She looked just like me.
Later, we’d joke about that. “Poor thing,” my sister would tease. But the very first time I met my daughter, I was so awestruck that I let go of her my wife’s knee (I was birth coach) to cover my mouth with two hands. To see my very own daughter left me speechless.
Worthless, really, and I was supposed to announce our baby’s gender. I could have more easily read from Dead Sea scrolls at that moment than to shout, It’s a girl!, so her mom did the honors. Here I was, the day after my birthday, with the best gift I’d ever, ever gotten.
And that’s not nothing. I got a Death Star playset one Christmas. The big one, with the retracting bridge and twist-action trash compactor.
But this baby, I’d talked to her in utero (one of the coolest baby glossary terms) and sung to her, dreamed of and waited for her. She’d arrived, all pink, healthy and a bit frantic with arms thrashing out a bit like the goalkeeper she’d grow up to be. (But with eyes closed.)
The nurse swaddled her and her mom held her for the first time. At least I think she did. Everything was blurry through tears and elation and I felt 17 feet tall, because I could swear I was watching this play out from way beyond the ceiling on that brisk November morning.
And when they placed her in the incubator, soaking in light and warmth like a Quarter Pounder in waiting, she wailed, fiercely. I lay a hand on her sweet head and stroked. Hi Madison, came my words in that singsong way. Daddy’s here. Everything’s going to be okay …
And at that … the crying stopped.
And at that … my life changed forever.
A shift in my world
How could that have been nearly 20 years ago? I was 26, over my head in a job as a page designer at a daily newspaper in the N.C. mountains. I still had a crush on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And I was supposed to be a girl’s father?
My world shifted right then. Here’s how.
1. My brain changed
I worked the most un-banker hours imaginable on an a.m. newspaper’s sports staff. I’d come home mentally bedraggled at 2 a.m., wanting nothing more than a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a couple of reruns of The Jeffersons. Now, I’d have that with a wide-awake baby in my arms.
Every pre-dawn hour spent soothing her, every play date I took her on, every diaper I changed and every meal I fed her, my fathering instincts sharpened, as I’m sure happens in the wild. You know, with father pandas, if pandas were at all driven at something like this.
Teaching her and learning her and protecting her became the most important thing.
2. I got at once calmer and more vigilant
So what happens when oxytocin collides with testosterone in a guy? Well, sometimes the testosterone takes the oxytocin’s lunch. Or, the oxytocin defuses the testosterone slowly and degrades it from triceratops status to a roughly the equivalent of a tulip.
I felt like testosterone instead spooned the oxytocin, which in turn let the testosterone watch all the football he wanted to on a Sunday. I felt tender as could be with my daughters, coloring with them and going on daddy-daughter dates to nature centers and festivals, hand in hand.
I also would put a punk on his arse if I needed to. In the mall one day, one dumb teenage boy thought he’d be cute and shove his mate right toward the stroller I was pushing with Madison sleeping inside. I stepped in front and stuck an elbow in the kid’s ribs.
3. I became inextricably bound to my daughter
And it happened twice more, when her sisters were born. Each time, I felt the bond amid adversity, when Hayden was born just after my father died, and when Camdyn arrived, her mom fighting symptoms that turned out to be from Multiple Sclerosis.
Relationships with my daughters have been at once complex and easy as Sunday morning.
They are conversations that take up an entire car ride, and they are silent moments that need no words, just a hand I offer behind the driver’s seat to their car seat, when they reach up and let me hold their hand for a moment.
I’m imperfect for this role, and wholly indebted for the transformation it has made in me, as a writer, a man, a coach, and just a person.
And never again, not even once, not even during the most trying times, have I ever again felt worthless as I did that first moment of fatherhood. These girls have done what no job, no promotion, no achievement ever could do: deemed me worthy.
[Find Coach Daddy Blog here. Thank you so much Eli for sharing this with my readers here on DaySixtyFive, you are a joy to chat with. I hope to see more of you here!
If you would like to guest post here on Daysixtyfive.com, let me know in the comments]