Let me first state that the first order of good fatherhood, and the only one on which I can claim expertise, is finding and keeping the best woman possible. In my experience this is best achieved through dumb luck, hard work, and a belief in miracles. You see, fatherhood is a series of miracles.
I realized the second miracle approximately three months after the birth of my first child. It was late one evening, I was holding this small person in my arms, looking into her deep brown eyes, and I realized that this child was in fact, alive. It was true. I watched as she breathed in, then out, then in again. She spit up on my shirt. She was definitely still alive; a miracle.
The child was very expected. Say what you will, it is very hard for the birth of a child to sneak up on anyone. We had two years of time to become a good team, then nine months of incubation, all followed by a very dramatic episode that resulted in a very small, very alive, little girl. Thousands of years and billions of births came before us, so none of these things were unexpected. These were very natural, very intentional, very, yes, expected. They were also very external.
The miracle I did not expect was so unexpected, and here is the strange part, that it never actually happened. That is right. The unexpected miracle was realized when the miracle I did expect didn’t happen.
Sitting there, looking at this beautiful little life, I realized I was still just me. I wasn’t different. Inside I still felt like I did three months, nine months, Two years ago. I did not feel more loving, think I was any smarter, no cosmic shift, I was still me. Just-me.
And after three months, she was still alive.
That was nine years and another kid ago. The miracles keep coming.
Watching kid number one at the bar in ballet class I see an unmistakable, undeniable grace. Her mother, despite being the best woman I should have never caught, does not have that grace, and I am still just me. Watching kid number two sit on the naughty step after throwing a shoe, I see a sort of bravery, the sort that looks a person ten times her size directly, unflinchingly, in the eye. She does not cringe, she does not shrink; she is absolutely not me. But I am still me.
That is the unexpected miracle.
After all these years I still feel like me and they are not just OK, they are great.
Now sure, I have changed, I have grown, but nothing miraculous. It has all been very labored, very progressive. A natural growth that comes from repetitive actions and climatization. Remember miracle number one?
A large part of what makes her great is that she does not do everything. Parenting is meant to be a team sport and she is the John Stockton of motherhood. She can shoot just fine but she is great at passing. Thanks to her ability I can change any diaper at any time. I know all the words to Good Night Gorilla, can make a pony tail, and have an arguably miraculous ability to leave the house five minutes late for school yet still drop the kids off ten minutes early. All the while I am still just me and she knows it.
That is the miracle of fatherhood.
We are not granted magical powers. We do not rise in esteem through our skill or our innate qualities. We are not transformed from without, nor do we experience this huge flash from within. Most of the time I experience a sort of nothing. A sameness. Normality.
But if I try. If I show up and then show up again. I get to see miracles.
Not some form of super me. Just me.