Friday, June 8, 2012

On holding hands (a meditation on being a father)


Around the time that my daughter Addison turned 18 months old, she transitioned from finger-holding to hand-holding. It was a big moment. Now don't get me wrong, it was cute the way her warm little fingers would curl around my single big one, like a bunch of tiny tentacles. And since she's rarely inclined to hold my hand or my finger, I'd take either one in a heartbeat. But if I have a choice, hand-holding is the tops. Let me explain.


While in the womb, Addison was tightly swaddled in a sea of love and other strange fluids, a pearl cultured in a stream of nourishment that filtered through the kinks and bends of her mother to become something that could sustain life. It was her mother who protected her, a living armor to defend against the world with an all-encompassing embrace.

When she was born, the waves of that sea crested over her one last time, and then crashed, spilling away on a fading tide, draining from her lungs and clearing from her eyes. In the residue of these waters were my wife and myself and a little girl, who looked directly at us, and screamed. As we beheld this tiny sea creature, wafting ocean spray formed drops that ran in rivulets down our cheeks, and then also spilled away.

And there we were, all of us washed up on dry land. Addison, the most recent castaway, cried out immediately in bewilderment for something to take the place of the soothing waters of her life as a fish and to quench her powerful thirst. Her mother provided much of that, and would continue to do so, for the next year of her life. But in the first moment that I stroked my daughter's hand, she grabbed onto me, without even looking, and didn't let go. I knew that my wife wasn't her only safe harbor.

She placed herself completely, without a hint of reservation, in my hands. It was hard to fully grasp then, and it still is. She needed me. But I also realized during that time that she didn't just need me as I was, but that she needed all the potential in me. I didn't immediately feel like a different person. Rather, I felt the weight of my obligation to become the best father my daughter could wish for. Some fatherly instincts were automatic; others I've tried to cultivate.

Eventually she lost her automatic grasp reflex, and now any time that she holds my hand it is an act of volition. When she merely held my finger she was barely on the cusp of serious decision-making, and she never wandered far anyway; but now she can grasp my hand with hers, her sweaty little octopus hand, and every time she does, my heart swells a little. Because she is choosing me.

When we are holding hands, it is another umbilical. Probably the nourishment goes both ways, but I can't help feeling that this umbilical reverses the flow, this time for my benefit. Addison does not voluntarily hold my hand often, but when she does, when she slips up quietly and puts her hand in mine, I feel like she is saying: "Daddy, I'm back. Keep me safe. Hold me close, for another day."

There's probably going to come a time when we no longer hold hands. Maybe puberty, maybe even before that. It's been a long time since I have really held my dad's hand, but I still remember what it felt like. His hands were sometimes rough from calluses. They had old scars on them, from woodworking and from biting horses and from hammer blows, and so many freckles on the backs that they appeared many shades darker than his natural coloring. I remember how they dwarfed my hands, encircling mine in a gentle but powerful sheath. They were heavy. Firm. Safe. And they still are. I've found other harbors in my life, but I know I can always go back to my dad. The next time I see him, I'm going to shake his hand, and I might hold on for a while, to remember. And in the meantime, I'll try to reach out my hand to my daughter every chance I get, so that someday when she needs it, a recollection will twitch in her hand and she'll know a safe place where she can put it.




*This was my first guest post over at DadCentric. DadCentric is a pretty interesting group of guys writing about fatherhood, and it's worth a look. This little essay got a lot of good feedback there, so feel free to check out the comments over there if you're interested. Cheers!

20 comments:

  1. Congrats on getting to guest post. I think it' s a huge deal, and I'm so jealous!

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    1. If only I could get a promotional electric toothbrush out of it...I keep seeing all these daddy bloggers who got them, and I want it! I'll be saving the american Health Care system thousands if I just start using a toothbrush!

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    2. For the record, I'm smiling now with my perfect shiny teeth. #OralB

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  2. "She needed me. But I also realized during that time that she didn't just need me as I was, but that she needed all the potential in me. I didn't immediately feel like a different person. Rather, I felt the weight of my obligation to become the best father my daughter could wish for." - I loved this. I think I'll share it with my Montessori Assistant's to Infancy class tomorrow :)
    By the way, I'm a new subscriber; I found you though your link in the comments on Crappy Pictures.

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    1. Megan, thanks for following! Sometimes I still wonder if I've captured the feelings I had in those early moments; they can be hard to describe. But this is probably the closest I've come so far. Glad it resonated!

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  3. OMG! I really don't know what sentence or paragraph to love most! This is an AWESOME post, my friend. In short, it has been a total privilege to read your post. I am touched to the core of my heart.

    By the way, thank you for recently paying my post a visit. I am very glad to have met you! :)

    ~Virginia, aka HomeRearedChef

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    1. Virginia,

      Thanks for visiting, and for the flattery! I've enjoyed finding and reading your stuff online, too.

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  4. So raw and real. Loved nakedness. We have a 6 mos little girl and can only imagine. Stumbled up your site from Chicago now and got to her site because of piwtpitt

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    1. Thanks for visiting! I always wonder how people find me. And best wishes with your own little girl!

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  5. Hi Neal,

    This is a beautifully written piece. My daughters are 20 and nearly 12, but I remember those first moments as vividly as you've so artfully described them. You're right, we rarely hold hands anymore and I'm a bit saddened to look back with a sigh at the end of that special and brief period of my parenting life.

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    1. Ray, thanks a lot. I spent a lot of time on it, and sometimes I'm not sure which line of sappy it's on, but sometimes feelings are sappy, right?

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    2. They certainly are, but that shouldn't stop us from going there.

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  6. That's so sweet...my kids are in their 20's and sometimes it feels like eons ago since we held hands. My heart tweaked reading your post. Your daughter is lucky to have a daddy who loves to hold hands.

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    1. Thanks, inspired. My mind just kind of exploded thinking about my daughter as a 20-year old.

      One of her favorite things right now is to hold hands and run "fast fast fast," a little like in those sappy commercials where people are running through wheat fields and advertising detergent or something.

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  7. I absolutely love everything about this post. One day Addison is going to grow up and read this and know how much she is loved by you and Lindsay.

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    1. Thanks, Jackie. Truly, that's the reason I put this stuff into words.

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  8. Great post! I like the line where you say "now she can grasp my hand with hers, her sweaty little octopus hand, and every time she does, my heart swells a little. Because she is choosing me." Choosing me - great.

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  9. I stumbled upon your site today. It wasn't what I was looking for...but isn't that when treasures are found? Beautifully written...your words are so carefully plucked from your soul. Thank you for the opportunity to peek into your word.

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    1. Michelle, thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you found something to your liking here, even if it wasn't what you were looking for.

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