I had something of a panic attack at lunchtime today.
I think I became a father.
Okay, so technically I became a father over a year ago, and I’ve spent that year changing my share of diapers, feeding, rocking, going to doctor’s appointments, reading bedtime stories and all the other tasks involved. As a work-from-home dad, I’ve earned my “new parent” merit badge.
But today, I looked at my fourteen-month old daughter, happily rubbing oatmeal into her hair; innocently oblivious of the pain and darkness that shadow us all, and it was as though a fist tightened around my heart. I thought, maybe for the first time in my life, “Oh my god, I’ve got to make things better…”
I’d like to say that I had a strong sense of responsibility before she was born, but that would be a lie.
I was, after all, a survivor…other people should be too. I’d grown up in tough times, I’d survived hard places…the world was what it was and you either survived or you didn’t…natural selection right?
Suck it up.
Now everything has changed. Billions of human beings on the planet, millions within hours of me, hundreds that I came in contact with everyday for almost forty years…and none ever forced my eyes open like this one small person who sleeps across the hall.
So maybe only I’ve changed.
Maybe I no longer have the luxury of being a survivor…because now I’m a father.
How can I turn a blind eye to the evil and suffering out there, knowing that someday I will have to turn my baby girl loose into it?
How can I overlook, dismiss, and justify my own selfish weaknesses, knowing that they will shape and mold the person she will become?
Looking at her, I want to put an end to war, I want to end hunger…I want to put on a cape and leap tall buildings…
But, I can’t.
Macho fantasies aside, what can I really do?
Face it, I’m only slightly less powerless, helpless, and vulnerable than she is. If I can’t even protect myself, how am I going to protect her?
But, what if I could?
What would I do; what would I endure; what would I sacrifice to protect her, this precious child who owns my heart, from any measure of the pain of this world? My time, my goals…my success?
Is becoming a father about opening my eyes and realizing that it’s not all about me, anymore?
Do I need to suck it up?
Now that I’m a father.