Uppermost House: Fatherhood, the joy handed down

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary describes the word “father” as a noun and defines it simply as “a man who has begotten a child.” Okay, and the Atlantic Ocean is merely “a whole bunch of salty water piled up just east of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.”

As a hopelessly sentimental romantic, I say the emotionless Vulcans over at M-W.com got it wrong; or at least they didn’t give us the whole story. Sure, they’re supposed to be dispassionate and disinterested, mere citers of distilled fact, but in this case I think they’ve boiled one of the most beloved, most meaningful, one of the richest words in the English language all the way down until there’s nothing left in the bottom of the bucket but the viscous sludge of biology.

Father, my friends, is no mere noun; it is also a very much a verb — it is that challenging, exhausting, invigorating, joyful, hard, easy, heartbreaking, heartwarming, happy, sad, frustrating, fulfilling, loud, quiet, peaceful, rambunctious, firm, tender, humbling, loving thing a man does for the rest of his life after his child is born; it is that which he wouldn’t trade for ten million dollars and for which he would step in front of a careening bus to defend.

To father, to daily step into the shoes of a dad and live out that verb, to “train up a child in the way he should go” is the most wonderful of hardest things.

A few short days from now, I will be a grandfather. I have not been a grandfather before, and I am not prepared. When I became a father for the first time, I had not been a father before and I was not prepared. No man is. The child arrives all slippery and squealing, you hear the starting gunfire, and somehow your new offspring has a big head start. And as far as I can tell, you never do quite catch up.

I’ve contemplated for months the letter that I will write my son on the eve of his impending fatherhood. Full of cheer and encouragement. Wit and wisdom. Warnings, admonitions and advice. “Learn to enjoy changing diapers,” I will write. And, “Yes, it’s okay to adventure-sleep under the dining room table.” And, “No, running around in the rain doesn’t cause pneumonia.” And, “Yes, you will fall asleep all crumpled up under the covers reading Winnie-the-Pooh stories.” And, sure, you will (more than once) stare befuddled at your wife and say, “What. Have. We. Done?” And my trite little list goes on and on and ends up not being very useful. I’m sure it won’t be very useful because my father said the same sorts of things to me and I remember thinking (but not saying), “Yeah, Dad, but you were clueless, I totally have this,” and then my tiny new boy barfed in my lap.

So, I probably won’t tell my son any of those things. Instead, I will repeat the simple marching orders I was given when I was the little boy standing next to the big man and contemplating for the first time the enormous rope swing down at the lake: “Just grab on right here and jump.”

According to the robotic dictionary people, my son and his wife will “love” their new daughter; they will have “strong affection for (her) arising out of kinship or personal ties.” They may even live long and prosper. Oh, I’m certain they’ll do much more than that.

She’s due on the Fourth of July.

Her dad is my best friend.

Her name is Sophie.

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