Witnessing the wonder of fatherhood

I re­mem­ber as if it were yes­ter­day.

I was watch­ing a tall man with very broad shoulders as he held a tiny baby, look­ing in­to her face with something dif­fi­cult to de­scribe: a mix, per­haps, of love, awe, re­lief, ap­pre­hen­sion and deep, deep pleas­ure.

That man, our son-in-law Dav­id, had in his arms his second daugh­ter — and our sev­enth grand­child.

The scene was Carly’s baby nam­ing, a ritu­al in which Jew­ish fam­il­ies wel­come daugh­ters in­to their lives by of­fi­cially giv­ing them their Hebrew names.

It is that mi­cro-im­age that’s lodged in my brain when I think about fath­ers and fath­er­hood, and older fath­ers in par­tic­u­lar. Dav­id and Amy came late to par­ent­ing, which may sug­gest that it was an af­ter­thought. But it surely was not.

So when our daugh­ter and son-in-law be­came par­ents at a stage in my own life when I was already deal­ing with sul­len ad­oles­cents and their is­sues, I was struck by how dif­fer­ent our ex­per­i­ences would be. And I was wrong. Par­ent­hood crosses those age bar­ri­ers in a single leap. It’s all-con­sum­ing at twenty-something or forty-something.

Dav­id’s first go-around with fath­er­hood came on a cold, dreary Decem­ber day when he reached out his as­ton­ished arms to hold Emily.

All of the fath­er-firsts were en­closed in Emily’s early months of life, and Dav­id was pre­dict­ably a frightened rook­ie. Be­ing 42 doesn’t change the over­whelm­ing sense of re­spons­ib­il­ity that be­gins the mo­ment that bleat­ing cry rings out in the de­liv­ery room, and sud­denly, a man and wo­man morph in­to a fam­ily.

So Dav­id was raw, anxious and ever-so-de­term­ined to get it right with his first daugh­ter. He read those “What To Ex­pect” books, he listened to vet­er­ans, he bon­ded with oth­er dads, and a Man­hat­tan apart­ment be­came Emily Cent­ral.

But it is with Carly that I saw a new di­men­sion in our son-in-law. The sense of won­der — the ab­ject ter­ror that this tall, strong man with the pier­cing blue eyes might do something wrong — they van­ished in the tail­winds of two ba­bies 17 months apart.

Soon enough, Dav­id could change a di­aper with the best of them. He could re­cog­nize the dif­fer­ence between a hungry cry and a bored “I need at­ten­tion” wail.

When Amy and Dav­id ar­rived for week­ends with us, loaded down with ba­bies, porta-cribs and boost­er seats, end­less satchels of mini­ature clothes and all the as­sor­ted equip­ment that comes with two un­der the age of 2, I some­times would smile as I watched Dav­id mak­ing end­less trips from gar­age to house to im­pro­vised nurs­ery.

This is a man who, just a few years ago, would be off to the bas­ket­ball court for a pick-up game, or who would get on his run­ning shoes with­in minutes of pulling in­to our drive­way and be­gin his jaunts through our town’s streets. No bas­ket­ball these days. No five-mile jogs.

These days, it’s end­less daddy stuff. If be­fore it was games of hide-and-seek with feisty Emily, and 15 rounds of “Pat-A-Cake” with Carly, now it’s the soc­cer car pool, the bal­let car pool and In­di­an Prin­cesses.

Re­cently, I watched 6-foot-3 Dav­id settle in­to a rock­ing chair that was con­sid­er­ably smal­ler than would suit him in Carly’s room and quiz her on her spelling be­cause she was afraid she wouldn’t re­mem­ber the big words for her end-of-school-year quiz. I was see­ing my son-in-law, the daddy, do­ing the simple, spec­tac­u­lar things that dad­dies do without fan­fare.

Dav­id is in the uni­verse of fath­er­hood, bound up in a love that is of a dif­fer­ent or­der from any oth­er. And I can only wish him more: More as­ton­ish­ment. More won­der. More giddy shock. And the di­vine pleas­ure of look­ing in­to his daugh­ters’ faces and hav­ing the world tip away.

For Dav­id — for all fath­ers — it just doesn’t get any bet­ter than that. ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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