Every father has a day that becomes his first real Father’s Day. It’s the day when you come face to face with the responsibilities and when you know deep down that you are a father. It is something that can only sort of be imagined until it happens.
For me, as you would expect, it was the day my daughter was born, though there were some foreshadowings. I had prayed for my child daily when my wife was pregnant, but I clearly remember the day I kissed her before going to work and saw that the “baby bump” had turned sideways. I didn’t alarm anyone, but I knew from the many readings beforehand that we were likely in a breech position. The “bump” never moved from that position. A few weeks later, about 10 days after the due date, Christmas carols played at 4:30 a.m. while a light snow fell as I drove to the hospital to meet up with my wife at the hospital for the morning C-section that was ordered the day before. There was a peaceful beauty all around that tried hard to mix with the nervousness in my heart.
I had been given some advice to stay with the baby right after the delivery. As things would have it, my almost 10 lb. daughter aspirated meconium and needed to go to the NICU immediately after birth. With my wife’s blessing, I followed. What I didn’t expect was that I was told to wait just outside for what seemed probably longer than it was. My wife was to the left in the O.R. getting put back together and my daughter in the room to my right getting checked out. I was alone in this random hallway. That day, I became more than just a husband; I was a father. I started to feel the worry and even the helplessness that some dads will admit we feel, while the rest of the dads silently know it deep down. Visitation was also limited due to a spike in the MERSA virus at that time. I talked to grandparents and relatives to let them know how things were going, cementing the notion that I was a father, but the concern always went back to my wife and child.
As the day went on, I went back and forth from my wife’s room (who still had not seen my daughter, except for digital pictures I brought in) to my daughter in the NICU. My daughter was really fine, but they had her getting IV antibiotics and sometimes in a hood for good breathing. There, in the NICU, all my singing to my daughter started paying off. I knew that she was looking at me and to me. She knew my voice and she knew I was her dad, the one constant who would be there throughout all the nurse and shift changes. I could tell that I was the one that made her feel safe. We often hear about maternal instincts, but I can assure you that certain things bring out “papa bear” instincts, as well. I became quite protective as each doctor at each shift had a different style of care. I was not pleased with the (now I know quite minor) inconsistencies and started to doubt them all. I was this girl’s dad and I was going to make sure each doctor knew what the other had said. I was her dad and her protector from all these medical people who didn’t know this girl. (A day or so later – and after some more sleep – I would realize that those instincts can make one a bit more critical.)
Meanwhile, I was no longer just a husband, but the head of a family that also had those same “papa bear” thoughts about my wife. After carrying this child for over 40 weeks, my wife had still not seen her daughter about 10 hours after the baby was born. Neither one could be moved. It was starting to really bring her down and digital pictures were not doing it. I remember going into the nurses’ station and telling them that they had to get my wife moving; she needed to see her baby.
Finally, about 12 hours after my daughter was hurried out of the delivery room, the three of us were together and, as life tends to happen, new struggles of parenting began. It was beautiful and challenging. It still is. I know I’m not that “catalog dad” who looks all fit who seems to have time for working out and teeth bleaching treatments. No, I’m the dad who tries to spend time with my kids as best I can, despite working two jobs and going back to school so that I can get a new job and so my family can actually get health benefits. Being a father is full of stress and worry as you try to provide for your family financially and emotionally. On one hand it sucks the life out of you as you keep giving, but, on the other hand, that little smile, hug, or look from your child on my first real Father’s Day that says, “You are my dad. I trust you. I know you are the one who will make things OK and who loves me,” let me know I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes, it seems my wife and kids seem to put more faith in me than I think I deserve in my scared little self, but I try to pretend and I keep trying to live up to it.
Life has gone on since that first Father’s Day 13 years ago. We’ve had another child, a bright special young son. We’ve had health concerns and job changes. Also, though, I’ve experienced the pride of fatherhood, watching my children graduate, triumph over personal battles, and become the best and most caring of friends. I’m looking forward to all those “Father’s Days” that will keep coming.
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