A few weeks ago I went for a walk with my 22-year-old daughter, who has just announced she is engaged to be married. We talked as we went. It reminded me of something I wrote to her twenty-one years ago…
Meditations of a one-year-old father
My first born child,
I spoke to you when you were still in the womb: “This is your father speaking.” But you did not know my voice, and just kicked out, as if in retaliation at my desire to have you come out of your world of darkness which seemed so comfortable and right. Did I disturb your peace? What was that rumbling from beyond the confines of your universe? How dare I intrude!
And then you were born, and the joy! The joy that all around me shared, that you had come forth from that dark world, and were with us. But how fragile did your life seem in those first few moments. So vulnerable, so in need of protection. And how everyone wanted to keep us apart until you had passed all the tests that would satisfy them that you had indeed been born successfully, where I could see (and hear) that you had indeed been born. There was no further test than this—that you had come out of the darkness into the light of day. And of the truth that you were of my flesh and blood, no further test was needed than that mere minutes separated from you seemed somehow unjust.
Even as I write, your cry breaks my concentration and I go to see what it is that disturbs your sleep. A mental note that no teddy or toy, no blanket or bedclothes calm you like the voice and caress of your father. When you are grown, may it be so with your true Father.
But after the excitement of the addition to our family came the shocking truth. You were, to be sure, my child—irrevocably. Nothing could change that. But you did not know me! Had you still been in the dark you could hardly have responded less to my overtures of love. Your instinct was unchanged—you seemed to crave the familiar darkness and found solace only in your mother’s breast. Who is this other, the hairy one who longs to comfort you to no avail? The vacant stare betrays your lack of recognition. True love unrequited! My heart has never known so deep a wound.
Slowly, the signs of awareness of your new environment appeared—but ever so slowly to one impatient to relate. The eyes took in your surrounds, began to focus, move with purpose, follow. And still there was no recognition, save only of this being a different place from that from which you had come. Try as I might, I could not solicit your love. No joke, no game, no trick; no act of caring, of protection, or of love; no soothing touch or song or word; nothing would satisfy my desire to see you draw near to me. That shattered pride of one rejected for a rattle, a mobile, or a noisy gong—mere trinkets and titillations. Was it for these that you were born?
And then the first smile. (The “experts” call it wind until six weeks at least, but to one hungry to relate, it matters not what the experts say.) Bliss! Ecstasy! Leaping and shouting and praising God! And endless repetition of the same technique so long as you had energy enough to smile. And disillusionment when a stranger did the same thing and your eagerness was betrayed as a response to the gift and not the giver.
Little by little you began to reach out and explore your world. I longed for the day (still do) when you could walk and talk and travel by my side. What new skill would you master today? Rolling? Rolling back? Sitting? Feeding on solid food? Crawling, instead of howling in frustration at looking the part but going nowhere? Crawling forward? Going up the single stair from living room to dining room? Going down, without using your face as a brake? Getting the plug back in the bath drain hole after you had pulled it out as soon as you got in? Standing?
And now you stand, a little wobbly, but independent.
And tomorrow, your first birthday. Yet still you do not speak to me. Okay, cannot, I know. How many times have I walked with you, held you close, longed for you to tell me what is wrong, as all else is blocked out of my world by your scream of pain, or of discomfort. And I would have attended your every need had I but known what they were. “Sshh, sshh,” is the best I can offer as I gently move with you in my arms. My heart aches that you are unable to let me ease your pain. Is this how He sees me? My mind collapses like a dying star under the weight of life, and yet I do not speak to Him of my need, but only cry out in rage and pain, wondering why He does not answer the questions I have never put, but only hugs me to Himself.