On September 5th, 1985, at about 8:30 P.M., I became a father. Our first child, our son Jon, was born.
Talk about “Labor Day” – my wife was in labor in the hospital for more than 36 hours before Jon was finally born. Even then, the doctor had to use forceps, a device that resembled a giant salad tong, to get him out. But the moment when he finally said “It’s a boy” made it all worth the wait.
I thought I was well prepared and ready to be a father. I had everything figured out – what rules I’d enforce, what beliefs and principles I’d instill, how fair and balanced I’d be. Little did I know that you can never be adequately prepared, because, once born, it turns out that this thing you’ve been obsessing over and reading and theorizing about is alive, and as unpredictable as any other living thing. Nothing can prepare you for the challenges that await you, and you end up learning a lot more from your child than the other way around. More than anything, nothing can prepare you for that moment when you look into your child’s eyes for the first time and feel the overwhelming spiritual sonic boom of love, a love so deep and complete that it is frightening.
Now, 26 years later, Jon is a young professional living and working in Minneapolis. He has, despite my blundering and fumbling learn as I go struggles as a father, turned out to be a hard working and thoughtful man. I am immensely proud of him, and thoroughly enjoy his company every time I see him.
One thing I do know – I fell in love with him immediately and forever. I hope he understands this, that ill-advised though some of my actions may have been, they were always undertaken with the best intentions. The thing about being a father is, it doesn’t end when the child grows up – I am proud of the fact that I will always be Jon’s father, and I hope he understands that I will always there for him.
My wife and I still live in the same house where we raised our children. Our second son, Nicholas, is beginning his final year of college, while the youngest, our daughter, Hannah, just began her senior year of High School. Next year at this time, we will officially be empty nesters.
About a year ago, the elderly woman who had always lived in the house across the street from us passed away. Shortly afterwards, a young couple with a pre-school aged son bought the house and moved in. Sometimes I see the father, home from work, on his lawn tractor, mowing his grass, with his young son on his lap, the same way that I used to mow my grass, with Jon on my lap. As I watch them, I become aware that they have no idea what the future will bring, or how fast it will arrive. They are, like Jon and I were twenty some years ago, lost in the moment, blissfully unaware of how quickly the world is spinning, of how fast the years will pass. I imagine that the old woman who previously lived in the house used to watch Deb and I and our young children with the same wistful eye.
Times may change, but some things remain constant and perpetual. People will always fall in love and they will always raise children, and if they are lucky, they will be able to find meaningful work to sustain their growing families.
This is what we ultimately celebrate on Labor Day – the vital role of work in the perpetuity of love and in the dreaming of better lives for our children.