11/19/2008, 4:20 am: I see the head first. Misshapen from the trip down the birth canal, covered in a cap of black hair, matted with blood and placental goo, features squashed and smooshed and squinted and yet identifiably family, somehow. My heart leaps in my chest. I can hardly breathe. I tell my wife it's almost over, the rough labor she's been in (and lord has it ever been rough on her; I will tell you that tale sometime--but not now, as this is someone else's story) will be done soon. We're in the home stretch. Stef grabs my hand with a grip I will be feeling in my knuckles for hours hence, and at the obstetrician's urging she bears down.
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 up there, 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 five today. this is what he looks like now:
The black hair fell out and has been replaced by the straight brown locks hidden under the hat above. I am proud to say that, clumsy as I am, I never once dropped him. I hope I never do.
He's in kindergarten now, and is doing well--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 knows how to go along with a gag, as the following conversation from last night demonstrates:
Liam (slurping tomato soup): "Daddy, how do you make tomato soup?"
Me: "Well, you take tomatoes and you hit them with a soup hammer."
Liam: "Soup hammer?"
Me: "Yeah. BOOM!"
Liam (after thinking about it for a minute): "But we don't have a soup hammer!"
Me: "No, I guess not."
Liam: "We need to get one!"
I love that kid. :)
It's been a long, interesting five 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.
Right now as I write this he's getting ready for his day at school. He'll get to pass out the treats Stef is bringing with him (ALL THE CUPCAKES), and then will learn math and new words to spell and maybe do an art project. Then Stef will come to collect him and walk him home, his little sister Ella in the stroller next to him, listening 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 friends said, and maybe shows me the leaves he found on the way home--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 dinne of his choosing, which has evolved from French Toast to chicken nuggets and fries to spicy chicken (whatever that might be), and we will watch Yellow Submarine and he will open his presents, and I will think about the last five 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, five years ago: Wonder.
Happy Birthday, Liam. Your daddy loves you. And always will.