The shoulders emerge: bloody, thin, fragile. So tiny, my child is. I worry, not for the first or last time, about how small the baby is, how fragile--and how clumsy I can be. It is part of the endless list of father-fears I keep tucked away in a safe corner of my mind, where I leave it and try not to obsess with it overmuch. (Once, when there was a TV story about the vaccine-autism nonsense, my wife turned to me and said, "Do you worry about autism?" My response: "I worry about everything.")
"One last push," the OB says. My wife bears down and the hips, then the legs, slip free. And I see my son for the first time. I have a perfect snapshot of the moment in my mind: The OB holding him by the head with one hand, cradling his tiny backside with the other. I see that he is a boy and I tell my wife, joy in my voice--Stef tells me that this is the moment locked in her memory, her own auditory snapshot, the sound of amazed, dazed, ecstatic wonder in my words as I shout "It's a boy!"
Then comes the messy business of cleaning up--collecting the afterbirth, wrapping the child and placing him in the warmer, stitching up my wife's partial episiotomy, shooing me out of the way as I snap photos of him in the warmer. At some point they bring him over to Stephanie, who holds him, and sings to him in a shaky, tired voice that brings me to the point of tears.
And then they bring him to me, and I hold my son for the first time. And the tears come. And I hold him close and call him my little man, and he cries, oh he cries, in a good strong voice my son cries and wails and says hello in the only wise he understands. And I never want to stop holding him. And I never want to stop feeling the way I feel in this strange, surreal sliver of time: holding a screaming infant with blood in his hair, my heart overflowing with love, my eyes overspilling with tears. And even then I know that this moment is as fleeting as any other in life and will not last, cannot last, that soon it will be past and the next moment will arrive (and disappear as well). And so I commit every detail I can to memory in the hopes of preserving some small portion of it in my heart, to return to when I need it, to sample its emotional flavor and its immediacy and above all, that wonder. That wonder I have rarely felt as strongly since I was a boy myself. That wonder I hope my son feels all through his childhood, and in some form or other all of his life.
That is the bequest I hope to give him, above money, above property, above all other things that men sometimes mistakenly value:
That's me, holding my son on the day he was born. Not sure if you can see the tears, but I guarantee you they are there.
He turns four today. this is what he looks like now:
The black hair fell out and has been replaced by the straight brown locks you see above. I am proud to say that, clumsy as I am, I never once dropped him. I hope I never do.
He's in preschool now, and is getting good marks--I will allow myself a small amount of fatherly pride and say that my kid is smart as a whip and thoroughly awesome.Also, he loves the Beatles, as his Halloween costume clearly demonstrates:
... clearly, we must be doing something right.
It's been a long, interesting four years that have gone by in an eyeblink. Liam has grown into an intelligent, quick-witted, occasionally stubborn and willful boy. I have held him when he cried, and sung him to sleep, and bought him books he still reads, and toys he still plays with. Today he's getting (and this is just from me) L. Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz, a velcro dartboard for his room, and a plush Yellow Submarine that he can play with during his endless viewings of his favorite movie. His mom is getting him a bunch of things too, including a rug for his room with a street map screen-printed onto it, so he can drive his cars on the rug. That plus the stuff he got from his grandmother yesterday equals a happy boy.
Right now as I write this he's at school, probably getting ready for his day to the end. He'll have passed out the treats Stef sent with him (a mini-applesauce and a "fun size" chocolate), and is probably playing or drawing or singing a song right now. Soon the sitter will walk him home, his baby sister Ella in the stroller next to him, as he gushes about his day. And I wish I could be there to hear him do that, and listen as he tells me what his friend Brandon said, and maybe shows me the stamp the teacher put on the back of his hand for being well-behaved and showing good manners (he gets one of these just about every day)--but the sad reality is that I have to be at work, blogging about it and imagining it instead of experiencing it. I will have my chances to walk him to and from school in the coming months, and I know that; I just wish I could do it today, because today is his birthday, and I want to share every minute of it that I can with him.
Tonight he will get a special dinner--French Toast, his favorite food, and we will watch Yellow Submarine and he will open his presents, and I will think about the last four years of staying up with him when he was sick, and walking with him to the store, and bitching at him to stop chasing the damn cats already, and together we'll tack another year onto the board. And I will keep treasuring every fleeting moment that goes by, and committing it to memory so I will have it in my dotage, to take out as a fondly remembered souvenir. Something to talk to him about when he is a grown man, with children of his own who frustrate him, and fill him with joy, and keep him up late at night with worry, and make him want to be better than the man he is. . . just as he does now, with me. And who will remind him of the wonders of his youth, just as he now reminds me of the wonders of mine.
I hope he keeps that wonder in his heart forever, just as I know I will keep him--and his sister--in mine. Because it is for all time, this feeling of joy, if we so choose to preserve it. And I so choose.
I choose for myself what I chose for him, four years ago: Wonder.
Happy Birthday, Liam. Your daddy loves you. And always will.