I can clearly remember the first time I made a decision as a parent. It was around 1:30 am on October 22, 2011, the night my daughter was born.
I had just arrived at the nursery of the hospital, pushing in front of me a little rolling cradle with an incredibly tiny new person inside. Mine, they told me, though she definitely felt alien.
I had held her in my arms and welcomed her into the world not fifteen minutes earlier, but somehow it still didn’t feel real. I guess after 30 hours without sleep, nothing really does. I had actually wanted to simply carry my child to the nursery in my arms, but the hospital wouldn’t have it. The delivery rooms were on the eighth floor, and the nursery on the third, and they weren’t taking any chances on new parents dropping their kids on the way down. Annoying, but I had to concede the point.
We got to the nursery, and I handed the nurse on duty the card they gave me at the delivery room. The nurse smiled a mechanical smile and reached down to take the baby. “I’ll just wash him and put him under the heat lamp. I’ll call you when he’s ready,” she said.
And then it happened. A wave of emotion flooded through me. NO ONE TOUCHES MY CHILD. This strange woman was trying to take my baby! I was a father for maybe half an hour at that point, severally sleep deprived, shell-shocked, aching all over from supporting my wife through countless strange birthing poses and generally a wreck. But in an instance I was ready to take on the entire nursery staff single-handed. Primordial parental synapses snapped and fatherly genes roared into action. If anyone lays a finger on my little girl, there will be blood.
I fairly snatched the child from underneath the nurses hands and explained that I didn’t want her (couldn’t help but emphasis that one) washed or heated. The nurse explained that was hospital policy, that it doesn’t hurt the baby, that I could rest in the meantime and that it’s good for the baby. But I wouldn’t budge. I have made a parental decision. I was going to do what I thought was best for my baby, and hospital policy could kiss my baby’s bottom.
Eventually, the nurse relented. At my request, I was given a box of baby wipes and a chair under the heat lamp. (I felt that holding my baby to my chest was plenty of heat, but the nurse insisted. It didn’t really matter to me where I was sitting, so long as I was sitting with her.) I sat under the light, gently wiping my daughter’s face and hair, and holding her little hand in mine. It was magic. “Hey kiddo,” I whispered to her, “I’m your dad. And I’m here for you.” I couldn’t tell for certain, but I think she smiled.
From that moment on we were inseparable. I’m not even talking about love, necessarily, but of a deeper sense. We share that special connection that is the sole domain of a father’s connection with his daughter. When we came back from the hospital a couple of days later, I carried her up the stairs and into her new home. Many new parents describe this as the “oh crap” moment of parenting: You brought the child home. Now what do you do with her? For my daughter and I the answer was obvious. We both had a long day, and we were both tired, so we lay down on the couch and went to sleep, with her cradled in my arms. So simple, so obvious and so powerful.
My daughter is rapidly approaching her first birthday, taking developmental milestones by storm and generally growing up much faster than her mother and I are ready for. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and worry about her. What kind of world will she grow into? What kind of challenges will she face? Will she be happy? Will she be ready? I believe she will. I think that raising a child is never easy, but we will do our best. I have faith. She’ll be fine.
And sometimes, right before I fall asleep I whisper, half to myself “Don’t worry kiddo. I am your dad, and I’ll always be here for you. If anyone lays a finger on my little girl, there will be blood…”