseball, and one day, despite my failings, I somehow made perfect contact, smacking an arcing drive to deep left field, right down the line. I ran hard, hoping for a double, but the ball kept carrying and cleared the top of the chain-link outfield fence. It all happened very quickly, and I wasn’t even sure I was seeing things correctly, but then I spotted the first base umpire circling his pointer finger in the air, the “touch ’em all” sign for a home run. At that point, my feet separated from the ground. For the rest of my trip around the bases, I flew.

1946 photo of Jackie Robinson just after he has hit a home run in his first official game as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization

There aren’t any pictures of that moment, but you can see the same happiness, the same miraculous flight, in the 1946 photo of Jackie Robinson just after he has hit a home run in his first official game as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. The impression in the picture is that Jackie Robinson, afloat on pure happiness, is being welcomed back to earth by the on-deck hitter, George Shuba.

The photo, besides the illusion of flight, seems an otherwise normal depiction of a common moment in baseball, as embedded in the nature of the game as throwing and hitting and catching: one player congratulating another. Of course, at the time it was taken, it was not normal at all, and in fact, strange as it may seem now, would have been viewed by many with disgust as an unnatural aberration, an eyesore. Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, blacks had been altogether absent from white professional leagues. Jackie Robinson’s simple presence on a baseball field alongside white professional players elicited vicious opposition from fans, opposing players, and even players on Robinson’s own team, who threatened to strike if Robinson was allowed to suit up.

I didn’t ever have to go through anything like that. When I reached home at the end of my own miraculous flight around the bases, I was greeted by all my teammates, who had poured out of the dugout, and they swarmed me, laughing and shouting and pounding on me like I was a piñata. I’ve always located the source of that happy moment in the instance when I made perfect connection with the ball, but the lasting happiness of the moment wouldn’t have existed without that greeting at home, which I’ve always taken for granted as inevitable. When you hit a home run, you get a hero’s welcome. This is normal. But Jackie Robinson would not have been able to expect such a greeting as inevitable, which may be one more reason why he’s beaming as he reaches for George Shuba’s outstretched hand. What a blessing to find a teammate waiting at home to greet you, to frame the moment as something not only miraculous in its happiness and flight but as normal, as natural. You belong in this wonderful moment.

III.
You belong. This is the message I want to pass along to my son. I want him to feel safe and loved and happy and nourished in every possible way.

I see the world differently since he was born. I see it in terms of what’s good for him, what’s natural for him. When I see my wife nursing our son, I see it as good and natural. I see that he is safe and loved and that he is being nourished in every possible way. It doesn’t matter whether this is occurring in our living room or in a public park or on a crowded #22 bus lurching down Clark Street. Whenever he needs it, wherever he needs it, it is good and natural and normal.

This is also how the world has seen it for most of human history, and how most of the world still sees it, but at this moment in the United States, an image of woman nursing her child in public can be greeted with an ambivalence reminiscent in some ways of the reaction in 1946 to a black professional baseball player shaking the hand of a white professional baseball player. Back then, it wasn’t normal to see a black player shaking a white player’s hand. Now, incredibly, it isn’t altogether normal to see a woman nursing her baby.

It’s an astounding perversion, this relatively recent societal taboo on babies being nursed whenever and wherever they need it. I’m grateful to be married to someone determined to forge ahead in the face of this unnatural norm. It makes me angry to think that someone might criticize her for nursing in public, not only saying to her that what she is doing is wrong but also clouding the moment for my baby with an ugly implication that what he is doing is somehow wrong. Imagining such a thing, I start wishing for the aluminum bat I used to hit my little league home run so I can stand guard beside my wife and son and crack the skulls of anyone casting aspersions on my family’s health and happiness. I imagine there were times when Jackie Robinson wanted to bash skulls, too, but he didn’t do it. He was on a mission to change the world, and you don’t change the world in any lasting way by bashing skulls.

IV.
Not that I know how you change the world. I’ve more or less spent my life on the sidelines, daydreaming, drinking beer, watching sports. But it seems to me, just from what I know about Jackie Robinson and what I’ve seen from my wife, that maybe you change the world by just continuing to show up, by continuing to say to the world, Here I Am. You change the world by reaching for happiness.

Maybe there’s a place in all this for those of us prone to the sidelines. Maybe we can help by making like George Shuba, by reaching out a hand to others. Once, when my wife was nursing Jack in a carrier as we were crossing Sheridan Avenue, a woman crossing in the other direction said to my wife, “You rock!” This is what we all should be saying in our words and actions. We should all be doing whatever we can to normalize happiness, to reach for happiness as something both natural and miraculous, as if we were welcoming someone home.

Josh Wilker

Josh Wilker is a Badass Dad, blogger, writer and author of Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale and can be found on Facebook.

***If you would support nursing in public you can sign up for the free e-mail course Become a Badass Public Breastfeeder in 7 Days.

Comments

  1. Great article! Thank you so much for giving dads out there the strength and back slap to show up reach for health and happiness in the name of their little ones.

  2. I cried. Cheers.

  3. I am in tears! Such a beautiful piece. Thank you both for sharing it. Abby, I’m happy for you that you’ve got such a wonderfully supportive husband.

  4. It will take both courageous mothers and supportive dads like Josh to change our cultural dysfunction with the awesome function of nursing breasts. I’m an OB RN who help moms birth and breastfeed, but also one of very few evangelical ministers I know of who pushes for open breastfeeding. NIP is a powerful way to help abolish the immature breast obsession in American society. I have written a fairly strong message about it for “Christian leaders” called “Teaching God’s Design for BREASTS” at pastordavidrn.com/files/Breasts.html. Keep up the good work! Your resource links are excellent!

  5. Holy awesomeness! What a fantastic comparison!

  6. Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  7. TropiCarla says

    This is amazingly beautiful. You and Jack are blessed to have this man on your team.

  8. JocelynMomma says

    A beautifully written piece! Head bashing statements and all! 😉 it’s so nice to see such a adamantly supportive dad taking his roll so seriously and with such ardour. I wish there were more not only men and dads, but PEOPLE like you and Abby.

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