Rising to Fatherhood
Michael’s first “father moment” happened five years ago, even though he probably doesn’t realize this. We were at Bloomingdale’s, registering for wedding gifts. The saleswoman brought us a variety of wine glasses. As she touted the quality of the dazzling collection of lead crystal before us, Michael interrupted her suddenly, dare I say harshly. “Did you say lead crystal? NO. No way. Take these away.” My mom stared at him wide-eyed, still trying to figure out her son-in-law-to-be.
“You didn’t like any of those?” I ventured.
“Lead crystal? No. Drinking from those could screw with your reproductive system. Why chance it?”
I was dumbstruck. At that point, kids were a definite “maybe,” but here he was, concerned with the wellbeing of my reproductive organs (granted, his approach was a little rough around the edges, but the mark of a good father was clearly there).
Michael and I weren’t sure we wanted to be parents. We knew we had the resources (emotional, intellectual, material, etc.) to be good parents, we just didn’t know if we wanted to. When we remind each other of that now, our past ambivalence seems ludicrous. But that’s the place we were in— for years. Our decision to get pregnant was based on that nebulous concept of “readiness.” We both wanted it, but the nature of our desires and our thought processes were very different.
I called him at work on September 23rd, 2010, unable to wait until he got home to tell him I was pregnant. “Congratulations!” he exclaimed. Congratulations? He came home that afternoon with a 9-month supply of prenatal vitamins, embraced me in the kitchen, buried his head in the crook of my neck and we swayed, just like we did the day Lyla came into the world.
It was a long ten months between our kitchen embrace and our labor room embrace. And our journeys during those ten months couldn’t have been more different. While I completely trusted my intuition and body’s innate knowledge (for the first time in my life), he downloaded any NPR report on pregnancy and childbirth he could get his hands on, intellectualizing everything. While I let tears roll down my cheeks at each ultrasound, falling more and more in love with my child with each flip and flicker, he stood inches away from the screen, sending a barrage of questions toward the ultrasound tech. Whereas I became a mother the moment I saw the coveted two lines on the pregnancy test, he spent ten months rising to fatherhood, one step at a time.
I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a partner to watch his or her loved one’s belly swell, feeling that little force of nature rise to the surface and kick from time to time. Likewise, I have no idea what it must be like to watch the person you love most in the world enter into the “birthing zone,” grunting, squatting, pushing, refusing your help, bringing your child into the world.
A good friend of mine once said, “A real man is one who can watch his child come into this world.” As I delivered Lyla, Michael’s face was as close as it could possibly to her entryway. I remember feeling extremely proud of him in that moment. I remember falling even deeper in love with him the first time I saw him hold his daughter, seeing him completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had just happened.
A few days ago, Michael and Lyla were snuggling in the living room. When I came in to ask if she needed to be fed, he was cradling her head in his hands, singing “I’ve Got the Whole World in My Hands,” sotto voce. I watched them. I cried. My heart swelled. A real man rises to fatherhood. And he has.