Father

On June 19, 2011, in Commentary, Personal, by Chris

The family and I are in the middle of a much-needed and anticipated getaway to Washington D.C. to spend some time with my sister and her family. It’s always great to see them and we all have a way of moving into a wonderful rhythm together – even with the chaos of two college-age boys at home and the new twist of Julia in the mix.

It is the end of our fourth day here, and I just put my father on a plane home after a great time together. The heat of the June day has settled into every corner and crack of the house and the air is thick and heavy laden with moisture and the smells of magnolia and sweet bell pepper on the grill. Jocelyn and the family are in the kitchen being entertained by Julia’s post-nap antics, and I have a full spirit from the restful pace of my first Father’s Day.

Father. It’s a name I still accept rather gingerly – even after trying it on repeatedly since we found out about Jocelyn’s pregnancy last February. Much of that time has been managing the ebb and flow of emotion during the remediation of Julia’s heart issues (now thankfully in the rearview mirror). Father schmather – I was just trying to gut up the energy to serve my wife as we served our child. There were no deep philosophical values I was acting out of; it was pure survival mode.

With last month’s marvelous news from Julia’s cardiologist and the slow realization that I can take a step away from the survival mode I had become so accustomed to, I’m beginning to take in the stirring and humbling reality of the new adventure I am on.

Never more than now have I become more aware of the length, breadth and depth of my own selfishness. Its realization came to light when Julia and I flew solo for a few days in May while Jocelyn was away at a trade show. “Nothing to it,” I thought. “Just a normal day.” We came home from dropping Mommy off, I fed her, changed her, put her down for a nap, fed her, changed her; and as the afternoon wore on, I set her down on a blanket with a few toys while I caught up on some e-mail. Julia was fine, I was fine. Nothing to it.

It wasn’t long before I began to hear a change in her satisfied coos – even though I was trying to stay on task and be productive. The coos turned to whines. “It’s okay,” I thought, “I can bang out a couple more.” The whines became more persistent. I tried another toy on her and returned to my work; and moments later her frustration melted into a doleful wail and sobs that finally pierced my heart with the conviction that I had totally blown it. And for just a moment, I started to wonder whether Jocelyn’s leaving was such a good idea. I wondered if Julia had given up on me and was crying for her mother.

In the best way she could, with the only personal resources she had, my daughter was trying to tell me something:

I need more than food and sleep. Engage with me.

The quiet voice inside me was trying to tell me something as well:

I want to show you a new kind of productivity.

It was a moment where I realized I had to decide to let go of everything I felt I was owed so that Julia could thrive. There have been other reminders as well – believe me. I have realized that if there was friction in any other relationship in my life (short of my wife), I could either negotiate through that friction or opt out of it and pursue more “life-giving” relationships. I can do neither with Julia; and it also makes me wonder how many past friendships did I pursue with the attitude of a consumer instead of the attitude of a student and servant.

In the end, if Julia is going to know the love and care of her father, I have to set down my computer or whatever else is occupying my attention at the moment and engage. I also need discernment as to when to hang back and let her work something out on her own. Whew.

It isn’t all downside, though. In addition to my selfishness, I’m awakening to the amazing potential that lies just under the surface of my little girl’s life. I knew it subconsciously, but it didn’t come to light until yesterday’s visit with my friend Doug. He told me about his realization years ago at his first son’s birth that, as a father, he had been entrusted to raise someone’s future best friend or favorite teacher. The boy he cradled could live to someday save another’s life.

I admire my friend because he fathers his two sons with that vision in mind. Doug is a catalyst for his sons’ future greatness. He cannot make life’s choices for them, but he can engage with them and help form them into men that ask great questions of themselves. Despite the limitations that have yet to unfold with Julia’s Down Syndrome, I have realized that the same potential of friend, teacher and rescuer lies within the little girl that I love to hold in my arms and lull to sleep at the end of the day.

It is now hours later; and in the cool of the evening, this rookie father is trying to find succinct words to celebrate with the fathers before him and with the fathers yet to come. The investment is massive. The rewards, I am beginning to realize, are incalculable.

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One Response to Father

  1. Amen, brother. Today Bea came out to the backyard where I was working and asked me as clear as day, “What are you doing?”

    I smiled and joy filled my heart. “Mowing the lawn,” I said.

    That didn’t really “wow” her, but playing in the wading pool did.

    The rewards are incalculable indeed.

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