You’ve done some scary things in your life.
It’s a wonder you survived your childhood, in fact: the heights you jumped from, rides you took, things you ate, dares you accepted. It’s a wonder you’re even alive.
Yep, you’ve done some scary things — but nothing was as terrifying as the moment your firstborn was placed in your arms. As you’ll see in “When I First Held You,” edited by Brian Gresko, that’s a heart-pounder that may last forever.
Try to describe what it’s like to be a father, and you may have a bit of trouble.
It’s about love, certainly. Ferocious protectiveness; that’s a given. Fear of failure, maybe, or as Darin Strauss says in his foreword, fatherhood is “something like contentment, only more profound … a warm fullness around the heart, like a water heater squirting everywhere inside the rib cage.”
When a man becomes a father, he learns, says Dennis Lehane, that “we don’t control anything. Nada. Niente. Nothing.” Peace of mind is an illusion, and the “Anything Could Happen at Any Time Chunk of Fate” could hit anywhere.
Fatherhood makes a man understand his own father, even if he wasn’t there at conception, but “chose to be” a father, as did Gresko’s Pop. Becoming a father also proves that “the business of making new people is actually pretty important,” says Lev Grossman. It’s a chance to watch science in action, says Anthony Doerr, since your children are “tiny emissaries … repositories of ancient DNA …” from your genes and that of their mother.
But being a father has a flip-side, too.
It sometimes means living hundreds of miles away from your child because you’re not with his mother anymore. You might also have to live with your heart in your throat because the “earth brims with the bones of children” who didn’t live to adulthood. It means giving up sleep, time, silence, and vomit-free clothes. Fatherhood makes you understand that you owe a lot of people a lot of apologies. You’ll have to learn to play, to embrace failure, endure sickness, and let your kids go.