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Man's excuse for sleep: It's only natural

Occasionally, I've been known to offer advice to the groom-in-waiting on how to deal with the bliss of that grand institution known as marriage once he has, at last, become institutionalized.

Most of it, of course, is simple common sense. For instance, it's vitally important to memorize and practice those three little words that every wife wants to hear over and over so that you can instinctively utter them at critical times with just the right hint of heartfelt sincerity - "You're right, dear."

But it occurs to me that perhaps we haven't seen this through far enough. After all, marriage is a big change in general lifestyle, but there is a bigger change that often follows, even bigger than finding out that your odd little personality quirks that were so cute and boyish during the courting phase have now inexplicably become tiresome and childish.

We're talking children.

Now, this is the point where it might be appropriate to mention birds and bees, but I never really understood what a pollination dance had to do with babies, except that maybe it's got something to do with why they always frowned on dancing at our Baptist youth socials when I was growing up.

Still, couples tend to stumble through the process and eventually find themselves rushing to the hospital, usually in the middle of the night it seems. I've never actually researched it, but from most of the accounts I've heard of babies being born, I may be the only person in America who was thoughtful enough to arrive at a civil hour, early in the afternoon after everyone had time for a decent lunch.

The birth of a baby, it is often said, is a magical, unforgettable moment for fathers who do not pass out cold while witnessing the delivery process. Miraculous as it is, however, that is not the life-changing event.

The life-changing event is a night or so later, after you've brought your bundle of joy home and, exhausted, you're lying in bed, sound asleep. Suddenly, you wake up in stark terror because you hear a banshee howling, or at least you might hear a banshee howling if only the baby would just tone it down a notch or two.

Most men at this point will do the right thing, if doing the right thing means a guy will lie there as still as possible and pretend he doesn't hear a thing, then sort of snort noncommittally when his wife nudges him a couple of times before she finally gets up herself to see what the kid's crying about.

Be warned, though. There are some shortsighted critics who will harshly judge a guy for pulling what might be described as a fast one as opposed to pulling his weight. Gentlemen, these people aren't criticizing you. They're criticizing nature itself, or at least Nature the magazine.

Recently, Nature ran an article on a UCLA/Veterans Affairs study conducted by neuroscientists who discovered that with two mammals - the killer whale and the bottlenose dolphin - mothers and newborn babies don't sleep much, if at all, for the entire first month.

I read several reports on the research project, which indicated there were good reasons for this phenomenon, such as the youngsters avoiding predators and keeping their body temperatures up while they formed blubber. And while previous research has shown that sleep deprivation will kill lab rats and cause people to do weird things and drive badly, the baby and momma whales and dolphins showed no signs of unusual wear and tear because of the restless month.

Which helps explain something that happened years ago when our kids were little. Cheryl and I were up all night because they both had high fevers and we were worried, especially after Steven woke up a few times during a 2 a.m. showing of an old Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly movie called "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and made cryptic remarks about desperately wanting a kitchen device called, I believe, a Tater Twister.

After morning finally broke, we took them to the doctor's office, where I noticed Cheryl was, despite the lack of sleep, impeccably accessorized. I, on the other hand, looked down and noticed I had on one brown shoe and one black shoe, which I deftly tried to conceal in the shadow beneath my chair by sitting uncomfortably and awkwardly, thereby calling the attention of everyone in the waiting room to my fashion faux pas.

So, rest easy. It may be that nature has simply given women the upper foot here, so to speak, and if it hasn't, there's still plenty of fuel for rationalization purposes. Besides, I didn't see any mention of the daddy dolphins and papa whales in the research, which can mean only one thing.

They must have managed to sleep right through the whole study.

Jim Hendricks can be reached at (229) 888-9352 or e-mail jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com .