By the time we brought Evan home on Father’s Day, he had inspired a cycle of emotions so intense and over-whelming, it was difficult to believe he was less than 48 hours old.
It was a textbook delivery, beginning with my wife’s calm voice heralding that her water broke, a 1:30 a.m. drive to the hospital, 12 hours of uneventful waiting and a sudden rush through four hours of labor that ended with mom and baby safe, healthy and happy.
A nurse placed the naked, shivering baby on my wife’s tummy as a doctor handed me scissors to cut the umbilical cord. I had a brief mental flash of myself as mayor of Daddy Town, cutting the ribbon to a special new attraction.
It takes less than two seconds to cut the cord, but the act symbolizes a life change of immeasurable scale.
We’ve been waiting for Evan for 10 months, and I believed I was as invested and attached as I could be.
As usual, I knew nothing.
I held Evan for the first time, his dark little eyes seeking focus in the harsh light, his 6-pound body as fragile as a falling leaf. A burst of emotion tore through me, obliterating my sense of self as thoroughly as fire chewing through newsprint. In that moment, an epiphany rose from my spiritual core like a phoenix, re-assembling and redefining my identity. Everything made sense in a way it never quite has, my understanding of love, sex, spirituality, commitment, family, responsibility and partnership suddenly as clear as Caribbean water. My bond with Evan was a puzzle piece that completed a very complex picture and shone new light on the picture’s content.
I thought I would gradually fall in love with my son, but the instant and powerful connection I felt made me feel like a Dixie cup trying to catch Niagara Falls. I have never loved anything so much, so quickly.
It was a joyful, liberating burst of love, and it held hands with a sense of vulnerability that felt like the crest of a monster roller coaster, the very apex when the lead car starts to plummet and one’s body rises from the seat with the thrilling threat of plunging from the clouds with no net.
Marrying my wife was the bravest thing I have ever done; for a man as flawed and sinful as I am, taking responsibility for another life is the ultimate gamble of adulthood. Opening my heart to that commitment was a major event, but Evan’s birth took my vulnerability to exponentially riskier places.
As I held my son on Father’s Day, I wondered how any man could sense such feelings of love and run from them. Not any man, of course, but the specific man who fathered my brother and me but wasn’t moved enough by the results to bother sticking around. I kissed my son’s forehead and answered my own question: The intensity of the emotion, which so appeals to and challenges me, was either unrecognized or unwanted by my father.
That legacy dies with him.
As the hours passed, Evan refused to take the breast or any substitute. He lost 10 percent of his birth weight in 36 hours and took on the pale yellow pallor of jaundice. The worst-case scenarios blazed through my imagination, and what I thought I understood hours before now trebled in force; if I felt this much love and fear of loss within two sunsets, how would I be able to handle the attachment after one year, five years, 10 years? How would I survive what I could not control?
They poked and prodded him, squeezing drops of blood from his heel and jabbing his little body with needles.
And I cried, the emotions and history mating with three nights of sleep deprivation to strip away reason and logic, leaving raw feelings competing for expression.
Looking at him now, as he clings to my wife’s breast with muffled noises of contentment, looking at his healthy, growing body, I feel the tears rise again, tears for our future and the vows it will not repeat the cycles of abandonment and abuse I and my absent father inherited.
He’s barely bigger than an opened Hallmark card, but my son has given me a Father’s Day gift I will remember forever, and a gift he will benefit from every day of his life. He has completed me and given me insight into a dimension of life my heritage jealously denied.
Knowing this is the very beginning is scary, but as our first Father’s Day together fades, I feel like a major part of the journey has been completed, and my prize is the ultimate prize, a living lesson of life, an evolving tutorial of love.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.