Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Little Unworthy

I've wanted to be a father as long as I've known what a father was - and maybe longer.

My mom was the one to point this out to me. At family gatherings when I was younger, I tended to gravitate towards the littler kids - playing games with them, being silly with them, and often throwing them up on my shoulders and walking around with them.

In more than one instance there was a child who just had to be held, and had to be held a certain way, and I was often more than happy to do it for minutes or hours at a time. I even changed a few diapers, though I never got that good at it.

Somehow, though, I always knew that there was some kind of daddy gene in me.

The daddy gene was activated in other instances as well. When our church was working on shuffling around who was teaching the babies, and who was watching the babies during service, Kara and I were always more than happy to step up to the plate.

And for a few wonderful months, there was even one little-little girl who became our Sunday charge most weeks, while her parents taught classes.

We were sad when her family left. We were just as sad when they came back for a visit, and suddenly we were strangers to the little girl again.

Time passed, and a couple of years of emotional distress, and then came one of the top five happiest days of my life - the day I really, truly, became a dad.

You can see it in our Ethiopia visit video. They caught the first time I ever saw my little girl. I burst into tears.

A few days later, when Kara and I finally got to bring her back to the guest house in Ethiopia, I held her, and tried to sing to her, and I started crying so hard my throat closed and I couldn't do it.

I finally started changing a lot of diapers, and started getting good at it. (True confession though: The first time she pooped in her diaper, the smell hit me so hard I had to go throw up. Not a magical moment, but certainly an indicator that you adjust to such things quickly. That's never happened since.)

I finally reached a point where I could sing to my daughter without being overwhelmed by emotion.

And I got good at other things - knowing when she was hungry, knowing when she needed to be changed, dealing with her spit-ups.

Through it all, I always thought I was a good dad. Maybe even a very good one.

I never felt inadequate to the task of parenting. I had the daddy gene.

As Mihret started getting older, for a long time she didn't really express any interest in dolls. She liked stuff with wheels - things she could push around, or walk with. She was, and is, kind of rough and tumble. She wants to run, and jump, and be picked up and be bounced around a bit.

Recently, however, that's changed a bit. She has a lot of dolls now - mostly given to us by my mom or Kara's mom, and she's slowly but surely starting to treat them as her babies. Which is fine and wonderful and cute, only it can be confusing because she has a few of them now and they're all called Baby.

A few nights ago, Kara was working and I was on solo bedtime duty. So, Mihret had her bath, and got her jammies on, and then we grabbed her current favorite baby and went to Planet Bed for story time.

First we put down the baby, and then Mihret got onto the bed, put the baby on her tummy and started rubbing her back.

I read Mihret the story we picked out (The Snuggliest Snuggle in the World - it may as well be called: Mom Has to Go to Work, and the People At Day Care Are Second Best When It Comes to Hugs) and I set the book down and said it was time to do prayers.

Mihret flipped her baby over, held the baby's hands together, and said, "Thank You, Amen!"

I thought that was pretty nice, so I decided to try doing a thank you prayer. "Thank you, God, for Mommy, and Daddy, and Grandma, and Grandpa, and Nona, and Papa, and all the Great Grandmas and all the Great Grandpas, and especially for Ethiopian Mama and Ethiopian Grandpa. And thank you for Jesus. Amen."

And Mihret said, "Thank you for Grandma, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, and Grandpa, AMEN!"

And tears started to prick my eyes, and my throat started to close again.

So I sat there, while Mihret read to her baby, and rubbed her baby's back, and sang Itsy-Bisty Spider to her baby, and put a blanket on her baby to keep her warm.

When I told the story to Kara later, she pointed out that the reason that Mihret was doing all those things is because she learned them from us. (She also pointed out that Mihret will also, on occasion, tell her babies, "No biting mommy. No biting daddy," and then will give them a time in.) That these were all good things.

But for me, for the first time, I felt like I might not ever be a good enough father to her.

Trying to explain why is hard, but I think it has something to do with love - that strange emotion that gets mirrored for us in songs and movies and books, where creators struggle to show us what it could, or should, be.

Watching my daughter do all those things, being so wonderful, so loving, I felt like I somehow got so much more than I deserved - a little girl who is so like me, and so like me at that age, only better than me on a physical and mental level.

I felt like she deserved a better dad than I can ever be.

Writing this down now, I feel a little silly. Lots of people have told me how lucky my daughter is to have me for a dad, whether it's because I'm a hopeless goofball, whether it's because I don't mind reading the same stories over and over, whether it's because I don't run when it's time to change diapers, or even just because I "saved" my kid from a much harder life in her homeland.

But I think it's all right to feel this way. So often we complain about all the thing that aren't fair to us - not enough money, a job we don't like, the fact that we'll never be as good-looking as we should be, or that no one ever notices how smart we are.

In this case, though, God gave me so much to live up to, put such an amazing person in my life and said, "Here, she's yours, take care of her as well as I would," and then stepped back.

It's a powerful blessing that I don't know I can ever fully live up to. But I'm going to try.



ShannonC said...

From a single soon-to-be-mom: This is one of the greatest things I've read in a looooooooong time. Thank you for sharing!

MrsMelvin said...

Not that I speak from experience, but I think any loving parent would feel this way. I just means you're an awesome father and will continue to be as awesome as you possibly can for her.