Like with any new parent, I’ve found the first weeks of being a dad to be a mix of emotions, sleep deprivation, frustration, and a sense of hope for their future.
If any of my regular readers have wondered where I’ve been in recent months, the answer is “trying to get sleep every spare moment I can”. That’s because on June 9 my wife and I became the proud parents to Hannah Grace Jenkins, who at 6 lbs 15 oz became simultaneously the heaviest and lightest thing to ever come into my life.
So many people who have seen me recently ask how it feels to be a dad. I haven’t been sure how to answer them because the experience has been too fresh for me to have any perspective (and also because I’ve been too tired to do any self-reflection). It’s only been ten weeks since our little girl came to us, but I will say this: I can hardly remember not being a father. It’s as if I was born again at the same time she was born. The world is as new for me as it is for her.
A few days ago my wife and I went on our first “date” since Hannah was born – a glassy-eyed dinner at our favorite Mexican place, where we mostly talked about the baby, what we thought we were doing right and wrong with her, and how we could help each other not go crazy from sleep-deprivation. Staring off into space while wearily picking at chimichangas, I was finally able to articulate some of the feelings growing inside of me.
For starters, I realized that the fresh experience of parenthood is a swirling mix of emotions. There was no “one thing” I could say that being a dad has roused within me, but the first thing that came to mind was all of the happiness that our girl brought with her into the world. Why was it that when I saw her come writhing and screaming from the womb, looking about as bloody and hideous as anything from Stephen King’s imagination, that I immediately started wiping tears from my eyes (why am I wiping them now, just remembering it)? It was because life is intrinsically good. Here was barely one hundred ounces of wriggling, squirming life before my very eyes, in all of its waking glory, and all I could be in the presence of such a mystery was truly, deeply happy.
Then, as any parent knows, I have felt a growing love for my daughter in the days since her birth, the kind of love that expands and fills crevices in your heart that you didn’t know existed. That’s sentimentality speaking, of course, but sometimes all we have is sentiment with newborns. That’s how I’ve found that you can love someone so deeply while knowing almost nothing about them. Here is a person with no personality and with no personal history… how in the world could you have such a deep affection toward them? And yet, there it is, deep in your breast, a love that doesn’t need a ‘why’, only a ‘because’.
But then how you can love someone so much but at times like them so little? For another thing you feel being a dad is frustration.
Two weeks after wiping tears from my eyes in the delivery room, I discovered that happiness quickly dissipates when you aren’t getting any sleep. There I was, half-awake and cradling the baby in my arms at 3:00 A.M. when the ugly crying started. Angry at the fact that I needed to go to work in two hours and was losing valuable rest, I put her on the couch, stomped off to the bedroom, yanked the rock n’ play off the floor, ripped the plug out of the wall, and stomped back to the living room where I had some choice words with Hannah. Seconds later my wife emerged from the bedroom wiping sleep from her eyes and asked me, “I’m sorry, but did you just yell “Shut up!” at the baby?” Needless to say, I was relieved of duty for the night, and I embarrassingly went back to sleep.
And of course, the same little person who fills your heart with love and scrapes your fraying nerves with her midnight caterwauling is the same one that you jolt out of bed for three or four times a night to make sure she’s still breathing. The anxiety hasn’t gripped me probably as strongly as my wife, but there is no denying that every parent feels it to some degree or another for their child, especially in their earliest days. Add to that the fear of their unknown future, and knowing that you might not always be able to help them or make them not hurt, and you finally know what it is to truly worry about someone.
There are lots of other attendant feelings I don’t have space to mention here: sincere thankfulness to God for this incredible gift of life; a deep appreciation for my wife and every woman who has endured the long trials of pregnancy and labor; sympathy and grief for those who have lost a child in the process of birth or after; gratitude to friends and family who have helped with babysitting, meals, advice, and loving support; joy in watching grandparents and great-grandparents fawn over the little princess. Like I said, it’s a swirling mix of emotions.
Lastly, though it has been the most subtle of feelings, hope is undeniably something that I have experienced in recent days. Not hope for the world, in the sense that my daughter represents a new generation of people who will tackle and hopefully resolve tomorrow’s problems, though she does. Not hope for myself, in that I sense some greater reason to live now than I did before she was born, though I do. The hope, rather, is for her, and for what she will become. When it comes to reaching my potential, I tend to frame things negatively and worry about what I won’t achieve. When it comes to Hannah’s potential, all I can see are positive things, a house filled with doors of possibility that I want to do everything I can to help open for her. This happy anticipation of everything good she can become and experience, I think, is part of the hope I have for my daughter.
Well, there I go thinking about it all and crying tears of joy again. But for everyone who knows what I’m talking about, do you blame a man for it?