I can think of nothing that has had a bigger impact on my life over past 10 years than my girls. Becoming and being a father has done more to mature and change me than I ever thought it could. I know God differently, I know myself more deeply, and I am a better person because of my two girls. I’ve written about them previously, about the kind of father I strive to be for them and the hope that I hold for them. This post is more about what they’ve done for me.
I am the father to two girls: Sydney, who is almost 9, and Rylee, who just turned 7. When I first started thinking about having kids, I always imagined that I would have daughters, not sons. I know many men long for a son, someone to whom they can pass their legacy, but that has never been the case for me. I’ve always wanted daughters. Perhaps because of how my brothers and I grew up, I felt like I already had a hand in raising boys. Whatever the case, I hoped for daughters.
When Sydney was born on a cold December morning in 2003, something new was born in me. I remember holding her just minutes after her birth and she felt so natural and so foreign in my arms. I couldn’t believe that this baby was mine, yet at the same time she fit perfectly in the crook of my elbow, as if she was molded just to fit me. When my wife April and I took her home from the hospital, we took her inside, strapped in her car carrier asleep, and set her down in the middle of the living room. We both stared. What now?
Sydney taught me about the absurdity of God. She was born just a couple weeks before Christmas. Nothing makes the incarnation of Christ more ridiculous than holding a tiny, tiny infant in your arms days before Christmas. She was so helpless, so utterly dependent upon her mother and I. Were we not there to feed her and give her shelter, she wouldn’t last a day. Yet this is how God chose to save all of creation? Through a baby? Unbelievable.
The entry of God into the world through the womb of a fifteen-year-old unwed virgin is the most scandalous and miraculous part of all the Bible. It is more shocking than Jesus eating with sinners or forgiving sins and it is more miraculous than walking on water or giving the blind sight. All of God was held within a womb and then entered violently into the world, covered in blood and mucus, only to be unceremoniously placed in a feeding trough. The birth of Jesus was transformed from a nativity scene into a mystery when I held my infant daughter in my arms during Advent 2003.
Sydney taught us both how to be parents. We didn’t know it then, but she was quite the fussy baby. She cried all the time. I mean all the time. Unless she was sleeping, which she did quite nicely beginning at just nine weeks, she cried. We thought that was just what babies were like. As she left infancy and became a toddler, her crying waned some and her personality started coming out. She was pensive and deep, people would often comment on a twinkle of wisdom in her eyes and remark that she must be an “old soul.” How right all these things would prove to be.
As she has grown, Sydney has been a source of joy and surprise to all who know her. She is so stinking smart. She is like a big sponge, always absorbing things and able to access them later. This, as you might imagine, is a double-edged sword. Her ability to read people and situations is far better than that of many adults. I worry, however, that this sensitivity robs her of being carefree, as children of her age ought to be. She is sensitive and sweet and sacrificial to a fault, sometimes, and fights demons of anxiety and worry.
Her sister, Rylee, was born in November 2005. By this time, April and I felt like we knew what we were doing in parenthood. We felt more prepared for Rylee. Yet Rylee surprised us as well, mostly in how different she was from her sister. Rylee was such a happy baby, only crying when something was wrong. She gave away smiles freely and was one of those gregarious kids who was content being held by anyone.
Rylee has always been rough and tumble. She is very physical and hurts herself, and others, often. She’s good at quickly assessing the extent of her injury, whether physical or emotional, and knowing if it is something she can handle herself, or if it is serious enough that she needs a grown-up. She is most stimulated by seemingly impossible tasks. Reverse psychology totally works on her still, as does turning nearly anything into a race. She’s old enough to see through those devices, and I can tell that she does, but she just can’t resist winning or proving that she can do something that you say is impossible.
Rylee, like her sister, she pays more attention to what is going on around her than I often give her credit for. Unlike her sister, though, Rylee doesn’t keep these things on the inside. She takes the what she observes and makes it her own, both the good and the bad. It is so easy to be proud of her when she acts all grown up, and it is so maddening to see her exhibit the same faults I have, only in miniature. There is a reason that we don’t place a mirror in every room of the house. Sometimes we just don’t want to see what we look like. Rylee is my living mirror.
I can’t imagine who I would be had I not become a father, nor could I imagine the many ways in which becoming a father would change me. I am more patient, responsible, and sensitive than I was before they entered my life. I better understand God the Father and his hopes and dreams for his children. I am more aware of my shortcomings and limitations. I am a better person because of my relationship with them, to their benefit and to yours.