The day of my first child’s birth (July 4th, 2003) remains one of the formative experiences of my life. Yes, it was a holiday and the day Barry White died and she was born as the sun was going down and the fireworks were sounding off (I swear this all happened as gloriously as you’re thinking). That’s all the pomp though it’s the instant change in circumstance that made it formative.
All the thinking and imagining before a child’s birth did not prepare me for the reality of the moment when your child screams her first cry and you realize as a dad it will be your responsibility to keep that child alive until she can fend for herself.
An instant romantic all encompassing wave of movie like love didn’t wash over me in that moment. A profound sense of fatherly protection did. We don’t have much control about what happens in life but I somehow felt and still feel I did have some say in that (and my other daughters) life coming to be. If I had the nerve to create I needed to have the courage to protect my child.
This sense of protection grows more nuanced as I age and my daughters age. At first it was just about feeding, sleeping, breathing and mom. Making sure that baby was touched and it’s body could grow. And now it’s still about those things and it’s about education and relationships and sensitivity and awareness and self actualization. And ultimately the biggest act of fatherhood is letting go. That time will come. It’s not here yet.
The love, O the love! Of my daughters is unbearably deep sometimes. It was never love in an instant for me, it’s been an extensive root system that as our lives become ever more intertwined I realize how profoundly their existence is in some sense my existence and that their protection is my own protection. They give to me not out of obligation nor some sense of knowing what I’ve ever been through (pity) but because children don’t have the baggage of a noisy world. They love me in such beautifully simple ways.
The most incredible pride I feel about being a father is that my daughters love each other so much. They are best friends and defenders of each other. They are very different persons but they go together so well. What more could I hope who above all as a dad wants his children to survive and thrive? I want them to have a life long companions who will love them and share the pain and joy and bumps and journeys regardless of all the mistakes they will make.
The more my daughters are able to integrate and shape the world of their own and need less of me and my protection the more of a father I feel I become. It’s one of those zen things. The more they become themselves and go out in the world the more love of them as themselves I experience.
And the birth of my daughters was also formative in that it softened my own view of my dad.
God do I love my dad. All those times he pushed me to “stop bitching and just do it” or got me up real early to go fishing or threw a football or earnestly played me in chess and didn’t just let me win. All these times he said get a job or eat your meat first… And ultimately, “Russell, you’ll be lucky to count close friends on one hand when you get older” to remind me that friends matter and you need to cherish them in this world.
All these things seemed here goes dad again. These sayings and actions making me uncomfortable as a kid. And once I had kids I realized that’s why dad did it. That’s why. He had to keep me alive long enough so that he could love me.
Happy Father’s Day to everyone.