His face: cherubic. His little nose: kissable. His ability to make my soul smile: infinite.
And so it is with little Noah George Anter. All nine pounds of him. One month old.
Sticky fingers? Fantastic. Spittle on the lower lip? Suitable for framing. Time spent just watching him watching me watching him? Yes … give me a whole box of that!
I feel a lot of things about Noah, but mostly, though, the feeling I have in abundance is one of thankfulness. Thankfulness that God chose us for him. That his soul chose us as its final destination. That he’s healthy. That he’s here — actually in our living room. Cooing. Sometimes crying. Always beautiful. A son. My son.
To borrow a Churchillian rhetorical construction, Mr. Noah, you are a blessing, wrapped in a swaddle, inside of a crib.
Mind = blown.
I’m thankful for many reasons, but those reasons, I’m noticing, are channeled into categories communicated to me by the salty wisdom of other dads who’ve foraged before me in this fathering game. They were more than willing to pass along their recommendations and I was more than willing to lap that sagacity up.
Mostly I asked them what they’d do differently — what advice their 50-ish Empty Nester soul of today would’ve told their 30-ish New Parent soul of yesterday — if they had such a chance. And, to a man, they all pretty much stated the same thing: they’d have spent more time in the moment.
Not frazzled by their jobs. Not worried about their career ladder. Not fussing about which car to buy. Which club to belong to. Which restaurant to be seen at.
Not doing, but rather, just being.
Being there. Being present with their child, experiencing them at a soul level. Appreciating the time with their then-little human beings — knowing it’s not forever and knowing it’ll all change one day. So many have said they can’t believe their day-to-day fathering, their parenting, is now over.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
One dad told me that he’d often get frustrated that his little girl was often in the way of his TV. Now, as his daughter is jetting off to college, he wishes he’d have made his daughter the TV — clicking on her life-channel more often instead of some blisteringly depressing news program, mindless game show or now-meaningless football game.
Good advice, that. I think I’ll take it.
On a similar theme, another dad told me that his daughter confided in a third-party that she wished he’d have spent more time with her. He was clearly moved — and changed — by this second-hand comment. Good for him. And, good for him to confide in me regarding such a deeply personal and not-easy-to-absorb utterance. He’s better for it; so am I.
I’m hoping that his change helps chart my course from the onset of Noah’s life — not at the end of his time with us. I don’t want tears of regret to flow as he departs for college or whatever direction his leaving-the-nest-future holds for him.
Only tears of happiness. Yes, that’s what I want. Those tears. Not the other ones.
The patterns I’ve observed from these and other dads are so grotesquely obvious, so veraciously aligned and so screaming at me to pay attention. They all involve respecting this little human being — this Noah and his sissies — in ways generations before us just either didn’t know how to do, were too busy to do or didn’t have the tools to make happen.
Our parents did their best, but it was a different time then and parenting has evolved so much (mostly, but not always — think helicopter parenting) for the better. As I’ve grown in my understanding of what “to parent” means, I’ve learned that there’s just so much more to appreciate about being present as a witness, guide, spectator and cheerleader to life’s greatest of joys: the privilege of stewarding another human being from conception into adulthood.
So, little Noah, in that spirit, and, with a nod of appreciation to the fathers who’ve passed along their school-of-life wisdom, know that I promise you these three things:
First: I’ll love your mother. I believe that loving your mother is one of the most important gifts I can give — to you. I’m by no means a perfect husband; my faults are many and my need to improve is clear (sometimes jarringly so). But, I’m committed to this. I think that, in the fullness of time, when you see mommy and daddy going out to dinner instead of just spending another night on the couch or even instead of taking you and your sissies to, say, a movie or the ice cream parlor (is that word used anymore?), you’ll gain tremendously from witnessing that. Your security, I believe, will come in no small part from knowing that your mommy and daddy are secure in their marriage. By being good to and loving your mommy, I also hope to teach you how to treat women, how to sacrifice, how to provide, how to protect, how to love. In spite of any of our faults, know that your mommy and I have got this parenting thing down, that there’s nothing for you to fret about and that your one and only job is precisely that of being a little boy. Period. You got that? Good.
Second: I’ll actually listen to you. This is that whole “being in the moment” thing I mentioned earlier — the stuff that other dads so willingly schooled me on. Although you have much to learn, you are — simply by virtue of being born — a gift to us and, yes, a blessing to the world. Though you are but a Wee Little One now, know that what’s important to you is and will always be genuinely important to me. I may not always agree with you — and there’ll be times where my knowledge and, sometimes, my loving corrections, will simply have to trump your desires — but know also that, through it all, you’ll be respected. You’ll be listened to. You and your opinions will matter. Always.
Third: We’ll have fun together. A lot. We’ll do “guy things.” We’ll share secrets — our own little code, if you will — and you’ll get special daddy time. We’ll challenge each other and make each other better people. I might even embarrass you at times. But know that one of the greatest things I hope to receive from you is the gift of your laughter. Life — everyday life — is just so precious, so fleeting, so mercurial that not laughing a lot would really kind of stink, wouldn’t it? Oh, and this laughter thing doesn’t just mean the “ha ha” stuff, although that’s incredibly important. No, it also means the laughter of your soul — laughter that, in day-to-day practice, morphs into joy. For example, looking at God’s great bounty of goodness and unleashing your soul to be stunned in disbelief at how much we have. That we’ve been chosen, given this life to enjoy, that we’ve been actively gifted to each other and to those around us — so much so that our faith in God simply must be acted upon at times, sat with at other times, appreciated always. You and I together. Father and son.
Yeah. That dad. That’s the dad I’ll be to you. And those are the things I’ll deliver on. I promise. Those three.
Oh, I’m sure life’ll give us more to think about down the father-and-son road. More to add to this list, maybe. But for now, three’s good enough. Don’t want to make things too complicated.
After all, you’re only one month old, right? You’ve got enough on your life’s little plate of predilections, such as boobs to suckle on, sissies who want to hold you so they can play “mommy,” diapers to soil, family yet to meet, hearts yet to melt.
Bring it, Little One. Bring your sleepless nights. Bring your spit-up on my shirt. Sprinkle your pee on me as I change your diaper. Wrap your tiny fingers around my pinky and hold on tight, really tight. Coo — a lot. Let me see that serious, bearing-down look when you’re at the “Precipice of Poop.” Give me those jazz hands as you slowly-but-predictably waft into your adorable slumber.
Do it all, and, know that I’ll appreciate it all, ‘cuz this “time thing,” I’ve learned, just doesn’t stop.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
There are a few lyrics in an old Sinatra song where The Chairman tells his son what God really looks like — to him. Two lines in particular stand out for me. The first is: He (God) looks like a baby when mother is near; and the second is: But you, my son, you are what God really looks like to me.
Words so powerful, so true.
You. Are. My. Son.
Those are four words that I embrace so deeply and internalize so dearly that it almost hurts. Four words that, strung together, are nearly impossible to describe.
And you, little Noah, you are worth being thankful for — just for being you. For you really are what God looks like.
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