I have been a prolific reader lately. Sometimes in books, more often online, I find myself trying to absorb as much as I can about fatherhood. With 9 months notice, I have had more time to prepare for a deployment than for being a father.
I listen to podcasts, read, ask my wife questions I should already know the answer to and embarrass her in group classes by asking about things they just discussed. Recently, at an online baby shower my mother threw, I even guessed that our child would be born 9 inches long (for those curious: that is ridiculously short).
It seems that no matter how many different ways I am told the same thing, the notion of being a father, and the responsibilities that come with it, is simply so overwhelming that I’m not sure I can ever truly be ready.
My favorite book through all of this has been The Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott. Unquestionably, that book has done more to ease my trepidation than any other. I’d like to tell you why…
“Some day, when you are all alone in a quiet spot, I want you to close your eyes and let your mind take you back to the many conversations we have had, both good and bad. There is a lesson in each. Learn from them and take comfort in them. They were given with love.”
I may have mislead you…that quote isn’t from Armin, It’s from my own father. In a hand-written letter he wrote me on my 18thbirthday in all capital letters. It is one of my most treasured possesions. Armin and his book, particularly the “whats going on with you” sections, are simply the catalyst that sent me back to the box to pull that letter out.
I like to think I have learned a few things from all that I have read, but I have learned more from my own father and the endless love he has shown than anything I have read.
I took my father’s advice…I closed my eyes:
I saw three boys in footy pajamas cuddled up to a tattered copy of The Lorax, waiting with baited breath for Dad to transform his voice and bring the characters to life… and then remembered Pixar’s version I saw last year and couldn’t help but think how wrong they were with their interpretation!
I saw ride-alongs with my dad on the job, I remembered the kindness he had in his tone and manner despite the toughest of situations or aggression from a customer.
I saw fishing trips that lasted entire summers, fishing off a loaned boat and hooking my cousin by the ear. I remembered nothing but joy from a potential horror story turned comedy… because my dad retold the story with joy every time, never contempt.
I saw my high school days, and sharing an apartment attached to a farmhouse. I remembered the day I hurt him by telling him that despite his wishes I would attend an event because it occurred “on mom’s time.” I remembered him not fighting me on this… the look of defeat in his eyes…and treasure the lesson I learned that day: That, while I have the right to make my own decisions in life, they affect people around me in ways I alone am responsible for.
I saw heart-to-hearts and cross country phone calls in the middle of the night because there is only one man I have always wanted to talk too in the toughest of times.
I recalled the joy in his voice the first time I called him from Pakistan… the first, and hopefully the last time in my life where I was truly disconnected from the world. I remembered the power of a conversation… not necessarily the content, but the intent of starting it. I felt sad that I have not done better at using that power.
I saw a smile… a selfless, supportive and genuine smile that is perpetually in my mind whenever I think of my dad. There is no particular image I have. His hair, his face and body have changed through the years, but his smile persists. He did it so often that it is burned in my memory.
I feel better…. I feel ready. Not because I know the benefits of breast milk over formula; not because we have researched and chosen cloth diapers; not because I know the 5 S’s of soothing a crying baby; not because I know to burp a baby on my arm like a football, not over my shoulder; but because I was blessed to have the father I did who taught me things a book never could:
1: Read to your children… but don’t read the words… bring the book to life
2: Be kind to everyone despite the situation… your children are always watching
3: When bad things happen, find a positive part about it, tell THAT story often
4: Think about the things that you say, just because you can doesn’t mean you should
5: Call, write, talk… no matter the distance or time in between, each contact is special
6: Smile… a lot
My grandfather wrote us all the other day. He recalled his most treasured moments as a father and phrased it his “memory bank.” He encouraged us all to foster these memories of our own.
I realized I come from a line of amazing fathers that emulate every day the 6 things I have learned. I hope they capture the essence of fatherhood, because they are ingrained deep inside of me… if my child is half as content with their memory bank as I am with mine, then I think I will have succeeded at this thing called fatherhood.
Happy father’s day to all the dads creating memories and teaching their children things they won’t know they learned until they close their eyes in a quiet place. Especially mine!