Blogger’s Note: I’ve been a little swamped, but here’s a musing on fatherhood from a few years back. (You’ll note we have four children now, and none on the way , knock wood.) Got me a little choked up to read it again — they grow up so fast!
Brendan was about six months old when I took him to his first auction. It wasn’t just some farm sale with buckets of odds and ends and a hot-dog stand by the tool shed — I wouldn’t have dragged him out in the rain for that. Twice a year the area’s Amish folk held a huge consignment sale and flea market on the Yoder place: farm equipment, tools, automobiles, horses, mules, buggies, handmade quilts, goats, furniture, bicycles, scrap lumber, you name it. Plus the best Amish home-cooking money can buy.
The weather was miserable. I strapped Bren to my chest and put a plastic poncho over us so just his head stuck out. We got there late, so finding my own father was no small feat. We finally spotted him at a long table under a makeshift pavilion made of two-by-fours and blue plastic tarps, drinking coffee with three young Amish men who eyed Brendan and me curiously.
I said my hellos, and Ben Miller, the farrier, gave their curiosity a voice: “Just you and the boy today?”
“Yeah, just us,” I said.
Ben glanced at the others, who looked incredulous. “Not scared to change diapers or anything?”
Before I could answer, Dad spoke up: “I don’t think Jim’s afraid of much of anything anymore.”
Amish men don’t do much in the way of caring for babies. Admittedly, they’ve got a bit more on their plates than me — the whole sun-up-to-sun-down schedule, and no time-saving crutches like e-mail or mass transit. It’s too bad, though — they’re missing out.
I’ve been fortunate enough to hold Jodi’s hand through three births, to choke up at the sight of three misshapen purple heads, cut three cords, and hold Jode’s hand again, three times, as her body shook from the residual adrenaline. I’ve made three long drives to the hospital, camped on three hospital cots, and twice introduced older brothers to their new siblings. I’ve played good-pop-bad-pop while interrogating mischief-makers, enforced time-outs with infinite patience, and thrown up my hands in frustration and defeat. I’ve been clueless. I’ve been helpless. I’ve been idolized. I’ve been blessed.
I don’t know how dads ever sat in the waiting room. Number four is on his or her way, and I can’t imagine not being there. Don’t get me wrong — it ain’t pretty. On miracle scale, it’s much more a plague of frogs than water to wine. (Well, maybe water to whine…) But what guy wouldn’t stick around to see a plague of frogs? Thousands of frogs hopping all over the place, and all the girls freaking out? It’d be like junior-high biology class, which was pretty sweet, I thought …
Sweeter still are the miracles that follow childbirth. The big ones — like the first laugh, the first steps, the first words, and the first morning you wake to the realization that the baby hasn’t yet. And the small ones, like Brendan connecting with the first pitch and lining it toward third, Emma singing the Barney theme song, only with a frown in her deepest, growliest monster voice, and Gabe discovering that you can point with your “picking finger,” too.
My father was wrong on one count — I am still afraid. Afraid I’ll mess this up somehow. I went with Brendan to school the other day, and as he navigated his classroom, it became apparent that I was now in his world, a little place I rarely see and have virtually no control over.
I keep telling myself that Jodi and I are giving our three (soon to be four) children what they need. The truth is, we’re doing our best, and praying it’s enough.
So far, so good.