One of the most meaningful things you can do for a loved one is to give your memories as a gift. My friend John Kingston illustrates this in “The Coming Years.” By sharing what his first moments with them were like, he gives his daughters a wonderful gift.
It plays in my mind like the famous scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life where an elated George Bailey runs down the street, joyously shouting ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone he encounters. It was the same feeling, only it wasn’t Christmas. On a January night, beneath the first full moon of the year, you arrived in our lives, Lauren. It was a mild late afternoon in early spring for you, Hana. My Jellybean. My Hana-bird. Jels. My Chunky little R2D2. My Larvae of Love.
I don’t mind saying that I got teary-eyed when I first held you; your tiny, pink, wrinkled, lanugo-covered mass wriggling helplessly around in my hands. It sounds cliché, but being there for your births really were the greatest moments of my life. A simple trip to the corner store turned me into a living, spouting marquee that announced to annoyed bystanders that I was a proud new papa.
Needless to say, it was a life-changing moment for me. For in that instant of your arrival, I was immediately transformed into your personal, lifelong secret service agent. Your one-dad entourage. I wouldn’t let you out of my sight; even following the doctors and the nurses around as they examined and weighed you. Welcoming you—and later your baby sister—into my life stirred in me the most basic, primal instincts of protectiveness an animal can possibly have for its young.
On your way home from the hospital, I drove as if I were transporting nitroglycerin; maneuvering the car around every little pothole and pockmark that might cause you the slightest discomfort and flashing vicious screw you glances at every car that blew past us. That first night together, I became emotional just holding you by the window and watching the moonlight reflect in your eyes.
Since one of your PhDs will likely be in mathematics, I’ll illustrate it thusly: I’m 40, which means that parenthood has soaked up just 1% of my life. Yet, it’s the experiences and lessons gathered within that short frame of time that best defines me now, not the stuff that happened all those years before.
While you’re young, life will seem to move at a slow crawl. You’ll spend your time wishing you were older so you can stay up later, wear makeup, have your own phone, date, drive, and eventually…sigh…go out into the world on your own. With the exception of wearing makeup, I, too felt the same way. Now, all of a sudden, the face that stares back at me in the mirror has faint lines etched into it like a roadmap. Gray hair has spread across my head like slow-moving tundra.
When we first learned that we were expecting, I began keeping a journal. There’s a sonogram taped to the inside cover of you; sepia-tinged and alien-looking with your thumb stuck in your mouth. Not knowing your name or even your sex, I addressed the very first entry to you as “my unborn child”. Since that time, those pages have been filled with the descriptions of your first words, the dates of your first steps, the ticket stubs from your first movie, and all the silly little things you’ve done or said that have turned parenthood into the greatest cosmic care package possible. The journal is your chronicle. The record of your beginning. My goal is to give it to you at a future time, perhaps when you head off to college, or start your first job. And although it’s nothing more than a sampling of the observations and experiences of a young father now, it’ll eventually ripen into the blessed, sacred memories of an earlier time in my life when I had still had all the years of your childhoods to look forward to.
So, as you read the entries, girls, I want you to remember that, whereas my own beginning was an ambiguous mix of accident and improvisation, each and every moment of your life was planned with great love and anticipation.
Although I look forward to watching you grow up, I also dread that long sad drive home after I’ve dropped you off at college for the first time and how inert and empty everything will seem without the sounds of your voices carrying through the house. Until then, I’ll cherish every single moment of our time together, my beautiful little princesses.