The newborn’s tiny arms flailed out in the air and she let out a loud cry. Her mother quickly picked her up and laid her against her shoulder. The baby let out a whimper, closed her eyes and fell quietly back to sleep.
With that, all was calm, all was right again. Whatever had caused the pain and the momentary bit of fear had passed and was now a distant thought.
A friend brought her 10-week-old baby recently to visit with us and it was neat seeing the two of them connect and play together. It made me remember what it was like to have children so small and dependent on us for everything. And to think that I too that I once had that touch, the ability to comfort, soothe and calm almost any worry or cry.
Most days I would describe fatherhood as the most rewarding experience of my life. There’s nothing like turning a panicked cry into a calming sleep. I loved days like those. I still love them.
And then there are the days where it’s work, where every step is a challenge and a fight. I’m not talking about surviving the terrible twos or sleepless nights with a six- or seven-year-old or even the moody teenager years.
I’m talking instead about the days when your kids face disappointment and challenges and, despite your best efforts, there’s nothing you can do to stop it: the race that your son gets passed by two other runners in the final 100 meters; the test that your daughter studied nonstop for four days and still misses the mark; the part in the musical that your son fails to get.
Life is full of disappointments. You’re not going to get picked for every plum position. You’re not going to come out a winner in every contest. You’re going to fall off that bike and skin your knee. And yes, you’re going to get picked on occasionally and other kids are going to be mean. It’s a fact of life. Kids need challenged, so that they’re prepared and know how to face tougher challenges later in life. How can they face difficulty if they’ve never been held accountable or been put to the test? They need their feet put to the fire. They need to be battletested, but that doesn’t make fatherhood any easier.
I stop myself from becoming a helicopter parent. I want them to know how to win and lose. I want them in the words of Rudyard Kipling “to talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch.”
So as a father, I know that sunshine is just around the corner. I force myself to stay on the sidelines to let my kids fight their way through their challenges, but I still fret. I pray to God. I ask him to give me the challenge, to give my daughter and sons a reprieve. I know he listens, but sometimes the challenges still come.
In the end, I know that obstacles are good for them, but it kills me to see their tears, to see their frustrations. But then I remember that little baby and I think to myself maybe that’s what being a parent is all about: supporting them, giving them room to fly on their own, and, finally, a safe place to land.