Before, it was just you. You could do what you wanted. If you hurt yourself, that obviously wasn’t great but you could shrug it off. When you met your spouse or your kid’s mother, things changed a little, but not as much as people might think. You love them deeply, yet you know they are their own person. But as soon as you had a kid? Everything changed. Everything.
Because now you’re vulnerable. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, there is a certain terror that strikes a father when he holds his baby for the first time–an “awareness of a new sphere of vulnerability.” The idea that this person might suffer, might feel pain that you can’t stop? It’s agonizing. Barack Obama once explained in an interview that a kid is like having a piece of your heart outside of your body…and it’s running around protected only by the coordination and the brain of a small child. This is gaspingly scary!
Some dads respond to this by becoming paralyzed. Others by becoming a tyrant—thinking that control can protect their babies from harm. Others emotionally check out, leaving it all to Mom or somebody else. Some run away. The best dads embrace it. They understand that this change, this opening, is a good thing. It has woken us up from our stupor of selfishness and ignorance to what is happening in the world.
Are we vulnerable now? Yes. But we are more awake because of it. We are more empathetic because of it. We are alive because of it. And we shouldn’t trade it for all the bubble wrap and guarantees in the world.
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