My daughter was born on December 10th, 2008, late in the evening. My wife was over her due date and the doctor had suggested that we induce labor. Knowing that was coming was in a way worse than having it happen unexpectedly. The night before we got the rest of our things together, we talked, we held each other, and we didn’t sleep at all. When the day came we were both excited and nervous. After being induced it was hard watching my wife go through the pains of labor and it was much slower than we had anticipated.
When the time came to start the push we were both exhausted but the moment drove a jolt through me like lightning. I remember watching in stunned amazement as my daughter was born. Those first cries of life and watching the midwife place her on my wife’s arm. She seemed so aware of her surroundings and stared back into our eyes as we gazed down on her. I remember when they were cleaning her up her little hand would curl around my fingers. I was in shock of how tiny she was and yet how perfect. Most of that night is really hazy to me. It was such an out of body type of experience. I couldn’t believe she was here. Couldn’t believe I was a father. Because we were both so exhausted we decided to take her down to the nursery for the night so my wife could get some sleep. That turned out to be one of the best decisions that we have ever made.
My wife was able to sleep that night. But I tossed and turned on the hard leather hospital chair trying to get comfortable. I sat in the almost darkness of the room and thought about my baby girl who was now right down the hall. Around 5am, I decided since sleep wasn’t coming, I would go down to the nursery to hold her for awhile. I waited outside the door after a nurse told me that a doctor wanted to speak to me. It felt like forever until that doctor came to tell me what was going to be the first lesson in what it really means to be a parent.
My brain really didn’t seem to grasp the words they were telling me as I stood still in the antiseptic hallway of the pediatric wing. They told me my daughter had stopped breathing in the night. Most time if it happens children will start back up by themselves. But that didn’t happen to mine. She started turning blue. And it happened a few times that night. He told me that they would be admitting her to the NICU to observe her and run tests. In only hours after her being born, I have to adjust to what may be a tragedy. I quietly walked back to the room and woke my wife to tell her the news.
The next week was filled with lots of tears but also lots of smiles. We would go into the NICU, soon learning the routine of washing your hands for 2 full minutes before being able to go inside. I was a nervous wreck for many reasons and partially never having been any good around newborns. I gave my daughter one of her first baths and I held her as if she were a priceless ming vase. I have a picture of that first bath and looking back on it now makes me laugh to see how uncomfortable I looked. One of the things I remember the most was; instantly loving her. I was so proud of her and took hundreds of pictures and my wife and I would look at them over and over when we went home from the hospital. I couldn’t believe how quickly this love and newfound sense of self and being that I was given once that little girl came into my life. But I was also terrified. I couldn’t sleep and only wanted her to come home.
Luckily, a week later that time came. We were able to bundle her up and fumble her into the car seat as we left the hospital, finally with her. It gave me so much relief to have her home with us. But it also gave me sadness for the parents whose children were still in the NICU and would be for some time. It put a lot of things into perspective. I think back to those times and how scary it was and how blessed I feel where I am today with her.
My daughter is now on her way to being 4 years old. I’ve watched her grow every day. She’s so smart and kind, loving and beautiful, and she’s brings so much joy to my life. Sometimes it still blows my mind that I’m a dad. I look at her and I can see myself and my wife and it’s hard to believe it is real. At this stage it is challenging with the mood swings and just trying to get her to eat her dinner can be a chore, but I love her at every moment, even when I’m struggling to just get her to put her pants on in the morning. Having her has taught me so much about myself and what it is to be a father.
Here are some of those lessons:
Being a Father is not just about being the hand of discipline.
Being a Father is letting your child know that you love them at all times, even when you are mad.
Being a Father is changing diapers without being asked. Giving baths. Doing household chores. Looking for toys and binkies at two in the morning. Getting up and rocking/singing/patting a back to get a screaming baby to go to sleep. Again, all without being asked.
Being a Father is being silly in public just to make her smile (and not even looking over at the other adults smirking at you, you aren’t doing it for them).
Being a Father is holding her when she’s happy and when she’s upset, and making her smile when she gets a cut.
It is being firm when you need to and gentle in your heart.
It is sacrificing whatever it takes for her good and happiness.
Being a father is scary. Your instincts kick in and you would do anything to protect your child and family.
Being a father is THINKING about pushing that fat kid down that jumped in front of your daughter when she went for a drink of water.
Being a father means being there for ballet, hanging hundreds of pictures up at your desk, playing dolls on the floor, memorizing every scene to a movie you’ve now watched over a thousand times, and making time to do those things.
Being a Father means being a great spouse. Loving your wife, treating her with love, kindness, devotion, support. Giving your daughter a mold of how a real man should act.
Being a father means showing and telling your child that you love her. Not being afraid to get a slobbery kiss or wipe a nose on your sleeve.
Being a father is appreciating the crudely drawn picture of daddy (with not as much hair as you’d like), the nuzzle into your shoulder, the giant squeeze around the neck, the ‘I love you, daddy’, the silly grin that makes you laugh, the little hand that still wants to be held.
Being a father is knowing when you messed up and trying to make it right (like when you bump their head on the car trying to get them in the seat in the morning)
Being a father is making time for her. The dishes can wait.
Being a father is not being ashamed when you get overwhelmed, but it is also controlling yourself to not take it out on them.
Being a father is making a happy home for them and to not let them be concerned with your troubles.
Being a father is to be adventurous . Nothing brings back that curious kid in you than having one of your own.
Being a father means doing the best that you can and knowing that you aren’t always going to do the right thing.
Being a father is being protective but also knowing when to let out the line.
There are so many other things I’ve learned and will post some more at a later time, but I hope this message hits where it needs to. Being a parent is the most important job you’ll ever have. I’ll leave you with a quote my daughter likes to tell me out of the blue:
“Daddy, I like you. I love you. You’re in my heart.”