Dec. 1, 2005

I admit, as cliché as it seems, to counting Myowndaughter’s fingers and toes when she was plucked from the womb. I did this right after I was sure she hadn’t received my father-in-law’s nose. They were all there, all 20 digits, all perfectly normal on her perfectly beautiful little body.
Then, a month or two later, I looked at her cute little feet and made a startling discovery.
Her toes, the second and third ones on both feet, seem to share their first knuckle, the one still inside the foot part of the foot. These toes sit apart from the other ones, like two flower buds sprouting from the same short stem.
“Have you seen this? Look, look at this!” I said to Mod’s Sexymom.
She’s grown accustomed to my occasional histrionics, which seem to have increased in frequency since our daughter was born.
“What.” She said it more than asked it.
“Mod’s toes! They’re, they’re … they’re stuck together!”
“Yeah. I told you that. She has webbed toes, just like you.”
What? First of all, I didn’t remember her telling me anything about my toes, but that’s such a common theme I skipped right past it.
“I have webbed toes? What are you talking about? You’re crazy! I don’t have webbed toes.” After all, when we were in that hot-and-heavy dating phase, where we were both dumbly blinded to any of each other’s blemishes, Trish told me how “manly” my feet were. Really, it’s true. “I’m glad to be dating a man with ‘manly feet’.” She said it just like that. Why would she say that, even seized by passion, if I had mutant toes?
With Mod tottering on my knee I yanked off my shoes and socks, peered down at my size 12s, my manly feet, looked closer, tilted my head, kicked a foot onto the coffee table for a better view and there, right in front of my eyes, between the big toe and the fourth toe were two toes, stuck together.
Other foot, same thing.
They’re not exactly webbed; Sexymom was exaggerating. But the spaces between the toes in question definitely are not as long as the spaces between the others. My metatarsals merged. They were just like Mod’s, only bigger and with manly hair.
To find a part of one’s own body one never knew existed is, to be certain, a significant event for anyone. But I was 36. I’d lived with this body a long time, showered thousands of times, put on socks thousands of times, spent countless hours barefoot. Why hadn’t I noticed? I’d even had two minor procedures done on my big toes. Podiatrists had seen my feet. Specialists. Why hadn’t they said something? If I had been 19, or 20, even 25, maybe I wouldn’t be so shocked, my body would still be “young,” newish.
(I later told a friend about this. She said, “you and Ashton Kutcher.” Apparently, the pop press reported on the punked punk’s conjoined toes. Great. I had two things in common with this silly, quasi-adult bizillionaire actor — a sexy older wife and webbed toes. I must admit, I was a little flattered.)
But life had brought a lot of excitement and discovery my way in recent years. Six years ago I was divorced, after seven years of marriage. In the following two years I moved to a new city, changed jobs twice and careers once and adopted two dogs. Then, I met the future Sexymom, and a year later I was married again. Life was moving fast.
Three years after thefuture Sexymom and I married, Mod was born, early one November morning. Suddenly I was looking at, and into, a whole new life, and that life was looking back at me, and crying, and pooping, and sleeping on my chest with quick, shallow breaths with the heartbeat a hummingbird, small and fragile. Life slowed down, and I welcomed the new pace.
I was faced with new challenges, to be sure. I didn’t know how to hold a baby, rock a baby to sleep, prepare formula. I knew nothing about an infant’s demanding schedule.
The genes in my family, my father’s family, are very strong. Photos of me, my siblings and our dad all look like pictures of the same baby dressed in clothes from different decades and posed with props from respective eras.
After Mod was cleaned and warmed pink in her hospital bassinet, I looked down and saw my hair, dark and messy and abundant; my ample cheeks and little round chin; my olive skin; and my old-soul eyes, looking for answers and questions and more answers.
I’m proud of my daughter’s toes. They’re incredibly cute, even if a couple of them look a little different. And I’m still excited that after 36 years I practically found a new body part. But, I’m most proud, and amazed, and appreciative, that this little girl, my little girl, Myowndaughter, has already started teaching me something about myself.
Life as a single man, and even a married man without kids, can be very self-serving, and self-satisfying. My daughter’s life has added new dimensions to mine, outside my own needs, that I didn’t know existed. My relationship with both my parents, from the very beginning, was distant to say the least. Perhaps the greatest discovery, tipped off by my little girl’s toes, might not be that there’s another world available to me; that’s universal. What’s unique is my gradual learning that I have the capacity to live in that world.

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