Do you remember when everything about being a parent was new and fresh?
Sometimes, the daily monotony of raising kids can push those memories into the past, frozen in a distant fog as we try to make it through the day. That is until we have space to remember them again.
Recently, I learned one of my oldest and closest friends is having his first child! This surprising and exciting news helped thaw some my own early memories of when I first became a father.
For a brief moment, I closed my eyes, and I remembered the day my son was born like it was the first time...
Somewhere during the 36 hours my wife was in labor, our baby boy got stuck. He kept hitting his head on his mother's pelvic bone every time she tried to push. I was an emotional wreck, feeling anxious and insecure about how best to help my wife bring our son into the world. When they made the decision to use the largest-forceps-I've-ever-seen to pull him out, I couldn't stop my thoughts from preparing for the worst. I felt helpless. Little did I know, that feeling would be a foreshadowing of what was yet to come.
I saw his body limp in the doctor's arms as they pulled him out. His skin was blue, and he had a purple bruise on his head. My heart started to sink — but a few seconds later he opened his eyes and looked right at me. He blinked a couple times and opened his mouth to take his first breath.
That tiny breath, it was as if all the chaos in the room suddenly became quiet with the breath in — waiting — until the breath came back out, bringing with it an eruption of intense emotion. My wife and I touched our heads together as she held our son for the first time, and we cried hard, messy, joyful tears. To witness the miracle of life, to be caught up in the sheer wonder of it all, is to see everything briefly in context and to have nothing to respond with except a profound gratitude.
Looking back, a clear transformation began that day. I took my first steps into fatherhood.
One of the first lessons of fatherhood, I discovered, is coming face to face with the feeling of helplessness time and time again. However, with each time you accept it, you find new ways you didn't see before to be empowered and move beyond the helplessness.
To be a father is to feel helpless, yet be entirely responsible for another person. To be a father is to come the end of your limits and find new a strength you didn't know you had and take another step forward. To be a father is to love wildly without any guarantees for the future. Fatherhood is about finding the energetic courage and strength inside to leave all the immaturities of boyhood behind.
When I embrace this fiercely protective and creative force in myself (or "father energy" as Richard Rohr calls it), I'm one step closer to the father I want to be. One step closer to discovering the deeper vitality of life found only on the other side of inescapable labor pains.