The day that she was born she turned my life upside down and inside out. In many ways it was no different than when her big brother was born and in others it changed by a magnitude of ten. I watched as she came into the world, pushed out of herÂ cocoonÂ headfirst it took a moment to determine whether the black head of hair belonged to a boy or a girl. I remember seeing that hair and recognizing it as the same color as my own. I remember watching the nurses give her a quick wipe and looked on as she settled into her mother’s arms.
Moments later she lay in the little pyrex dish under a heat lamp and we talked. It was our first moment alone and I told her in a quiet voice that I was her daddy. Five little fingers wrapped around my index finger and I stared at her in amazement. Two days earlier my father had undergone a triple bypass, the culmination of a summer of uncertainty. Uncertainty because no one knew if he would make it. Uncertainty because I didn’t always know how I would make it. While dad lay unconscious on a ventilator 3,000 miles away I walked a tight rope and danced in and around fires.
Her great-grandfather and I talked in general terms about what it meant to be a father. He looked at me and said that it never gets easier and that he still worried about my father…his son. We had spoken about dad’s illness in general terms but I hadn’t given him details because I didn’t want to say that the docs were pessimistic about his chances. Grandpa was sharp and he knew that I was withholding but he chose to go along with it. There was an understanding between us about it. But I remember that time around my daughter’s birth when he told me that he was going to get on a plane to bring dad home.
I don’t think that grandpa and I had ever fought before that day. He was my biggest fan and would take my side every time, but on that day we spent a few minutes on different sides of the fence. When I told him that I didn’t think it was a good idea he told me that he wanted to go. I tried to politely redirect the conversation and I saw a look that my father must have known well. Those blue eyes were icy cold and the words that followed were…salty. I let him yell at me. I let him unload a little bit because he was grandpa and it was necessary. And then I told him that it wasn’t going to happen. He nodded his head and I saw recognition and appreciation. He was 90 years-old and that trip would have had many complications.
These memories that I share now were fresh the day that she was born. When I stood next to her and whispered to her my promise to love and protect her always I told her that I would do my best not to fail. I told her that she wouldn’t always understand why I did what I did but that she had to trust me. I remember smiling and feeling overwhelmed.
I remember realizing that I was a little bit lost in the diaper area. I knew exactly what to do with boys and I was well acquainted with female anatomy but only of the adult variety. The wiping thing was something that I needed guidance on because I knew something about direction being important, but really didn’t know which way.
Fast forward to the present and the baby is midway through first grade. We are at my parent’s home sitting on the floor of my old bedroom doing her math homework. She is angry because they give timed tests and she doesn’t finish as fast as some of the other children. As I listen to her I recognize her frustration- she is fast on her feet. Most things come easily but this doesn’t. It is not nearly as hard as she thinks but she has herself so worked up she is building a mental block. She argues with me about the work, tells me that I don’t understand.
I know this look and this response. I see the look in her eyes and recognize her digging her heels in. I know because this is me. Â I tell her that she is making me angry and that I am disappointed with her behavior. I tell her that I feel this way because she doesn’t believe in herself. I tell her that if she would take a deep breath and relax it would become clear. But the look on her face is mine and the reaction all too familiar. And then I tell her about the day that she was born. She isn’t looking at me but I know that she is kind of listening.
There are four pages of math problems lying in front of her and I make an offer. If she does the even I will do the odd problems. We start and in a few moments are cruising through it. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes for her to start doing the problems that I had said I would do. She knows this stuff but when she gets worked up she sees red. I don’t say anything else about it other than good job.
Later on that night I’ll check on her. She is lying in bed on her back with her arms and legs tossed every which way. She sleeps so soundly that I could pick her up and swing her in a circle without fear of waking her. She looks like perfection.