This I Believe

Don - Ben Lomond, California
Entered on February 12, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: parenthood

I believe in the miracle of the moment: the power of a single moment to change a life. I believe this because I can pinpoint the exact moment when I started to become a good father.

When our first child was a few weeks old, Marianne left me alone with him one morning while she ran some errands. I had no breast to offer him, and he made it clear the bottle was not a good enough replacement. So he cried. He cried when I gave him the bottle, when I walked him, when I sat and rocked him, when I changed him. Most of all he cried when I changed him. He lay on his back on our bed, wearing the fresh diaper I had thought would soothe him, and he cried and cried. I felt I could not take any more crying, and I needed him to stop. I was a college student worried about an exam I would take later that day. Matthew needed to stop crying and go to sleep so I could study. My own parents, and Marianne’s, were taught to leave babies in their cribs so they would cry themselves to sleep. This was the advice they had been giving Marianne and me. So I decided to put Matthew in his crib to let him cry while I went outside, just far enough away so that his crying could not disturb my studies. My studies mattered, so I would have to put my son aside for a while. Impatient to get to my textbook, I snatched Matthew off the bed and took a decisive step toward his crib.

In the instant consumed by that step, I started to become a good father. People often use the expression, “It was like somebody flipped on a light-switch in my head.” This describes perfectly what happened as I was about to put Matthew in his crib. Consigning him to his crib, out of sight and out of earshot, was a way of seizing control. But I understood in the instant the light-switch went on that I must not try to control him. He was there for me to submit to. There were going to be times when he would need to control me, and being a good father meant accepting that.

So I held him and in our dismal apartment walked back and forth, his body pressed warmly against my chest and his head against my shoulder, his small voice crying into my ear. I walked back and forth and he cried and cried until, after what seemed like a long time, he fell asleep, as babies eventually do. Over the next eleven years, until the end of Peter’s infancy, I would spend countless hours doing that walk, with a small head propped on my shoulder and a little mouth crying in my ear or dribbling down my back.