Known Johnson

June 20, 2007

Father knows fear

Filed under: General — Tom @ 9:15 pm

(Somehow this got marked as “private” in the WordPress Dashboard and so, I think, only I got to see it on my site until today when I noticed the problem. It was meant to be a Father’s Day post but now is three days too late. Annoying. This isn’t the first time WordPress has done this on its own to me, either. Anyway, I’ve edited the time-stamp to make it the newest post, but realize it was written June 16, intended for June 17, Father’s Day.)

Mothers are given a gift to have an instant chemical bond with their children. From the moment they’re born, the love is there and it’s unquestioned. For fathers, it’s a bit different. Maybe some men feel it instantly, but we don’t have that shared chemical bond possessed by someone who was able to grow and carry a tiny person inside of them. Maybe some men look at their offspring and instantly feel love gush up from somewhere inside, but for others it’s just not that way – it’s learned, or grown, maybe cultivated, between child and father. Whatever it is, it was never obvious. Not to me, at least.

I don’t have a doubt that motherhood is the far more difficult task, but for the life of me, I can’t think of anything that’s been more difficult in my life than being a father has for the past 21 months. That’s not to say I’d change a thing, however. It’s a strange thing that happens when you become a parent: you instantly become aware of just how difficult it is, and yet it’s the greatest thing you will ever know.

For me, the worst part has simply been The Fear. I’m a worrier by nature. I get it from my dad who frets over everything that can be fretted over. I can always tell something is getting to him because the muscles in his upper jaw start to flex back and forth as he mulls over the details of what could possibly go wrong. I don’t know if that happens to me. I don’t know what I do. I just know that I’ve always thought deeply about, and probably over-thought, pretty much everything in my life.

I’m not a “planner,” per se, but I almost always do my research before diving headlong into things. I will sit and stare at something new to me for what seems like ages until I’ve thoroughly absorbed everything I can about it, mentally charting out potential disasters, and, in this day of the internet, I research, research, research. But what I can’t research, or plan, is just the everyday random events that wreak far more havoc, and it’s those that, as a parent, I fear more than anything else. And that’s why I probably stay awake at night thinking up worse-case scenarios.

I have this strange belief that if I can somehow imagine it, it probably won’t happen, because, as we all know, whatever you’ve planned for is exactly what won’t happen. So I often lie awake at night and feel The Fear gripping me as another ridiculous scenario enters my brain. My sweet, amazing little Amanda has somehow gotten into the backyard while I’m mowing the lawn and before I know it, she’s reached under the lawnmower and mangled her cute little hand. Probable? No, of course not. My sweet, amazing little Amanda has somehow gotten through all of our security gates and the front door and lock to chase a ball out into the street just as the garbage truck rolls by our house. Again, sure, it could happen, but the likelihood is extremely low (and yet it happens everyday, somewhere – but maybe those kids’ parents didn’t think of the worst-case scenarios . . . )

I think it would be easy to suggest that I don’t trust my daughter, but it’s the opposite. My little girl is brilliant and amazing. I have no doubt of her abilities and her bright future. It’s the rest of the world that I don’t trust. I don’t trust that the garbage truck is going to stop for her, that the driver is going to be paying enough attention to see my beautiful baby girl running out there, unaware of the danger. In reality, I know that as soon as Amanda saw the truck, she’d stop well away from it and stare in awe, pointing and chanting, “Oooh! Truck!” like she always does now when she sees a truck.

But still I fear. I fear everything. In some ways, that’s how I know I’m a father, because I have never feared like I fear now. Danger is everywhere and I want to protect her from every little threat out there. I try and imagine every danger that I can, but I only have so much time and sanity. I have finally realized, of course, that The Fear is just the result of wrapping so much of my life up in one little person that means so much to me that I can’t bear the thought of letting something happen to her that might take her away from me. That fear, of course, is love.

That first night in the hospital with Amanda, I tried to sleep but mostly laid awake listening to her breathe as Alissa slept deeply and soundly after her hard day of work bringing her into the world. With every hitch, hiccup, and squeak from Amanda’s tiny little mouth, I jumped up to her bassinet to make sure she was okay. She always was. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first night facing The Fear.

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