[I wrote most of this around Father’s Day earlier this year in mid-June. Always meant to go back and polish it, and tonight was that night.]
Being a father is hard to describe.
I used to describe it as sometimes the best part of my day and the worst part of my day rolled into one.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about it like it’s a secret job in which you can’t show anyone what you’ve been working on for several years. Oftentimes, you don’t see what you’re building yourself.
It’s a grind. It’s a new consciousness I can’t turn off, pervading all of the small things. I can’t drive without thinking about Nora, I can’t work or go to a social outing without thinking about her. Whether or not she’s with me, I’m always thinking about her.
I typically spend the first two hours of the day with her, until she is ready for a nap (or until Suzi wakes up). I struggled with seeing it as purposeful time. I struggled with seeing the point of this season of life and whether I could continue to pursue my own hobbies or growth. I sometimes forced myself to run, not because I was pursuing any goals or because I thought I’d ever get faster. It was because I needed a reminder that, just as the miles weren’t meaningless, the days weren’t either. It would all eventually lead to something bigger, and it was still forward progress, albeit small progress. Sometimes the most you can do is not give up.
It was tough. Nora is a terrible sleeper. There were nights I’d be sitting on the couch wondering how I was going to make it another day, thinking to myself “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” There was a night I got through like 150 pages of a sleeping book so that I could plan all sorts of changes and strategies to try to help Nora sleep better (furniture rearrangements, a bedtime routine, smart lights, etc). There were nights I’d put Nora in the car and drive out to Snoqualmie Pass (yo, that’s 60 miles if you’re not from Seattle) and back just to try to keep Nora asleep so that Suzi could get 3 hours of continuous sleep. One time I randomly picked up Chieh at like 10pm and we drove east, straight into a hailstorm.
There were nights Nora would be melting down while Suzi was away, and once Suzi finally got home, I’d hand her Nora and drive away without a word. There were moments I would just put Nora down or hand her to Angela and walk out of the front door in frustration and fatigue, feeling like I was going to cry.
I am still wrestling with the feeling that I will only ever get to 70 or 80% of my mental bandwidth on my best days. It is hard when my day begins at 6:30am and I’m still sometimes the last one in the office and the first to leave.
The joy of fathering, for me, gets captured in small, unsuspecting moments. I was opening the refrigerator when she rested her hand on my arm for the first time. I was in the living room one night when she got tired, rubbed her eyes, and then held her arms out so that I would hold her. I was sitting in her room during bedtime when she crawled to me, pulled herself into my lap, and continued to play with some blocks. I’ll be playing a melody on the piano and Nora will join in with her own singing.
These are some of the moments that I’ll remember from the first year.
Being a father isn’t all of this sacrifice that instantly disappears once you finally get one of those heart-warming moments (which are often few and far between). The sacrifice is an irrevocable part of the experience, it’s what makes the moments as meaningful as they are.
Nora is way cooler than I thought she possibly could be. I absolutely love when people say that she looks like me, because I’m so proud that she’s actually my daughter. I can’t imagine life without her. Life is richer, bigger, more complete as a father to Nora. The hard part is that it’s so deeply entangled with difficulty. It’s not so easy to say “it’s worth it” and just be happy and trust that you will get back whatever you put in. That doesn’t sound like a reasonable way to parent without eventually becoming overbearing. You don’t know if it’ll be worth it. You don’t know how they’re gonna turn out or if you’re going to mess them up in some fatal way.
It’s difficult - but it is beautiful - putting in the hard work and the disrupted sleep and the loss of freedom, not knowing the outcome, knowing that the sorrow and arguments and tension you want so hard to avoid are inevitable. I don’t know if we have the right vocabulary in our society today to describe it, this sort of voluntary covenant. No description seems big enough.
After thinking about it a little tonight - there’s a line from a Phil Wickham song called True Love, based off of Matthew 16:25. It says “Lose your life just so you can find it.” This paradoxical idea is a decent description.
With Nora, I’ve lost my old life, but I only got richer.