Today our son, Chandler, is 22 years old. One of my favorite writings is a piece I wrote about his birth. In honor of that auspicious event I am happy to share it with you today.
The only guy I know who’s a new father and older than me is Michael Douglas. And he’s got a young new wife. What about me? Twenty-six years into my first and only marriage with two kids off to college, and I’m changing diapers again? Which way do these flaps go, anyway? Neither side seems sticky. Well would you look at that? Flaps down and the kid is strapped for poop. Six months into the new life of our second son and third child, I notice a sharp pain developing.
When it starts to interfere with my work I decide to go see the doctor. He takes one look at my wrist and knows exactly what it is; he is just a little puzzled as to how I got it.
“We normally see this wrist in new mothers. It’s from lifting the baby,” he gestures. “It’s a type of tendinitis we call, ‘new baby wrist.’ You been lifting anything lately?”
“Yes Doc. My new baby.”
I walk out with a shot of cortisone in my new baby wrist wondering what might be next. Old dad back? Grandpa knee? It’s true, I have noticed a significant reduction in my endurance for horsey rides this time around. There is something about the nerves in my knees that seem more raw than I remember.
Some days I can’t believe I’m doing this, and yet that feeling does not in any way equal regret. It’s more of a sanity issue. I feel like Steve Martin in Father of the Bride 2, adding up how old I will be at various stages in my son’s growth: I’ll be going to soccer games in my 60s, answering questions from 30-something soccer moms about my supposed grandson. At least I can save money eating out. “One child; one senior, please.”
Most people my age are talking empty nest. Our nest was empty for all of two weeks. My second child went off to college in late August. My third was born two weeks later — September 9, 1999, to be exact. That’s a 9/9/99 baby — something special.
It began with a conversation with my wife in the kitchen reminding me of her work with women including how she believes the most noble woman is someone willing to carry a child through to birth for the purpose of giving that baby to another family. I nodded my head, knowing this. Then she proceeded to tell me that a woman had recently asked her if she really meant that because she said, “I want you to be the mother of my child.”
“One small problem,” my wife told me she answered. “My husband.”
Admitting the coincidence and unable to rule out the presence of God in these proceedings, I had agreed to at least meet with this woman, thinking I would probably be ruling out the latter.
That’s how I found myself sitting across the table from a young woman all bright and blooming from the life growing within her.
That had been my first surprise. I think I went in expecting someone in trouble–unsure of herself, embarrassed, someone who needed to be rescued. But looking at her through the eyes of my wife, I saw the noble woman she had told me about. I didn’t see someone ashamed and desperate. I saw someone brave, and gloriously pregnant.
“Come over here,” she said, taking may hand when I got there and placing it on her tummy. “Feel that?” Yes, I felt it. Like Thomas the doubter with his hand on the Lord’s side, I felt new life.
I’m not sure at what point I knew this was right, but sometime during that lunch meeting the starch went out of my shirt, and I turned from skeptic to expectant dad. A heightening sense of protectiveness welled up inside me and I knew I would give this child the best possible chance in the world.
And now I watch this little guy, all of 18 months, waddling around with the cocky air of a kid who knows he’s somebody — knows he’s loved, knows he’s important, that his little 18-month-old discoveries count.
I look into his eyes and see someone who has always belonged to me. Every time I look at him I am flooded with thankfulness that God would grace us in this way. Up until his birth, I thought we were doing our son, God, and the world a favor. Now I realize we are the ones upon whom the favor has been bestowed.
I get it now. I get the value of life. I get the importance of those moments spent with total concentration on the activity and thought processes of a child. I get it that a child returns to us the meaning of the moments in our lives.
God watches each one of our lives and personalities unfold before him with the same satisfaction that I watch my son grow. Yes, there is much to bring God sorrow in the world, and yet there is much that brings Him joy. I’m convinced of this, or else He would not have bothered with us in the first place.
So I take more time now than I did 20 years ago being a father. I notice more. I have much more patience. It’s not that I have more time; it’s that I have more reasons to make time. I endure his temper tantrums without taking it personally. I don’t consider any time with him mundane or wasted. I know he’s learning every minute. He doesn’t miss a thing. I don’t want to either.
There’s something to this Michael Douglas thing. I may be in a wheelchair when I watch my son graduate, but he’s going to have to deal with the fact that he has the best dad in the world. This dad chose him like the Father chose us, willing to endure anything — willing to pay the price, even not knowing what the price would be.
This dad knew what he was doing from the beginning. And whether or not my son ever appreciates it, won’t matter. I will.
I already do.