The Girl turned 7 this September.
Her birthdays are important to me, because it shows me the passage of time in very sharp relief. And it makes me think about the kind of person she’s becoming.
Anyway, in rooting around in my files, I found this dedication letter I wrote when the Girl had just been born, to be recited at her dedication ceremony which we held at our house when the Girl’s mum and I were still together. I don’t think I’ve published it here, so I’m doing so today. Here it is:
The Girl, aged 3 (almost 4), 2009
I remember the morning [The Girl's Mum] told me she was pretty sure she was pregnant very clearly, because I remember not feeling the way I thought I would feel – that is, terrified. To be fair, we had been talking a lot about and, frankly, been involved in the groundwork, of starting a family. But up until that point it really had been reduced to a sort of abstract, like some kind of theory that had yet to be proven. The moment [The Girl's Mum] told me that she was pretty sure she was pregnant was a joyful one, yes. But it was surprising too in that I knew, and I think [The Girl's Mum] knew too, that we were ready for it. It was this sense of knowledge, of surety, that was surprising, because there was no fear, no trepidation, other than the possibility that [we] had got it wrong, and she in fact wasn’t pregnant after all.
Parenthood and ‘being ready’
Perhaps I should explain what I mean by “ready for it” although at the time if you’d asked me to explain, I would certainly have been at a loss to accommodate you. What we were ready for was Parenthood (that’s with a big capital P). Parenthood, as I have certainly discovered in these past few weeks, is the ultimate in practice as opposed to theory. It has to do with bare bones, no nonsense, action and I am sure that this will be the day-to-day nature of it from now on. But in those earliest moments, as far removed as I was from early morning feedings, dirty diapers, and tearful episodes of unknown origin, I knew that this possibility, this new element introduced into our lives, not only had to do with the birth and growth of a new person, but of our own rebirth and subsequent growth as individuals and as life partners. We would stop being partners only; we would become parents.
Clarity of Purpose
Since those early days (listen to me, the seasoned father!), I have experienced a certain clarity of purpose in the face of circumstances that would have been sure, 5 years ago say, to have filled me with overwhelming terror. Taking care of an enfant? Being one of two people directly responsible for the upbringing of a healthy, fully functioning person? Me? But, something has been in place to curtail these feelings of fear and doubt. It must be said that much of this sense of confidence stems from [The Girl's Mum], since she has been possessed of the kind of certainty and strength as a person and as a mother which would rightly leave anyone feeling that all is unfolding as it should.
Maybe this “something” has to do with what my own parents instilled in me. Perhaps it has to do with part of myself being unlocked as a part of some mysterious biological process that comes with being a dad. I think it more likely that it has to do with being connected to something greater than simple biology, though. It may have to do with how much I love [my daughter], and how I fell in love with her before she was even born. That is big. It’s bigger than doubt. It’s bigger than fear. It is important because, unlike the aforementioned negative forces which are often in place, in the best moments this love I experience leads to a place of clarity where parenthood is concerned. I know what I have to do.
Don’t Miss The Person Behind The Needs
I think it would be easy to think of [The Girl], as young as she is, as a new addition to our lives, without acknowledging her as a unique personality. It is easy to make this oversight just because she has no means to immediately express herself, with no voice other than the very loud one she uses when she is hungry, or tired, or needs a change. At this stage in the proceedings, it is easy to miss the person behind the needs. And sometimes, I do. But looking at her as a person, as an individual, even at this early stage, is leading me closer to the realization that parenthood is not a reactionary effort. I am noticing [The Girl] discovering the world. I am seeing her curiosity, her need to explore, her love of the simple actions on our part that bring comfort to her. I am seeing her growing. This is meaningful.It has purpose beyond simple care-giving and day-to-day routine, as important as those things are right now. It leads somewhere.
Parenthood: Little Births
Where parenthood leads to then, what the purpose of it is I suspect, is not much different than it was when I helped [The Girl's Mum] bring [our daughter] into the world. Parenthood is still about birth, or rather little births in succession, each one leading closer to a destination that has something to do with identity. It seems to me that parenthood is about helping someone become themselves, from infancy to early adulthood, and perhaps beyond. When I think about this, I cannot help but feel excited, and to feel, in these moments, that it is easy to be strong. Knowing what I know about [The Girl] today, and loving her all the more, the opportunity to play a part in helping her to become who she is, to help her to get closer and closer to her true essence as an individual, is enormously meaningful.
So, this idea leads me to the question: why have this gathering, apart from the enjoyment food, family, friends and frilly bits? I suppose one reason is to introduce, formally, this new version of our family, of your family, of this family plus one. [The Girl's] presence means that we are living in a new era, and if some of us are more, or less, affected by [her] presence, the fact remains that the nature of our connections have changed, and have changed for the better. This is cause for celebration. Another aspect is linked to what I was talking about before.
Connection, Identity, Growth, Celebration
The mandate of helping [The Girl] grow into the person she is not only the path where parenthood leads [The Girl's parents], but I believe that the same goals are common to anyone serious about loving her, in whatever capacity. As such, this excitement I feel at being allowed to play a part in [my daughter's] life belongs to all of you too. You will play a part, however large or small, in helping her to move closer toward her sense of self, in helping her to recognize her own value. I imagine that this will not always be easy. But I think this is what family and friends are for in general; being involved in each other’s births and re-births in whatever form they may take, whether it’s in good circumstances or bad. I think this is worth a celebration too. I know that [The Girl] can count on all of you to be there for her, surely as [her parents] have experienced your support through out our lives, and even more recently during the dawning of this new era, when all kinds of adjustments have had to have been made.
So this gathering is about a celebration of our connections to each other, now strengthened by the presence of a new person. What could be more worthy of a celebration than that?
Happy Birthday, my lovely Girl.