Every now and again, I find myself wondering what my father thought or felt the night I was born. I can't ask — he died when I was almost three — but I've been wondering more than usual lately and so I decided have dads describe the first time they saw their kid to give me some idea.
I am not sentimental when it comes to objects and there are few items that make it with me from one stage of life to the next. One treasure, however, is the shirt my father was wearing the night I was born. It's the top of the OR scrubs he had to hastily change into when my mother needed an emergency c-section. There's a tiny, faded, rust-colored stain right in the middle of the shirt. I don't know what it is, it's about the size of the tip of an infant's finger and I've always imagined it's a spot where I broke free from my swaddle and touched him to say, "Hi."
Fatherhood has always been a particularly interesting topic for me, largely because I feel like we're seeing a shift in how we look at dads (as a society) and what we expect. My grandfather, for example, has four children and 16 grandchildren, and has famously never changed a diaper in his life. While I can imagine there are some fathers out there who still subscribe to the idea that there are some things "fathers just don't do" (one, in fact, is running for president and I'll just let you go ahead and guess which one) — and while we certainly have a long way to go when it comes to equitable division of childcare (and fair family leave policies for fathers) — most fathers today are taking an active role in raising their children beyond the detached, "I'm only here for discipline and financial concerns" approach of generations past.
So, I asked some of my dude friends what that first moment of fatherhood felt like: the moment they saw their kid for the first time. Here's what they had to say:
"Our daughter came out covered in vernix. Like... really, really thick, white goo. My first thought was, 'Eww.'"
"Happy, but they were taken away quickly and so tiny that the doctors were making sure they were OK. With twins, we didn't actually know if there would be problems. I was relieved once I knew they were fine."
"When I saw [my first child] I was overwhelmed with joy. I was also seeing in double and apparitions from the exhaustion.When I saw [our second child], initially I was in shock that it went so fast and smooth compared to the first labor. And I was surprised at how dark her hair was."
"When my first was born, my first thought was actually, 'Oh my god, he looks exactly like I imagined he would look.' I remember having tunnel vision and trying not to cry (and failing miserably), and I remember my whole body feeling warm and like my chest and face were going to explode. When my second was born, my first thought was, 'Oh my god, she looks exactly like [my wife].' (She continues to look exactly like her.) I remember feeling much more present and 'ready for duty' with my second than I was with my first, like I was ready for another person to be added to the family and I knew what I had to do. It turns out they have been completely different children and he in no way prepared us for her, so I was completely wrong, but...that was the feeling at the time."
Oh man, I hope he grows into that nose. That's my Uncle Allen's nose. Uncle Allen has a terrible nose. Crap.
[Writer's note: "Matthew" has assured me that he has, in fact, grown into his nose, or, rather, that the nose "un-squished" a few days after delivery. Uncle Allen's remains "terrible."]
"With our first I thought, 'Oh no what did we do?' (It passed quickly.) With our second I was concerned because she was pretty gray-looking. I didn't freak out because the midwife and nurses weren't freaking out. (She was fine.)"
"Honestly, I was way more focused on my wife at the time. She had to be rushed to surgery immediately after birth and I was terrified."
It's the only time I've ever cried as an adult, and I was sobbing.
"Growing up, I only ever saw my dad when it was convenient for him to be around or he wanted to look like a responsible not-douchebag in front of new girlfriends. It sounds corny to say having a child was healing*, but it was a feeling of satisfaction to know I could do and be better and that my son would never have to feel like an abandoned prop."
[Writer's note: it doesn't sound corny, "John." It sounds beautiful.]