(Photo Credit: Samantha Jeet)
Atticus had his first birthday ealier this month and, technically speaking, yesterday was my second Father’s Day though it felt like the first. It was also mine and Alyssa’s second anniversary. Again, it felt like the first. So much has happened to us in the last two years that twenty-four months has felt like twelve. And as a person predisposed to severe nostalgia and self-reflection I’ve been thinking about being a father.
We’d been married just a few months, weeks really, had only known each other a little over a year when we found out. I was at some church function kind of late and I get a text message from Alyssa: “Come home now.” I stepped out to call her and make sure everything was ok. No answer. Called again. No answer. Rushing home I was terrified. In the thirty-five minute drive home I thought of every scenario but one.
The violet sky was chasing the sun over the red painted hills as I pulled in our driveway and I could see through the front window of our tiny studio apartment my new wife crying on the couch. As I held her and let her cry, “I think I’m pregnant.”
“Yeah, I took a thousand tests.” As she wept I was filled with joy but by week’s end the joy was replaced with dread.
We were in the midst of an unexpected transition at the church and I was shouldering a large weight of responsibility I was unprepared for; my best friend moved to another country, and many of my closest California friends moved across the country, while my family was still in Illinois, so despite being newly married I felt like I was on an island; between both of our jobs Alyssa and I had approximately $3.74. The excitement quickly gave way to feeling like irresponible teenagers. Looking back, I was an insufferable chore to be around for most of the pregnancy. But there were moments when grace broke through.
Like that first ultrasound when we saw his wiggling limbs, heard his 181bpm heartbeat, and Alyssa said, “It’s your forehead!” Not to be trite or cliché but seeing the child we then called JuneBug I felt the depth of grace and the love of God as father. I was terrified, the ultrasound didn’t change that. I was intolerable, the ultrasound didn’t change that either. But, for a moment I caught my breath and felt the sweet relief of grace and mercy. For a moment I saw with fear and wonder God knitting our child together in Alyssa’s womb and I knew that God was close by, that He was near to me, despite any percieved lonliness or fear of the unknown.
The first job God gave Adam was to name all the things God created. Our first job is the naming of things, to say: “This is what this is, what it will be.” We name our experience, our emotions, our thoughts, our actions. We’re constantly naming things. And so with hope we named our son Atticus Mac. And though I love his name, sometimes I think it’s a bit silly. Maybe we should’ve named him John? Or, Mike? Or, Tim? Something his classmates would be able to pronounce? But then there are hard weeks like this past one. Moments when the world needs people of character. So with hope and love we named our son Atticus Mac. We gave him a name with a high standard. As parents we hope that whatever Atticus grows up to be, he’ll be a good man.
When Atticus was born I had that familiar moment of clarity new dads have. I felt my smallness and my great responsibility. My cousin Anthony when his daughter was born earlier this year said it perfectly: “I never felt so invincible and mortal at the same time…” Humans are fragile when they’re born, and I don’t know if we ever get better. We’re remain frail and in need of help.
I sat down at the piano as Alyssa held Atticus that first day home from the hospital and as I played Atticus heard the familiar sound from his mom’s womb and lifted his little head, turning his baby blind eyes my way. I wrote him a lullaby based on an old Isaac Watt’s hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past” for him:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
For the first few months when he couldn’t sleep at night, I’d put him in his swing next to the piano and play that lullabye, quietly so as not to wake Alyssa and the neighbors. We never get better from our frailty. We never stop needing to hear the soft lullaby of God’s grace and protection.
Now Atticus is on the cusp of walking on his own. He’s been practicing, taking my finger and wobbling around the apartment. For now, if I take my finger away from him he’ll fall, maybe hurt himself. He knows it too. So he squeezes as hard as his tiny fingers can and hobbles along. And this is the primary thing I’ve learned these past two years:
I’m not unlike Atticus. As I hobble along I know that I am certain to fall and hurt myself with out the guiding hand of God holding me up and sustaining me.
(Photo Credit: Samantha Jeet)