When I think about fatherhood and what kind of father I am and have been, my mind immediately goes to my failures. It would be easy to write this post and focus on the ideal dad and how I wish I could have lived up to that model in a more consistent way. Then you would probably say to me, “oh dad, no, you are a great dad. Of course you are not perfect, but you have been and continue to be a good father.” I’m sure you would be sincere and I would probably be somewhat relieved, again, to hear that; but then my mind would quickly wonder to all the ways in which I think I failed or the ways I think I could have done better. I would compare myself to better dads, richer dads, cooler dads, more energetic dads, more spiritual dads, etc.
As I began writing this post I decided that I would play a trick on my brain. I decided I would go against its natural pathway and forge a different one. I will embrace and focus on who I am as a father and will rejoice in 3 things (the first 3 to come to mind) that I have tried to be/do.
It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been or haven’t done those things perfectly. It matters that I pursued them throughout your life and continue to do so even as you grow older.
The song “I Get to Love You” by Ruelle, comes to mind. While it may be more appropriate as a song dedicated to your mother, I still think it works well here. My eyes are watery now as I write these words and listen to the song in the background.
“One look at you, and my whole world falls in line. I prayed for you before I called you mine. I can’t believe it’s true sometimes, oh I can’t believe it’s true. I get to love you. It’s the best thing that I’ll ever do.”Ruelle
I remember the first moment I saw each one of you when your mom gave birth. Moments filled with excitement, wonder and fear as your heads popped out (TMI?). I loved you from the moment we knew you were in your mom’s womb, but there was something distinct once you were actually there.
You each had a very unique birth.
Will, while your mom was suffering intensely, I couldn’t get the ghostbusters song out of my head. As she was trying to control her breathing, she would make this sound that made me think of ghosts and then the song just came to my mind and I pretty much had it there until you came along. It was only much later that I told her (that was a good move). She finally accepted the epidural (this is when an anesthesiologist comes and sticks a huge needle in the back in order to numb the feelings from the waist down) and was able to get a couple hours of quiet sleep before the final push. When the time came for you to come out, the doctor came in wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a backward baseball cap. Both your mom and I had a quick WTF moment. It’s like he was coming straight from the pub. When he came and settled down in position, I expected him to pull out a baseball glove ready to catch a fast ball. When you finally started coming out, the doctor decided he needed to use forceps (think of what we use to take salad out of a bowl … kinda like that). He put them around your head and pulled. Like, literally pulled. I remembrer thinking to myself, “dude, you better watch what you’re doing with those ’cause I’m about to step in and knock you out!” When it was all over, there you were. Our first child! It had been about 15 hours since we had arrived at the hospital. The forceps had left a mark on your cheek that we were afraid would never leave. It did.
Kyria, your birth was much smoother. Your mom learned from the past experience and asked for the epidural early on. This means there was less suffering (at least as far as I can remember) and I didn’t have the ghostbuster song in my head. When the anesthesiologist came to stick that huge needle in your mom’s back, I felt pretty confident that I could watch. The last time, for Will, everything was hectic and I don’t remember seeing how it was done. This time I wanted to watch. Everything was relatively calm. The anesthesiologist asked if I wanted to sit down. I said no, I’m good. Then something happened. As the needle started making its way into your moms spine, I could hear the sound of it going in. The nurse looked at me and maybe she was the one singing the ghostbuster song. I turned pale and my legs just about gave out. She pretty much gave me an order, “Sir, sit down.” I obeyed. Epidural done, I regained my composure and we waited. When the time came for you to come out, the doctor came in. Upon seeing him enter the room, your mom and I had another sort of WTF moment, but very different this time. This doctor looked like he was wearing full impermeable body armour, and, he was wearing rubber boots. It was like he thought your mom would be giving birth to a hose, a flood, a liquid mess or something like that. From that point on it was quick and smooth. There you were. My little princess.
