Ten months ago on Tuesday our daughter arrived — a midnight child, literally born on the first minute of the new day.
From that morning, when my wife thrust this little crying infant into my arms and instructed me to comfort her so that she could get some sleep, we’ve watched her grow into a bright, bubbly little girl who claps, stands without support, pats out beats onto inflated balls, chatters incessantly and climbs on couches.
Before our daughter’s birth, I was never what someone would call a “baby person.” My reaction to an invitation to hold a baby was immediate awkwardness, and I didn’t take much interest in the science of their development.
Since our daughter’s arrival, I’ve become fascinated and enraptured by babies, taking a kind of voyeuristic pleasure in observing parents with infants in public places. On a late-night run to Walmart to buy a cabinet lock I watched a mother and three older children dote over a wailing infant in a stroller, and discretely shared in their tender concern.
A couple months ago, when I was delivering papers in downtown Winston-Salem, I watched a young woman carry an infant out of the Clark Campbell Transportation Center, evidently having arrived on a city or regional bus. A young man wearing a hoodie with long, stringy brown hair approached from across the parking lot. His expression of trepidation immediately gave him away as the father. He was trailed by an older woman, his mother or an aunt maybe, who was beaming. The young woman handed the infant to the young man, and he gingerly grasped the child and cradled it against his shoulder. His jaw dropped as if struck by a mixture of terror and wonder.
I wanted to run over, clap him on the back and say, “You’re doing it dude! You’re committing parenthood.”
All we can do as parents is our best. Within the constraints of time and space and our limited abilities, all parenthood is, is a series of acts of responsibility and moments of being there for our children.
Before I became a father I wondered how my wife and I could possibly muster enough financial resources and time to care for another human being. What I didn’t fully appreciate is that caring for a child takes precedence over everything else, and every other activity shifts to support that one goal.
I do not know what we would do without my wife’s mother, who comes to our house three or four days a week to watch her granddaughter while my wife works from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. At this moment, as I earn a living by pecking words onto a laptop at the dining room table, she’s situating our daughter on the couch while assembling rattles and books to keep her occupied.
But I realize that parents successfully raise children with far less financial resources and family support. Without an extra adult to assist with childcare we would surely make do. Perhaps I would take on freelance work to supplement our income so we could afford daycare, or scale back my hours so I could be at home more. Maybe I would have to find a job with better pay, or we would apply for public assistance to subsidize our grocery budget. Raising a child requires parents to draw on their creativity to mix and match options and to adapt to circumstances.
Only moments after I witnessed the young family in the parking lot of the bus station, I watched another couple emerge from the building with an infant. The mother carried the baby, while the father lugged a bulging baby bag and stroller. In fact, I’m constantly surprised at how often I see two-parent families, not only single mothers, using public transportation. Belying the mean-spirited characterizations of poor people as being irresponsible or caught in a cycle of dependency, what I mostly observe is mothers and fathers trying to do the best for their children.
I worry about all of our babies. When I think about the unfathomable possibility of losing my daughter or of any parent experiencing the death of a child, it levels me with sadness and grief. I can’t imagine any other circumstance that would make me want to cry out in pain and rend my clothing. I recently learned that a friend, an arts entrepreneur in east Greensboro, suddenly and unexpectedly lost his 6-year-old daughter to an embolic stroke. Language fails my desire to articulate a sense of anguish and condolence.
I constantly find myself hovering over my daughter’s crib, touching her cheek as she sleeps and running my finger along her lips to make sure she’s still breathing.
This Father’s Day I won’t be thinking about the sacrifices we make, but rather about how we the parents are the ones who are truly blessed.