J. Henry Drought
Madison CT USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 4, July-August 2007, pp. 174
Five weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy. Although somewhat sleep-deprived, we are doing well. My wife is breastfeeding, and my duty is to help change diapers in the middle of the night (and clothes if he is particularly wet). We go through the following routine two or three times a night: he wakes up, I change him, and when finished, I hand him over to my wife for feeding.
I never would have imagined I would enjoy our routine -- but I do -- completely. Occasionally, I change him during the day, too, and he seems to give me more latitude than my wife. When my wife changes him, he often screams bloody murder. Somehow, when I change him, he seems more patient -- even enthralled. With these little angelic eyes, he seems to be trying to communicate, "I know you don't quite know what you're doing, Daddy, so I'm going to try and be good and help you."
The other day, though, I discovered there is a threshold and time limit to this patience he reserves for me. On this day I was changing him and he was being very good, as usual. I finished changing his diaper and was putting a clean one-piece undershirt on him and...
We are gazing at one another with love and affection. I get the shirt over his head, but somehow it gets twisted, and I can't get his arm in. He remains calm, and looks at me as if to say, "It's okay, Daddy, keep trying. I'm okay." I get his arm in, then the other arm, but, I realize, somehow, I have managed to put the darned thing on inside-out.
I need to make a quick decision: do I keep the shirt on inside-out, or start over? My wife will be annoyed, but I decide what the hell, it'll have to do. But then I try to snap the bottom piece, it won't snap inside-out, and I have to start over anyway.
I begin taking the shirt off to try again. My little boy is looking at me patiently. "I trust you, Daddy, you can do it," he seems to say. But I fumble with the shirt over his head again, and...oh, oh...I see his first look of worry. He is suddenly not quite as confident in my abilities, and I sense his disappointment. "I thought we only have to do this once, Dad."
Still, he maintains a stiff upper lip. I make a second attempt and manage to get his first arm in, but the second arm is not so easy, and he begins to squirm. His eyes are searching mine -- urging me to get it right -- and then I see his lip begin to quiver. "Daddy, I'm trying..." but his patience is wearing thin.
I get the second arm in and snap the bottom piece, and begin putting the outer garment over his undershirt, but I struggle getting his head in -- again. He hates the shirt going over his head, and now I've botched the maneuver three times. He looks at me with mounting worry. Still, he's trying hard to work with me. When I can't get his arms in quickly enough, though, his worry turns to a whimper.
"Help Daddy, little guy, help Daddy," I plead with him, seeing the dam beginning to break. "Help Daddy, we can do it."
But it's too late. He can't hold back, and his whimper turns into a full-fledged cry. And I am heartbroken...heartbroken because I know how hard he tried, and I let him down.
I apologize to him again and again, and hug and comfort him as he cries. "I'm sorry, little guy, I know you tried so hard. Daddy screwed up. Daddy didn't do a good job this time. I'm sorry."
I continue to comfort him, and soon his cries calm to a whimper, and then he stops completely. He nuzzles his little face comfortably against my neck. Then he raises his head, it bobs a little, and he turns his head precariously until his kind eyes find mine. "It's okay, Daddy," his understanding eyes seem to say, "just try to do it better next time."
He nuzzles his face against my neck again and he's calmed down. I stand while holding him for a minute, enjoying his sweet smell and his soft skin against mine. Uncharacteristically, I don't want to turn him over to his mother this time. At this moment, I want to keep holding him all for myself.