Eleanor Jane Francke, daughter of my wife and me, was born April 23, 2014. That same day, the following column was published in the Woodburn Independent (the paper I work for), though I had written it the week before.
By the time you read this, I could be a dad.
Truth be told, in many ways, I consider myself a father already. Our daughter has a name, a heartbeat, a room in our house (not to mention a closet, which contains more clothes than I have myself) and a place in our hearts. The fact that she doesn’t have a birthdate — yet — doesn’t change any of that.
But even so, there is just something about fatherhood — something big — that changes when your baby stops being this strange, abstract, mysterious, wiggly creature occupying your partner’s midsection, and suddenly becomes a tiny, real, live person you can hold in your arms.
That’s what I’ve heard, anyway. You can ask me in a month, and I’ll let you know if it’s true. (Though, I wouldn’t bet against it if I were you.)
My wife has been pregnant long enough that I can guess the questions you may have.
Am I excited? Of course I am. Am I nervous? You better believe it. Am I scared?
I think I’d have to be crazy not to be scared.
Honestly, I don’t know if a word exists that can accurately describe how I feel — and that’s quite a statement, seeing as how I deal in words for a living. I’d have to invent something new. Maybe “dadified”: “an excited, nervous, helpless, anxious, jumbled, joyous, panic-stricken state experienced by men in the weeks before the birth of their first child.”
That sounds about right.
Honestly, it is the unknown that is the killer. Every baby and every parent’s experience is so different, it seems the only thing my wife and I can be sure of that just about everything about our lives is going to change. How our lives will change specifically, exactly what parenthood will be like for us, we can’t know for certain.
So yeah, that’s a little terrifying. (Or is it dadifying?)
But I do find great comfort in the commonality of this experience. Because, while it’s true that every baby is different, it’s also true that every challenge a new parent could face — however unique — has already been encountered by someone, somewhere at some time.
I guess it’s only normal to worry that our baby could be born with an unforeseen health condition, or be colicky or a terrible sleeper. Or have an extra head or two. But families have dealt with all that before. (OK, maybe not the head thing, but that one’s really a pretty long shot at this point.)
Parents have had children with unforeseen health conditions, and colic, and really, really bad sleep habits. And they survived. So I think we’ll be all right.
The support from our friends and family has been really amazing, too. You really learn how many people care about you when you have your first kid.
It’s a huge responsibility, being somebody’s daddy. And I admit that I often worry whether I’ll be equal to the task.
When she comes to me with “the big questions,” about life and love and God and faith, will I have the wisdom to answer her questions the way I should? And when the world isn’t fair, when it hurts her and knocks her on her back, will I have the strength to lift her to her feet again?
I think I will. But I worry all the same.
Then, I remember that what my daughter will really, really want is not my wisdom — such as it is — or my strength, or even my faith. Those things may come in handy sometimes, but what she’ll need, more than anything else, is for me to love her.
And that brings me peace. Because I already know — beyond any doubt — that loving her won’t be a problem.