Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Footballs, babies a lot alike

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It was in the middle of a wonderful winter evening when a lovely young woman approached me and asked the question that has been terrifying middle-aged men for centuries.

We were hosting a potluck dinner and I was happily refilling wine glasses and tending the fire when, suddenly and without warning, she strolled over, batted her eyes and blurted it out.

"Doug," she cooed, looking up at me, "would you like to hold the baby?"

Instantly, my heart began to pound in my chest and a cold sweat started trickling down the small of my back.

What with being a guy, I am not highly skilled in the delicate art of baby-holding. You will be surprised to hear it is often different with women.

Before our friends -- including the new parents -- arrived, my wife, who is a woman, declared with wild-eyed enthusiasm: "I am going to hold that baby all night long!"

Throughout the night, all the women at the party, including my wife, toted the baby around with enviable ease, occasionally handing it off to one another with the skill of professional quarterbacks.

They made it look so easy. They would hold the baby with one hand, bouncing it on their knees, while the other hand was used to make dramatic flourishes in the middle of stories or pick up random appetizers.

Eventually, it was decided the evening would not be complete unless I was given a chance to clutch the baby to my manly chest.

I'm not saying I have never held a baby before. I personally own two children, but they are both fully grown and would most likely burst into flames if I attempted to burp them.

So I was feeling somewhat tense when the newborn was suddenly thrust into my trembling arms. At this point, I did what any sane guy of my gender would do -- I held the baby exactly like a football.

If you are a guy, and you want to protect something precious, what you do is cling to it as if it were a fumble you had just recovered in the Super Bowl and angry 300-pound linemen from the opposing team are bearing down on you intent on ripping the pigskin out of your sweaty arms.

In many ways, babies are a lot like footballs. They are roughly the same size and shape, and when they get wet they become incredibly slippery. The main difference is no one wraps a football up in a "super-cute" onesie, or asks a Hall of Fame player to autograph a baby, which is then mounted in a case and displayed over the fireplace.

Another thing I learned is, for women, watching a large nervous man hold a tiny baby is clearly the pinnacle of humour. I sat there, in my living room, the baby trapped in a vise-like grip, my head swivelling on a pivot to scan the room for approaching defensive linemen, while all the women giggled at the expression of laser-like concentration etched on my face.

At one point, the baby and I stared deep into each other's eyes, which is when the little guy sent me the following urgent telepathic message: "If you fumble me, Butterfingers, they are going to pull you out of the game."

So, as I sat there in a big comfy chair, with a newborn stuck to my chest like a refrigerator magnet, my eyes darting around the room like a punt returner waiting to be buried under a mountain of flesh, here is precisely what was going through my mind: "Do NOT drop the ball! Do NOT drop the ball!"

In the end, I got to hold the baby for about 10 minutes, which, in football terms, is roughly three-quarters of a regulation game. I am pleased to report I held up my end of the bargain, and the baby, while emitting some impressive snorts, snuffles, grunts and gurgles, did nothing that would warrant throwing a penalty flag.

The truth is, when the new mom decided it was time to pluck the little guy from my arms, I had a hard time letting him go back to his home team. Call me an old softie if you must, but I will never watch a Super Bowl the same way again.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2014 A2

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