I have learned a lot since becoming a Dad...
- I have learned of my capacity to put my nose directly in a butt without thinking twice.
- I have learned to fall in love with my wife all over again.
- I have learned that I am a terribly imperfect human being and that I cannot run from my imperfections anymore.
- I have learned that I am actually a complete and total weirdo just from the things I say to my daughter and in the voices and decibel level I say them.
But above all, I have learned who God is.
When I first found out we were pregnant, I was beside myself. I cussed in disbelief, numerous times in a row, but was of course flooded with joy. I still remember the moment vividly when my wife called me at work. It was unreal. But as the days and months flew by and we trudged through a mostly difficult and trying pregnancy, one filled with doubts and what-ifs, that feeling slipped away. The closer we got to the due date, the more I worried how my life would be once this little human came into the world.
Sure, I was worried about the superficial things - my time, my money, my life. All those things truly were, like for real this time, never going to be mine again. But I knew it was part of the gig. That’s what I signed up for and I was ready for that. The heart of the issue for me was my connection to this child.
I remember sitting on the bed with my wife a month out from the due date. She was smitten. She could feel our child kick harder every day. Wherever she went, our first-born went. They were two different, created souls sharing the same real estate and my wife was living in the eschaton. That day she rested with her hands on her belly, staring off into space with a sly smile as she intermittently moved to try to find that sweet spot of a comfortable sitting position. I looked at her and shared a thought that I hoped would go away,
“I don’t know how I am going to be able to love this baby.”
I felt no real connection to this child. Sure, I prayed for her daily, gave an unsolicited belly rub from time to time, but emotionally, I felt like the Tin Man. As badly as I wanted it to be, nothing was there.
See, at the time, I liked kids. Sort of. I am an older brother. But real talk here... other people’s kids annoyed me. I did not really care about your baby pictures on Facebook. Deep down, I was nervous that this would be my life as a father. I would witness life’s great miracle and after a few weeks, be wholly unchanged. I was fearful, because of this lack of a connection, that I would be lost in the ether of less important things the rest of my life as father.
Fast-forward three weeks.
Labor starts. We see more strife with my wife and baby’s health. Things don’t go as planned. I am cool as a cucumber on the outside but inside I am drafting various strongly-worded, anonymous emails to every resident doctor that thought it was a good idea to conduct business secretly, huddled in groups, right in front of my tired and frightened wife. But here we were, three pushes away from the birth of our daughter.
And finally, I watched this miracle take place before my eyes.
Side-note - I always knew women were incredible and created as the crown of God’s creation, but C’MON. Do you realize what they were created to do!? It is absolutely mind-boggling the beauty and power they possess.
Back to the story…
That moment was surreal. But still, I felt like I was on autopilot. I am looking at this child in wonder and awe but with a still distant heart. I wanted so badly to feel something, but I kept asking myself, “Is this it?”
After a whole day of purgative moment after purgative moment, the craziness died down. My wife finally found her rest. And there I was, sitting close to her with my baby girl directly to my right swaddled in a bassinet. I looked around, wondering if it was OK for me to pick her up. I went for it. And here I was, holding this child for what felt like the first time. And what I felt… what I felt at that moment… was Heaven. Not the kind that we conjure up from bad CCD classes, but heaven in the truest sense. It was Love. It was purpose. It was peace. It was identity. My daughter and I were one. I felt her innocence, her purity. I felt her trust in me as her father as she melted into my chest with an assurance that she brought with from the deeps of eternity. My heart was pierced. And I wept.
I was overcome. I laid on that sterile, stiff couch in our hospital room and felt the world disappear around me. I had so many thoughts in that moment, but the one that was loudest was this… I could never love anything more than I love this child right now.
And she did nothing to earn it. She just was. And so was I. I loved her with every fiber in my being and she loved in her turn.
“This is God,” I thought.
Everything I had known about God theologically flooded my head and heart. It was like an ocean. This God whom I knew as an idea became a God I now knew as my identity and deepest longing.
“God is love,” my stream of consciousness began. “And communion. And not just the nice Christian idea of communion that we say too much, but like real communion. A communion of persons… Remembers a quote from Genesis… And these persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - live in this eternal, life-giving exchange of love. And… Oh My God … I was created, with a body, to share in that beautiful reality of God. In communion with my wife, new life happened. And I just did it! That must be why it is so awesome to create a life. There was ecstasy and agony like all the mystics say and we lived it. I created life with God. And now I am a Father, just like Jesus tells us to call Him. That means I share in the nature of God. And … OH YEAH … I am created in the image and likeness of God. And I just said to myself as a new father, 'I can never love another human being like I love Bernadette right now…' THAT IS HOW GOD SEES ME. God is Love. And my Father. And everyone else’s Father. It all makes sense. GOD LOVES ME LIKE HE LOVES NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. This is God.”
(cries like a baby for another hour while my wife is sleeping obliviously and does this with a thousand other theological thoughts).
And it continued on. Four weeks after B was born, we were in Mass and babies were crying. Like, one of those times where it feels like they are having a competition. I was standing away from her across the other side of our church talking with friends letting the noise of the crying babies drown out the echo. And then, all of a sudden, I stopped. “I hear my baby crying.”
Up to that point she had been quiet. But as soon as she started to express her need, her hurt, her hunger, I could hear her as if she was the only one in that Church. This is God.
My daughter is two now. And she talks more frequently and more eloquently than her introverted father. Not exaggerating. But she does not always sound as if she has a golden tongue. In fact, like most toddlers, she has her own language. And who understands every word that comes out of her mouth, no matter how hard to translate? Who knows the language of her little heart at its deepest level? And who knows how to respond in a way that only she will feel loved? Me. Her Father. This is God.
The great mystic St. Teresa of Avila shared in deep union with Our Lord. One that we all have access to, but also one that spoke only to how God created her to hear. One of my favorite quotes of all time came from Jesus directly to St. Teresa…
“I would create the universe again just to hear you say that you love me.”
This is God.
And I think I get that now. Maybe God is not that hard to find after all. He is everywhere. In the secret of those daily moments and sufferings I get to experience as a father where he whispers His love into my life and beckons me to let go of the things I cling to so that he can give me this love that I desperately look for. But even more so in the very creation of who I am. My deepest identity and the source of all my actions is that I desire a love that created me and I am created to find it.
And I want to see pictures of your baby on Facebook now. I actually go out of my way to look. I get it now. I have to exercise restraint the four times a week I look through my photos. I want the world to see what I see. This is love. And this, in all its beauty and simplicity, is God.