Lee came while I slept in the hall. Sam came as I stood and watched the doctor try to work his shoulders free. Almost 28 years apart, these two sons are the bookends of the best that life has given me.
Between them are seven others, four sisters and three brothers, a bifurcated brood which is my legacy and my privilege. I am not a good father, but I am an appreciative father, and neither the years nor the frequency have dulled the awe or diminished the wonder.
It is amazing to me that God lets us partner with him in the creation of life, that he shares with us his children, to be our own, and lets life arise within us.
I wonder at a swelling belly that quickens and stirs and one day delivers a finely chiseled young one who will blink at life and raise her head and one day talk and think. Nothing convinces you of innate nature like the birth of your second child, and the emergence of a second personality, distinctive and unique, completely owned and internal.
And to see a whole string come along, each different from the others, variations on a theme, bringing with them who they truly are, who they have eternally been, is to witness a miracle. One of the joys of parenthood is meeting your children, little people whose life you have known from the start but whose heart you must learn over time. They will see things their way, and it won’t be your way, but it will be a precious way, and learning to value it, to understand it, is a duty and honor.
You try to shape them, but you recognize at the end of it all, they will shape themselves, and their freedom is as absolute as yours. Their judgment, in the fullness of time, is as valid and mature as your own. At a certain point you not only give counsel, you seek counsel, and respect them as well as love them.
And you worry over their feelings, at every stage of their lives. Over the fears and tumbles of the toddler years, the bullies of school days, the monsters of later life. You want to kiss their hurts and kill their enemies, you want to pave the way for them, to smooth out the rough spots and make the pains go away. But you can’t and you shouldn’t, and we are born to weep, as we are born to laugh.
Yet their sadness seems amplified in your own heart and you lament your powerlessness, and you pray for their joy. For love and work and health, for success in adversity, acceptance in change, wisdom in choices. You feel their bony embraces in childhood, their whiskered kisses in adulthood. You hold their hand when they are small, and wish you could hold it when they are big.
And they go to the four winds. They scatter like a covey of quail, in every direction, a whir and nothing, all gone, nothing but empty and memory and longing. And if once a year or twice they can all be together your life begins to revolve around the poles of those visits, looking backward on the last one and forward on the next one, the months in between becoming little more than life’s filler.
I had the second because of the first, and the third because of the first two, and on until now, each new child an affirmation and admiration of the ones who had come before. Each is something of a monument to his or her predecessors. Each is a wish for more of the same, and more of the unknown. The new are not to forget the old, but to remember and recapture, to witness another miracle, to welcome another friend, to hold another hand and commence another journey.
Perhaps it is selfish.
But I don’t intend it that way.
I have not had these children for myself alone, or even primarily, but it is an understanding of myself that has made me long for them. I have treasured my existence. Every moment of my life. I have seen adversity, I have had hell rain down upon me, but I have never regretted the fact that I lived, and I have never had the preciousness of life grow dull in my comprehension. I thrill at life. And I am grateful for the chance I have had to be here. And I presume others feel the same. I presume my children feel the same. Whatever my inadequacies as a parent, I have given my children life. And though I may fail them, they will still have life, their turn on earth, and that will, I hope, be priceless to them.
God said, “Be fruitful, and multiply,” and like all commandments, it was meant as a blessing to us. Yes, bodies are formed and spirits are born and the earth is populated, and a good end is achieved, but our lives are decorated and introduced to joy, and we are beneficiaries beyond our understanding.
I sometimes mourn the lives I didn’t live, the choices I didn’t make and the paths I did not travel. But I never second guess this, I never regret these. I will spend all of my adult life raising and providing for children, and I will consider it a wise course.
My heart is upon them, my mind cannot let them go, from the young to the old, they are truly and fundamentally mine, as much a part of my fiber and being as anyone or anything I have every known or every been. In the end, I am them, and what they become.
Four are adults, and five are children. One a preschooler and one a toddler and one a newborn, two more are in elementary school. One is a soldier and one is a soldier’s bride, another is a student teacher and the first is in my footsteps.
And now the last has come, and this is the end of the beginning. A small, screaming lad with reddish skin and curled fists, a week old now, a seedling of life snuggled to his mother’s breast.