Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Message for New Fathers: Be Prepared to Feel

I've been a father for a solid decade now. It has been quite a ride, to say the least; ups, downs, highs, lows, hundreds of trips to the doctor, a few trips to the ER, soccer practices, dance recitals, crying, laughing, screaming, and smiles, real ones.
My expectations about what fatherhood would be have been exceeded in every possible way.
This morning I was reminded of how my ability to feel was affected by the birth of my children.
Feeling Then: The Way it Was
There have been times I wanted to go back to the way things were, this morning was one of those times. Let me explain.

Before my children came along, I was always glad to see a friend overjoyed by an accomplishment of their child. I mean, the "Hey, that's great. You must be so proud" kind of gladness. My thoughts were genuine.
Likewise, I was saddened to hear of anything bad happening to a child; terrible injury, death, mistreatment, cancer, and so on. My sadness was genuine.

In good and bad cases, my feelings were real. They weren't tear-jerking, gut-wrenching joy and sadness. They were simply genuine.

Feeling Now: I Can Never, Ever Go Back

With the birth of my children, I experienced a new kind of love. I expected that to happen, but what I felt far exceeded my expectations. If your child hasn't yet arrived, you'll know of what I speak soon enough.
I was totally and completely unprepared, however, for how that love extended outward. Again, let me explain.
One night, when my oldest was an infant and she had decided that sleep was not in the cards, I was watching a late-night re-run of CSI. I can't recall the specifics, but a child was missing and had apparently been abused in some fashion. At the time, CSI was my favorite show, but I was horrified by the scenario that I couldn't continue watching.

I recall looking at my daughter in tears and thinking of the devastation I would feel if such a thing happened to her. I even had a deep empathy for the fictional family on the show. I knew my life had changed.
This morning, I read the following article from our local newspaper - Heroin's Hold is Hard to Escape, Richmond Parents Warn,"and I was reminded, once again, how my life has changed.
One of the most striking statements in the article was this, "Because even Dylan told us we did everything right." Those words were from the mother who recently lost her 22-year old son to a heroin overdose.
The article was a chilling reminder that, despite our best efforts, the worst can happen. I teared-up for the parents of the boy. I teared-up for my own children as I thought "What if?" Maybe I was getting choked-up for myself and how I would handle losing one of my precious children. 
It was a moment wrapped in horror, love, sadness, and fear.
Preemptive Action is Not Possible 
To you, expectant fathers and mothers, I wish I could say "Prepare yourselves now," but there's no way to do it. 
The only consolation I can offer is that as hard as stories of tragedy can unexpectedly hit you, instances of joy strike with equal force. When you see the tears of joy in a father's face after his daughter wins a gold medal, or see a mother hug her son as he exits the plane that brought him home safely from the war, you'll feel what they feel. 
This is the way it will always be.

Do you have a similar experience?

Image courtesy Joint Base Lewis McChord.

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