Monday, December 01, 2014

Birthday Reflection

I was born just after midnight on December 1st, 1981. Today is my thirty-third birthday (a number now large enough to be incomprehensible to me as an age). Last night, shortly after midnight, upon the second round of coughing spells and half-asleep crying from my two year old daughter, I dragged my pillow and a blanket into her room, laid down on the floor and reached up to grab her hand. She immediately calmed and fell mostly asleep. I say mostly because anytime I tried to move my hand in the first 45 minutes or so, she'd just grab more tightly.

I realized in that moment, the full extent of my hopes for fatherhood. I can remember vividly, even as a teenager, seeing a young child walking with her dad, holding just one of his fingers in her hand and feeling some sense of longing or completeness. A baby grasps your finger that way from almost the first day they're alive. Grabbing is something we're pretty good at. It happens to often, I know I've come to take it for granted.

But in that moment last night, it all came back to me. There's something visceral in that little hand, the trust, the lack of pretext, which communicates something beyond words. There are a lot of fears in parenting. Mostly they stem from the inevitability of your child's life being out of your control. Things will happen to her - school will be bad one year (or ten), the neighbor kid will push her down, some jerk of a date will treat her undeservedly at prom - and there's nothing I can do about it. I wasn't prepared for those moments, when life is just impossible to figure out and you're paralyzed with what to do, but know you must do something. That's scary.

At the same time, there's the little hand, holding my finger. Even if I'd never had kids, the image, the idea of it would still echo through my mind, reaching for some part of me born to connect in that way. Reproduction is biologically ingrained within us, after all. When people ask what I think about kids, I typically tell them I'm still intellectually against the idea, even though I love the one I've got an awful lot. That answer is a vague attempt to relate with words the experience of early this morning.

Having children doesn't make much sense; there's far too much that can (and will) go wrong. But there's also something - something indescribably right - about the whole process. It's this "rightness" that drives animals to fits of rage if separated from their young and it's also what prevents neglectful, irresponsible parents from putting their kids in a situation that's better for them.*

I suppose this can all be explained scientifically, biologically - a child is vulnerable and an appeal to the self-satisfaction of a parent aids in survival. That may be true, but if we're going the way of explanation, I'll just stick with the memory of my thirty-third birthday, laying beside my daughter while she fell asleep holding my hand.

*And why I'll once again affirm that parents who do give up their kids for the kid's own good are the greatest heroes on the face of the planet.

No comments: