Sometimes she stares so intently. But intently is the wrong word. So deeply into your eyes, like a police detective staring down a criminal. And without the social cues that we layer on top of our interactions, cues that guide us from staring so deeply at anyone. In those moments, you feel the full force of her being examining you. Once or twice, I’ve caught myself feeling self-conscious, blushing, and looking away. Which is embarrassing, because, well, she’s a baby.
I used to be afraid of children. I mean I still kind of am, but I’m learning. I never had a younger sibling, and, growing up, my younger cousins lived far away. It often felt like communicating with a different species, just totally unnatural. For someone who took a while to figure out adult interactions, it was like, ‘what do you talk to a 6-year-old about?’ And when they are so young they can’t even speak, and they look at you suspiciously like the stranger you are, what are you supposed to do? What if they cry?
So becoming a Dad myself was a foreign concept. I had no idea where to put the thought in my head. I felt I was not like the other Dads I saw around, including my own. But doing all the preparations together with my wife during her pregnancy – the doctor visits, the what to name the baby discussions, looking at the baby clothes that can only fit a tiny person, feeling the soft lining of the car seat – it was calming somehow.
The day before my daughter was born, I asked my wife if she would show me how to hold her. Shifra was born by Caesarian, and as it turned out, she was put in my arms first. It felt natural. Her head in the crook of my elbow, the other arm supporting her back and tush. The intimacy of looking down at her, face-to-face. I never needed to ask my wife how to hold her.
I’ve had the opportunity to be at home with my newborn daughter these past two months, far more often than is usually possible for a guy. My wife and I trade off chores, entertain our little one, sooth her, and watch her. We take her out to lunch and dinner, to walks in the park, to Costco runs, even to the beach.
So I’ve had a chance to take ownership over her care, if not as much as my wife (who still holds the keys to her favourite food, after all), then to a nearly equal amount.
It’s to the point where I now recognize that look in other guys, the deer in headlights, when you hold out a baby in front of them. The desire to interact, but the fear of fucking it up. And so you compromise between those feelings, and shyly reach out to touch her toe. Strange to think that was me 3 months ago.
There are still scary moments, of course, moments of self-doubt. On Shifra’s tenth day of life, I took her from my exhausted wife. I had planned to workout, so I plopped her down a safe distance away. I didn’t get more than 2 minutes in before the complaining started. Exercise routine aborted, I figured I would at least get a quick diaper change in before returning her to her mother. I quickly learned that changing a fussy baby’s diaper is so much harder and slower than a calm one. Predictably the complaints turned to crying, and then to hysteria. The wailing was so guttural, so pained, so deep from the soul, it felt like I’d betrayed and stabbed her. Even after rushing her back to her Mom, it felt like I’d failed as a father, doing the one thing you’re not supposed to do, hurt my daughter.
Of course, you learn even babies have to endure uncomfortable things now and then. Shifra doesn’t hold grudges. She lives in the present, sometimes cycling through a half-dozen emotions in a few seconds.
Sometimes, she’ll give us a hard night, opening her eyes whenever we put her down to sleep, fussing unless you hold her in a specific position. And then, spontaneously, she’ll flash a wide smile, a smile so complete her eyes sparkle, a smile that is somehow simultaneously innocent and naughty. You can’t help but laugh.
The other day I gave my daughter her first laughing fit, a genuine series of belly laughs. I wasn’t doing anything particularly different, shaking her favourite toy, and being a little silly. I was just being present with her, and then, magic happened. The lesson for me is, as always, it’s all in your head. The fear, the anxiety. Might as well choose to jump in, roll with the punches, and enjoy each moment. The rest? I’ll figure it out as I go.