Fatherhood isn’t just a state of mind or a simple word…it’s a real thing that one has to experience to fully appreciate all that goes into it. Such a little word to have so powerful a meaning. For me, that experience began ten years ago today and “experience” is appropriate in this case because that is so much of what being a father is…experiences.
When used to express my qualifications for being one, the word experience takes on a completely different meaning because I had none with it whatsoever. None of us really do, until the moment that it happens and what a moment that was for me. When my wife told me that we were going to have a child, I experienced a range of emotions, including happiness, shock, fear, anticipation and worry. What if I wasn’t up to the task? What if I couldn’t handle it? What if I failed?
Let me be completely honest here…I wasn’t ready to be a Dad…and in all honesty, a large part of me had never wanted to be one for a number of reasons that kept bubbling to the surface in the back of my mind. The fact that I was terrible with children quickly came to mind. I didn’t understand them and had never really tried to. Childhood was a time of life to get through on the way to being an adult and getting to do all the cool stuff adults do.
My age also bothered me. I was 37 years old and would be 38 by the time my child was born. That was eighteen years older than my Dad was when he became a father. When he turned 38 he had an 18-year-old son, soon to graduate from high school, whereby when mine reached graduation, I would be 56 years old, in the fast lane towards retirement. These differences weighed on my mind a great deal during the months we waited for our baby to be born.
We prepared anyway, my wife lost in a haze of anticipated motherhood while I worried about trivial things like having to give up my quiet home office, which would become a nursery, or wondering whether we would have to get a minivan (we did) in case the car seat wouldn’t fit in the back seat of our Jeep (it didn’t) and a host of other “adjustments” I would have to make after having become set in my ways. We started trying to come up with names and none of them seemed right. Finally the day came when we were to find out what we were having and I’m proud to say that, watching the ultrasound screen closely, I knew before my wife did that we were having a boy. The evidence was irrefutable.
Now things became a bit less uncertain. We could focus on how to decorate the nursery and I could think more of my upcoming role in his life. Since I had no clue about what I was supposed to do anyway, I figured I would just learn as I went along, though I still sought out advice and read articles along the way. The more I read, the more I worried about it and my reservations continued to pick at me in the back of my mind, right up to the time we went to the hospital.
The due date passed and we rolled on into the month of May. Things got a little dicey the last two weeks and I was married to my cell phone as we waited for the big day and when it finally came, I still wasn’t convinced in my mind that I had anything that qualified me to be a parent. After a series of false starts and delays, things finally got underway on the evening of May the 4th and exactly one hour after midnight on May 5th, our son was born, healthy and, in our eyes, perfect. Whatever reservations I had pretty much went out the window at that moment. After his first cries at suddenly being pushed out into a new world, he quickly settled down and then they took him away from us, but only for a little while. Both he and my wife had come through it like a trooper and they were both ready to get some rest.
We named him Ethan and some 36 hours later, we brought him to his new home where we found ourselves suddenly with a new member of the family and a somewhat jealous cat. We were fortunate that my mother was just up the road and my mother-in-law had come to stay with us for that first week. Life was good and we soon found our rhythm again, although the tune was completely different now. In fact it was better and we enjoyed it.
Since that eventful night, ten years have rolled by and in retrospect, very quickly. Many milestones were reached, just like they are with kids in families all over the world but each one was special to us. His first word was spoken on December 10th and since it was “Da-Da” I was one very proud father. His first tooth came almost a month after and he took his first steps unassisted just five months later. One by one, he accomplished all the benchmarks and we dutifully noted the times and dates of each of them.
He started out with dark hair that soon fell out and grew back in as a platinum blonde, just like his mother had been. I had never heard the phrase “tow-headed” until my father used it to describe him but tow-headed he was and he pretty much still is today. I was pleased to see he had my blue eyes, though I hoped (to no avail) that he would not inherit the eyesight that went with them.
Birthday parties came and went and then suddenly it was time for him to go off to school and before we knew it, he graduated from Kindergarten. I remember well that night, with him and his classmates sitting in their chairs on the stage when the headmaster said “Enjoy them now. You see how their feet don’t touch the floor right now but remember, in twelve short years, those feet will take them out into the world and away from home”. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness at those words.
Somewhere along the way, he developed a love for sports and baseball became his passion, followed by basketball. He enjoyed running too, and we were two very proud parents when he ran a one mile race against runners of all ages and came in third place! I don’t know where his love of sports came from and I certainly can’t take the credit for it but I am glad he gets much joy from it. He and I played a game from the time he was small, where he learned to identify what kind of car a particular vehicle was by the logo or emblem on the back. By the time he was three, he knew every make he saw and since then, has become passionate about sports cars. For that, I will have to take the blame.
In the ten years since his birth, he has taught me many things about myself and the world as he sees it. I became more responsible because of him and even though I still have many flaws, I try to do better because of him and the example I want to set for him. In return, he gives me far more hero-worship than I deserve and his desire to impress his father touches me deeply. Somehow he made me a better person and I owe him the best that I can give him for that.
I still worry sometimes about being so much older than he is and the thought occasionally crosses my mind that I won’t be a part of his life for nearly as long as my parents have been a part of mine but I try not to let that stop me from making as many memories with him as I can and trying to pass on things to him that I hope he will draw from when he is older. Memories of family members that played an important part in my life and who are now gone can be passed down to him, their collective wisdom and experiences becoming part of who he is now and who he will be later. Experiences and mistakes I have made that I hope he doesn’t repeat. Shared experiences like mountain car trips that we both enjoy and can talk about together. Being part of a church that his great-grandfather once led and which three subsequent generations have been a part of. Writing a blog that I hope someday will help him remember and appreciate his history, his heritage and the place we call home. I hope it might help him to know me better too.
I look at him and I see the physical manifestation of my marriage to his mother, the joining of our two families and a mixture of attributes that he gets from both of us. I realize when I see him that he is the physical embodiment of life continuing on and that the only immortality any of us have on earth is through the children we leave to carry on for us in the years beyond our lives. He is the message I send to a future I will never see, just as I was for those who are no longer here in person but who are carried on through the life they shared with me.
Ten years ago, at the age of 38, I was given a great gift and a great responsibility. In return, I received many insights about myself and realized I was capable of so much more than I thought I could ever be. I was given a son but any child, boy or girl, is a true gift from God and a responsibility that starts from the moment of birth and continues until you die, even when they are grown and on their own. I think about Father’s Day, a day when we traditionally honor our fathers for all they do for us but having been one for a decade now, I really think that Father’s Day is more of an opportunity for us to reflect on the gift of being a Dad.
Of my son, who has been very much at the center of the last ten years, I can say with all honesty that I am proud of him, that I love him and that I will always be there for him if I can. I know my wife feels the same way and shares her own special relationship with him and a bond that grows stronger every day.
To any prospective or soon-to-be Dads out there, I would say that while you may have reservations about fatherhood, don’t sell yourself short and don’t deny yourself the opportunity of being a part of a child’s life and having him or her in yours. The unconditional love given by a child, the pride you feel at their accomplishments, the benefits you get each day will far outweigh the sacrifices and the investment you make in them, which never seems enough. For once in my life, I’m so glad that I was wrong and that I have gotten to experience all this and be a part of his life.
I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. Not one bit of it. Happy Birthday Ethan! Love Daddy