Notes from a New Father
I became a dad when, on April 15 and amidst a global pandemic, my wife Suzanne and I welcomed our daughter, Juliette, into the world. I had been looking forward to meeting her for months, ever since the first time I heard her fast little heartbeat and watched her wiggle on the monitor in the doctor’s office. So when my little girl made her way from the watery, protective world she’d known into a bright, dry delivery room full of masked faces, I was only too happy to hold her and comfort her after her journey. The first moments, the first time holding that little baby, made an impression for a lifetime.
During the first weeks of her life, we frequently walked around our neighborhood carrying Juliette in our Infantino carrier with her tiny hands and feet protruding. On one such walk, we stumbled upon our neighborhood’s makeshift celebration of its newest high school graduates. People set up lawn chairs and posters and balloons to cheer the graduates as they drove by in a socially distanced caravan, honking and cheering. It was moving to see the community coming together to commemorate this rite of passage as best we could, to cheer these young people as they took the next step in their lives.
One of my neighbors who was waiting for her child to drive by in the graduate caravan saw those little hands and feet emerging from the baby carrier I was wearing and told me my daughter would be here, graduating, “in the blink of an eye.” This is something I’ve heard a lot in the past few weeks. As I’ve shared pictures of Juliette with friends, so many reflected back on the lives of their own children, sensing that it was “just yesterday” their little ones would fall asleep on their shoulders or sleep in their arms. Time clearly seems to shift as we get older, and children seem to enhance that perception.
Juliette grows and changes every day. I’ll never forget the first piece of clothing she outgrew which made its way down into the bottom dresser drawer. Suz and I paused as I ceremoniously folded the navy blue onesie with the ladybug and placed it in the drawer: this would be the first of so many more to come, the infinite changes, all the things she’d outgrow on her way to adulthood.
My wife and I share a joke about time, about how things that are forthcoming have already taken place. Months before we officially tied the knot, we would talk about how much we loved our wedding and our honeymoon, reflecting on our favorite moments. Looking at our little Juliette, we playfully reminisce about her high school graduation, about the day we sent her off to college, about how our little girl has grown up. In the blink of an eye, we’ll be there celebrating her. My wife wants to know if we can keep her little for just a little longer. There is a sweetness to every phase, but when they are so little and you can hold them close to your heart it’s a very special time.
I’ve been working with children in some capacity most of my adult life: seven years working at summer camp in the north Georgia mountains, a year in AmeriCorps working in the classrooms of Taos Elementary, nineteen years working with students in the context of Applerouth Tutoring. I travel around the country talking to parents about how to help their children succeed, and now I find myself with this little one who looks to Suz and me to meet all of her needs.
All parents imagine who their children will become: What will she be like? What will she look like? What interests will she have? I will never forget that image from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibrahn of the archer sending out arrows into the world and giving up control over where they land. “Your children are not your children. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” Juliette will find her path and make her way and become whoever she will become. For now we delight in watching those first tiny developmental steps.
For years I’ve been coaching parents on the need to let young people struggle and fail and develop inner resources, and now I will get the chance to see if I can heed my own counsel. I deeply understand the desire to shelter and protect and hold close. That’s innate. I want to give Juliette everything I can and be the dad she needs. At night when I tuck her in, I often whisper my wishes for her, that she be blessed with health, happiness, love, kindness, passion, compassion and her heart’s delight. I whisper these things and offer my fatherly blessing.
One day I’ll be having the conversations with Juliette that many of you are having with your kids about college and majors and life plans. Will she value my insights? Will she assume I don’t have the slightest clue about anything? We’ll cross that bridge, and I hope to have grace when it comes. Already she’s teaching me patience. I’m learning how not to get frustrated, especially when I’m tired. Learning how to reclaim my center and ground myself in my love for my daughter, even when the witching hour comes and she’s harder to soothe. The lessons are many, and Juliette will be my teacher.
My life has become drastically simpler since COVID times, and my biweekly travels have ground to a halt. Now I stay home, spend time with my family, and do my work remotely. And I’ve never been happier.
Being in the presence of my 3-month old daughter when she smiles and laughs is unadulterated joy. Robert Bly said it best when speaking of spending time with his grandchildren, “Pour some more honey over my head.” I’ll take that sweetness and all the challenges and trials that come with it. One of the greatest gifts of my life was being a son to my father, and now I get to pay that forward and be a father to my Juliette, participating in her journey and this great ride that is parenthood.