I was 17 years old when I began dating my husband. At 17, you’re not thinking, “Wow, he’ll make a great dad to our future children.” No, you think plenty of other things … but not that.
At 17, we were still kids. But he was quick-witted, sharp, confident, and warm. Our relationship was soon time-tested when he moved away to college. Sure, it was only an hour-plus, but driving across the wide body of water separating us made the trip seem longer, the distance farther.
And then we both moved. Six hours from our hometown. Together in a new city to explore. The city we’ve now called our home for the better part of a decade. As he grew up with me, he became quieter, more thoughtful. The quick wit remained, but it surfaced less often as his responsibilities grew. Quietly, softly, the boy I had begun dating all those years ago became a man.
I became pregnant with our first child a few months shy of our five-year wedding anniversary.
There was elation, quickly replaced by the ho-hum slogging through of pregnancy—the Braxton-Hicks, the inability to eat anything that wasn’t bread, the relentless heartburn, the restless legs, the fatigue.
And while I talked to the baby in utero (mainly to say, “Please stop hiccuping so I can get some sleep”), my husband wasn’t quite as connected. He remained excited that we were creating life, sure, but he didn’t feel the need to physically connect with the baby yet, putting his hand on my stomach to feel the baby contort itself eel-like, leaving ripples across my skin.
Both of our children were born via C-section. One birth less dramatic than the other. The outcome of both, equally good: healthy, pink, squirmy. My husband had never even changed a diaper or even really held a baby before.
I was still immobilized the first time I watched him hold our children; my abdomen split open on the operating table. I lay there, looking up, as he gingerly cradled these babies we’d made, a crinkling smile behind the paper mask.
He looked our children in the eyes and greeted them as though he’d known them forever. They were a part of us, after all. The culmination of all those years of us growing, changing. Becoming the people our children would know.
It’s one thing to embrace becoming a father; another to rise to the challenge of fatherhood. With him, the fatherhood was instant.
He rose from bed before dawn to shush a wailing infant.
He kicked me out of the house when he came home from an exhausting day of work and told me to go do something while he tended to the baby.
On weekends, we split up dirty diaper duties.
He bottle-fed and sang and rocked.
I did all those things too. But I felt I was doing my duty as a martyred mother. I was home all day, breasts bulging with milk, diapers to change, tantrums to extinguish. All those things stoked my ire, fussing, yelling when I got bit (again) by a teething child or kicked.
But, he, the person I’ve known for half my life, prevails as the calm in the tumult. Rarely does he lose his temper. Patience and kindness are his currency with our kids, with me—even when we’re not deserving of it.
He’s a hard worker—both in the office and at home—but makes it a point to carve out time with the kids, even splitting up who gives them baths.
Our children see this. They intuit his unassuming love, his quiet tolerance, his kindness, and they are drawn to him.
Our daughter, this morning, was crying upstairs. I stood at the bottom of the steps and called up: “I’m coming to get you in a second!”
A little voice carried back down to me: “Where’s Daddy? I want him.”
As a teenager, I had a lust for romance, for passion, for all the things teenagers want in a relationship, or think they want. That was great then, and those things are still important, sure, but to say it has been a profound privilege to watch my high school boyfriend become a great father doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.
As partners, we are equal. As a father, he inspires me to be better, more patient.
Fatherhood comes in all forms. Some scream it from the top of the Facebook mountain. Others ignore the fact that half of their child comes from them. Others take a middle ground. Some, like my husband, embrace it, quietly, wholly.