Even before my hands touched my daughters newborn skin I had a connection with her. My heart had already held her for nine months.We were no longer counting down the months, but the minutes, and once that minute hand struck 6:01 AM, every idea I had about what it would feel like to be a dad came over me like a wave and all at once I experienced more emotions, more love and joy, more anxiety and fear, more excitement and trepidation than at any other time in my life. She was suddenly here.
At the time, I believed this was the closest we would ever be. I relished in the moment, struck immediately by thoughts of raising her to become her own independent adult. I saw parenting as sort of a long goodbye and began rehearsing the common refrain in my head, lamenting just how bittersweet it can be to watch them grow up.
bonding with your kids is a lifetime process and is the real goal of parenting
Two and a half years later, I was startled awake unexpectedly and rushed to the emergency room. Even though I was doing the driving it still felt like I was along for the ride. What I thought would be familiar to me was all new. It’s amazing how much you forget in so little time. I wouldn’t know just how different until later, when I held my son in my arms for the first time.
I struggled with it being different. The immediate bond wasn’t there with my son. I loved him with all my heart, but those intense emotions were missing. I spent so much time initially trying to determine why. I was wracked with guilt and worry until I learned I was not alone. Other dads shared their own experiences of bonding with their children after birth. They encouraged me to give it time, and most of all, to do something about it.
I’m thankful now for the process I’ve been through with my son. It has taught me that you have to work at the relationship you have with your children. I’m now convinced that bonding with your kids is a lifetime process and is the real goal of parenting.
I’ve tried to work hard at bonding with both my children. Talking, sharing unique experiences, teaching, instilling values, hugging, playing, wrestling, reading, singing, praying, and sharing adventures. I wish I could say we grow closer every day, but more days than I would care to admit slip past because of my impatience or bad attitude. (Those sleepless nights get to you after a while.) My failures as a father are very apparent to me.
I had a moment with my daughter in the kitchen, I was sitting at the table and she was playing on the floor. I don’t know why, but I just started asking her questions. About her day, about her friends, and about her favorite color. I liked hearing about what she had been up to, the puppet show she made with her friend at school, but when she answered that her favorite color was red, it was a moment as a dad that spoke thousands of words into my heart. My preconceived ideas of her were shattered in an instant and I learned how quickly she is changing right before my eyes yet how easily I could miss it. The older she gets the more I need to work at bonding with her.
I’m not crazy, I know there will be phases when I will embarrass her and she will confide only in her mom, or in her friends. Pax will go through this, too. [He recently began this phase at age two] But that is not the time to think I’m done, our relationship is just changing, and I will need to adapt to show them that I still love them both through it all. It may be that the ways we bond will change from the silly to the serious. There is always room for both, I think, but the ratio is constantly in flux. But if you do it right, they will come back. Maybe when they need you most. If you’re really lucky, maybe when they don’t need you at all…
And then when I am old and grey, I will look back with nostalgia at the lifetime spent with my kids and still wish there was more time. Time to make more memories together. I’ll still wish we could be closer, could love more (like my daughter prays) and could know each other better. A lifetime simply is not enough.