In the weeks that led up to becoming a first-time and second-time dad, most of the advice I received felt a lot like a white elephant present. You smile and say thanks, but inside you walk away bummed. It seemed like every parent who’d endured a spit-up-covered shirt, changed a blown-out diaper, or tried to comfort a colicky child took wicked delight in describing the horror ahead of my wife and me. It’s like they wanted me to regret having a child.
I smiled and said thanks, but inside I called them liars.
One professor, however, was actually encouraging. “The first time you wake up after the baby’s born, go outside and take a mental snapshot of the day—it’ll be a picture of a brand new world,” he said.
I did that—twice. For both my daughter and son, the picture is almost the same. I can feel the warm September sunlight as it trickles through the still-green leaves of the sweetgum by our balcony. I can smell the cleanness of the Fall air, and watch the puffballs of clouds meander across the Texas-sized sky.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve tried to keep taking snapshots—pictures of moments steeped in sheer joy. Proof-positive that all the negative “advice” was a lie. There’s a profound wonder in being a parent—amazement that the child is yours. Of all the people in the world, she loves you most.
But other moments that stand out more. They bully out the neck-strangling hugs, the puddles of drool from a constantly-smiling mouth, and the ear-piercing squeals of “Daddy!”
Moments that stick forever in my heart and mind—the moments where I failed.
I always rolled my eyes when parenting classes pointed out that it’s not okay to shake a baby. “Who would ever want to shake a baby?” I chuckled. Then, one sleepless night filled with the firetruck-siren of an infant’s cry, I had my answer—I would want to shake a baby.
Every parent screws up—I know that. Every parent has a long and stressful day that leaves only enough fuse on the temper that a two-year-old’s love-tackle becomes enraging. A blown-out diaper becomes an earth-shattering catastrophe. And the bone-slicing scream of a hungry infant drives sanity out the door and to the airport.
And just like every parent, I’ve had those days, too.
Those moments—those instances where my patience threw in the towel—those are embedded in my memory. Carved there with the chisel of failure and hammered home with guilt.
I will never forget the tears that rolled down my daughter’s face when stressed-out Daddy tossed away her enthusiastic, “You home!” and slammed the bedroom door in her face. I cannot un-hear the change in pitch in my son’s I-want-Momma-not-you bawling when exasperated Daddy yelled, “Shut up!”
Those are the memories that stand out most clearly.
I’ve begun to wonder if that’s why all the “advice” I got was so negative. What if those parents are just looking for comfort—acknowledgement that it’s okay to mess up? That parenting is hard? That it’s impossible to love perfectly?
What if the the dark memories slink across their minds, too?
I don’t hold the “just you waits” against them anymore. I get it—I’ve been there. And in the midst of guilt and failure, I’ve found something beautiful. Something that makes parenting worth it despite the throw-up and short-fuses.
A child loves her Daddy. Period.
No matter how sad at the time, kids love recklessly. With wild abandon my daughter and son still throw themselves into my arms. My daughter still squeezes my neck and laughs in my ear, “I love you most!” My son still grins like a fool—slobber going everywhere—when I walk through the front door.
There’s something humbling in the love of a child. Like a scalpel her love cuts deep and lays bare the heartache of my screw-ups. And then she picks up the crayons of childlike adoration and colors my failure with forgiveness.
Over and over again.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4–7