Josué, your birth took a very unexpected turn. We had the experience of two births now and we knew what to expect and how things would go down. At least we thought we did. It all started quite smoothly as well. Your mom’s water broke (that’s when the sac holding the baby pops) and we calmly made our way to the hospital. It was late at night, maybe around 10pm. We settled in the room and waited. The nurses would come in and out as usual to monitor the progress. All seemed to be going fine until about 4am (give or take). Your mom and I had another WTF moment. This time though it had us worried and silently panicking. When the nurses start piling into the room and whispering to one another, you know something is off. They listened for your heartbeat and we could barely hear one. It seemed like an eternity passed between each beat. Turns out the umbilical chord was twisted around your neck and you were in crisis. Your mom was quickly brought to an operating room and prepped for surgery, a c-section (that’s when they have to make an incision in your mom’s belly in order to pull you out instead of you coming out the more natural way through your mom’s … well, you know). While the were operating, I was not allowed inside that room. I could only watch from further away, through a window. Finally the doctor pulled you out and there you were, safe and sound.
Not one day has passed without me telling you that I love you. Some would say that it’s more important to show love than it is to say it. I get it. Of course if one has to choose, saying I love you without demonstrating it is pointless. I think ideally we need both. I have strived to show you that I love you but I have also wanted you to hear it from my lips as often as possible.
I have always done everything within my ability to keep you safe. To the extent with which I can control things, I have done all that I can to spare you pain and suffering. I don’t know whether or not that is always a good thing, but I try! I know that in reality I can’t ultimately spare you from pain, suffering, sadness, and disappointment. I would like to and have done what I can to minimise your experiences of those things. Yet, I also know that life will bring its share of pain and it’s in your best interest to experience some of it while I’m around to help you get through those moments. It still breaks my heart though when it happens in its various forms. You’ve already experienced some that I couldn’t spare you from.
Some of my greatest anxieties come from trying to orchestrate everyday details so that your experiences can go smoothly and contain as few bumps as possible. Obviously I am only one man and I do not have divine powers (would be nice though).
I’ve strived to make our home a place you know is safe for you. Not only safe from physical harm, but also a safe place for you to be you. I’ve shown you that I myself am I safe place for you. I’ve shown you that I am there and available for you.
As you grow older, the protection you need from me changes and the “control” that I have is diminishing! You are taking your lives into your own hands more and more with every passing day. You may even think that you don’t need any protecting anymore. That’s ok. You can think that if you want but I’m still there. Listening, watching, hearing. From close up and from afar. I am not God but I am Dad! Dad’s can do great things to protect their loved ones.
Here is where I think I have been most successful. Even as you were younger but increasingly so as you became teenagers and are now growing into, or approaching, adulthood. I have always felt more comfortable and at ease when I’ve seen myself as your guide rather than your boss. Sure, there have been times, mostly when you were younger, when I needed to lay down some rules that you were required to obey. Even now our home has a few ground rules that you are expected to obey and respect. Yet, in the midst of rules when they were necessary, it has always been my desire to guide you rather than rule you. I remember reading an article one day when you were much younger and your mom and I were discussing parenting and how things were going. The article encouraged parents to “say yes as much as possible”. Not in a soft “sure, do whatever you want. It’s easier for me that way” kind of way. It was more an encouragement to being deliberate and mindful as a parent and aware of how easy it can be to say no but often not even follow through because much of the time our no’s are unreasonable and lack thoughtfulness. Anyways, that is besides the point for now. For me it reinforced my desire to guide you and teach you how to make decisions and then accompany you as you deal with the outcomes of your choices. This evolves over time but remains true and will continue to be true.
So, for fathers day this year I want to celebrate that I am a father who loves you immensely, protects you fiercely and guides you with an open hand. Through the good and through the bad, through the mistakes and the good calls, through thick and thin, that is the dad I am and can only hope will impact you to be who you are meant to be.
To my kids : Will, Kyria and Jo … I love you with all my daddy heart.
And to the dads out there …. give yourself some grace as you navigate what is quite probably the greatest challenge of our lives.