For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a dad.
To create a unique human being who is part of you, who will look to you to guide them through life, who will always own the largest part of your heart – nothing else in life has ever seemed to be as important, as blessed, as purposeful as that.
I was not somebody with a clear plan of where I wanted to get to in life and I would never have described myself as stereotypically ambitious. I’ve looked to grow and make progress through following my passions, applying myself, seeking opportunities, and pursuing them as they arise. I am ever grateful for where this attitude has led me.
But I’ve always been clear about wanting to have children; all other goals have been shaped around this certainty. And I was certain that I’d be a good dad.
It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience of witnessing your child being born, although I do like Conor Oberst’s observation in “You Are Your Mother’s Child,” that:
“I remember the day you appeared on this earth
With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big old smile”
As I waited in the delivery room my daughter was showing very early signs of taking after her daddy – she was two weeks late and labor, too, was proving to be a waiting game. That’s my girl.
As I waited – and waited, and waited – I thought ahead to the moment I would first rest my eyes on my little girl and it was all I could do to hold back tears. But when the moment came, my emotions… well, they disappeared.
It was so overwhelming. The beginning of the life that I had so wished for, the moment that was to be the greatest, the proudest achievement of my life, left me momentarily numb. Instead of profound, all-consuming love, the initial sense that I had upon seeing this little person, this life that I had helped to create, was that she was a little stranger.
I guess I anticipated some kind of instant recognition, an instant bond with this beautiful being whom I had imagined meeting so many times. Instead I realized that here was a new and unique life. Here was somebody so very precious, and it would take the coming days and weeks, months and years to get to know her.
It wasn’t what I expected but it remains a very special memory, an early realization that parenthood is like nothing else, that it changes everything.
In those early days I was in for another surprising and destabilizing realization.
For years I held the notion that I would be a good dad. It would be the thing that would allow me to be the best that I could be, to give the most that I am able to give, and I would leave a lasting mark on this earth through the lives of my wonderful children.
Yep, I’d be a natural.
*** SPOILER AL… on second thought, I don’t think a spoiler alert is necessary here.
One of my most cherished memories is of holding my daughter, my first child, on her first night at home. This was everything I had ever wanted, everything I had imagined it would be. It was perfect. Well, almost.
As she slept peacefully in my arms, I grew increasingly tired and I put her into her moses basket so that I could get some sleep. She cried. I picked her up and held her. She stopped crying. I put her back down. She cried.
Okay, Daddy isn’t getting any sleep tonight, then. I stayed awake and held her all night as she slept peacefully. What can I say, I’m a natural.
After two weeks of little but feeding, sleeping, and being the most beautiful little thing that I had ever set eyes upon, the crying started.
And for months and months, the crying didn’t stop.
I say crying, but really that doesn’t do it justice. It is truly incredible how so much noise can come from someone so small. A cry so piercing it reaches into the ears, spearing its way through the ear drums en route to the head where it rattles around the skull like an errant pinball.
And suddenly this natural daddy wasn’t quite such a natural. Having a baby was hard work. The fanciful idea that I could even have been be a stay-at-home dad…? Think again pal.
Parenthood is something that we grow into, and if we ever feel as if we’re making it up as we go along, well, we are. Those difficult early months are soon but a hazy memory, and as time flies and years go by, you’re left wondering just where your baby went. At the same time, they’re always your baby.
We see our parents in a different light when we become parents ourselves; suddenly the arguments, the disagreements, the frustrations that they just don’t understand you – they’re tempered somewhat by the realization that they once felt everything that you’re now feeling, about you. And being treated like a 10-year-old by my dad doesn’t feel quite so bad. Most of the time.
As my children grow I try to treasure every moment of getting to know them, to appreciate their uniqueness and to be thankful for the smiles and laughter that they bring to my life every day. And, in one of the few benefits of being a single parent, I’m more conscious of this than ever before.
There’s no such thing as a perfect anything, let alone a perfect parent. But through everything I do my best to make sure that they know that I will always love them and that I will always be there for them.
And if that’s not perfect? Well, maybe it’s as close as I could wish to get.