The first time I held my oldest son in my arms, all I felt was a warm rush of incredible joy and a sense of jaw-dropping, gobsmacked wonder at the perfect, wonderful, beautiful innocent we had made. And then the fear arrived.
The fear sort of sidled up from the corner, insinuating itself a little at a time. Sort of introducing itself to me, one rapidly increasing heartbeat at a time, until the fear was all I could see.
I looked into my son’s eyes, watery and mostly closed against all this unexpected light after nine months plus in warm, comforting darkness, and realized it was all up to me and his mom. We were responsible for this tiny, wonderful life.
He couldn’t feed himself. We had to do it for him. He couldn’t clean himself. We had to do it for him. He couldn’t change himself. We had to do it for him. He couldn’t put himself to bed, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk to the horribly vicious world in which he now lived. And, what’s more, he couldn’t go back to the warm safety that, until now, was all he’d known.
The only things standing between this beautiful, wonderful tiny human and a cold, heartless existence filled with brutish horrors were two very flawed adult humans with no actual baby-wrangling experience. My heart pounded away in my chest as I tried to draw air into my suddenly too-tiny lungs.
It’s a bit of a small miracle I didn’t pass out right then and there. The only thing holding me up was the thought that I was NOT going to be the one who first dropped my son on the cold, hard floor. (Admittedly, I WAS the first one to drop my son on the floor, though that was months in the future, the floor was carpeted and it was from a height of about two inches.)
The world is a scary place, especially for new parents. It’s filled with drivers who use their cars like battering rams, driving with all the subtlety of a monkey with a coke monkey on its back. There are hard corners everywhere. There are the hundreds of dangers we see all around us and the thousands more lurking just out of sight.
As dads, it’s our job to know these dangers, to see them coming, then to stand between them and our children. We learn to fear the world. We fear the world so we can learn to become better protectors to our tiny humans, such huge, wonderful responsibilities.
We dads hold that fear close, using it as fuel to provide the kick necessary to move VERY fast when necessary. And we hold that fear close for another reason: We hold it close so we never show it to our children. They must never know the fear with which we view their world.
Dads fear the world so that our children will learn to see the world with joy, to approach its wonders and terrors with abandon, to explore, to see, to become who they want to become. Dads show the dangers to their children, explain consequences, and help their children create solutions.
We do not show them our fear. Fear is contagious. If we want our children to conquer the world, or at least that little part of it they desire, they need to understand that there are ways around danger, that problems can be solved. If a problem can’t be solved, then they can bounce back, be resilient and try something else.
Dads fear so that our children can grow and become.
My youngest son now is 21 years old. His brothers are 26 (almost) and 27 years old. And still I feel the fear for them everyday. Though that fear is lessened substantially these days because I know the men they’ve become. They are strong, responsible young men who see the world as a challenge to overcome, a partner with which to work, and a place they can make better.
If my dad is any example to go by (and I’m pretty sure he is), I’m going to feel this way for a long, long time. He still sends me articles on how to stay healthy, talks to me about how best I can navigate through this world, and offers endless advice.
I listen. I take it in. I thank him for his help. I figure he must have something good going on. After all, he did dad me, and I turned out pretty we— SQUIRREL! — pretty well. I must have, right? Otherwise, I wouldn’t be the lucky dad I am today.
Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Rich. Thank you, Ben (and my new daughter Luz). Thank you, Nate. You all make this a happy Father’s Day.
Just. . . Look both ways before you cross the street, all right? And wear your seat belt. And. . .