On Twelve Months of Fatherhood

Five years ago, I sat in a sanctuary, listening to an a cappella singing group from my husband’s alma mater. The songs, ranging from pop to holiday, were entertaining enough, but that night my attention was snagged by the toddler several rows in front of me. The music held little allure for the tike, but that didn’t stop him from having a good time, as he treated his dad’s body as his personal jungle gym. He had a face right off a Gerber jar, and I found my eyes repeatedly falling on the precocious little boy.

Between the songs, the group members introduced themselves, sharing their name, college major, and career goals. The singers’ goals were impressive and expected — architect, doctor, teacher — until two-thirds of the way through the group, a lanky young man introduced himself. I don’t recall his academic major, but, when he announced his career goal, he won over every member of the audience by saying it was “to be a good dad.” In that moment, as his words still bounced around my ears and my eyes again landed on the little guy a few rows up, something coalesced inside me: I wanted that. After sleeping on this personal chrysalis, I would admit it to my husband the next morning, only to discover that he, too, had been thinking the same thing during the concert.

Tonight, I tucked in my son after celebrating his first birthday. After a four year adoption wait and a first year full of joy and love and tenderness (and some sleeplessness), I was caught off guard by the tinge of sadness loitering on the periphery of my birthday revelry. I never expected to think he was growing too fast at one year old or to not be ready to let go of the baby version of my son. Seeing your child grow and thrive is the dream of every parent, and there I am, like a walking, talking cliche, bemoaning that my little boy wasn’t o-so-little anymore. If I’m feeling this at one, will I swoon in depression when he starts elementary school, require institutionalization as he begins high school, and just completely decompensate when he leaves for college? I’m not so sure I was prepared to sign up for this emotional rollercoaster.

As fraught as the future seems, I take considerable solace in those perfect moments the last twelve months afforded me. Perfectly ordinary moments that filled me with an extraordinary feeling of love that simply lay outside my capacity to anticipate before he entered my life. The first time he held my hand. The first “DaDa.” The squeals of delight as I tickle him. The smile. The coos and serene peace as he sleeps on my chest, his head gently rising and falling with my breath. The quiet as I rock him to sleep in the rocking chair. The prior four decades of my life had not earned those moments, did not deserve those moments, and, yet, through chance and luck and good fortune and all other things mystical, here I am, permanently transfixed by this wonderful little boy, my son. It’s a strange type of invincibility he has given me, for I can love nothing more, feel no more, be no more.

So, tonight, I think about that young man on that stage, dreaming of being “a good dad.” Only now, five years later, can I appreciate how that young man’s goal far outpaced the surgeon, the marine biologist, and the scientist, for it is an endeavor that gobbles up your soul, wraps your heart around the tiniest of fingers, and dares you to be better than you have ever been. I hope I get there.

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