High five! Ella Kate Starr, my first grandchild, shortly after her arrival Memorial Day. (Photo by Roman Starr)
My son Roman and his beautiful wife Sarah made me a grandfather just weeks ago. Recalling that some of my most profound revelations about fatherhood came early in the job, I asked him about this new experience.
DAD 1: I’ve already told you this story: how, before you came along, I was a little uncomfortable around children and wondered if I had what it takes to be a good father; but the exact moment I saw your little head pop out, something changed inside me. I think they call it biological programming, one of those hormonal things. Anyhow, there in the delivery room, watching you being born, I felt like I’d fallen in love. Have you had a similar experience? Do you feel any different than you did before Ella was born?
DAD 2: Yeah, being an emotional person, I was a little worried about whether or not I’ll be able to keep my composure when Ella struggles or is in pain. But I’ve been surprised with how well I’ve done so far. Sarah and I have talked about how we’re each capable of letting ourselves get caught up in our emotions, but one of us always manages to be the rock.
That’s what I think has happened with me in Ella’s case. Obviously she has yet to struggle with much more than cold feet or a little gas, so I haven’t really been tested. But I feel pretty confident I’ll be strong because I care about her so much.
DAD 1: I think one of the most fascinating – and sobering – things about being a parent is the front row seat you get to have on another life: this little human starts out from scratch and you get to watch it all unfold. All of it, the good and the bad. Is that scary for you to think about?
DAD 2: The control freak in me is really excited about creating a person from scratch, being a biological part of her as well as helping to shape her character. The funny thing, and this may be one of God’s best jokes, is that as a parent, that part of me will probably feel helpless a lot. Here’s this little person that I helped create, and as much as I might mold and teach her, she can also do whatever she darn-well pleases. Not that there won’t be consequences.
DAD 1: Ahh, “consequences.” You have learned well, grasshopper.
DAD 2: …but it is scary. There’s no one else more responsible for her well-being than Sarah and me. I have hang-ups sometimes about doing what needs to be done – procrastinating – whether it’s taking the car into the shop or doing taxes. I hope I’ll be less of a procrastinator when it comes to her. In general I don’t want to let any of my hang-ups stand in the way of her being the person she can be, whoever that is. I want her to be strong and confident, and not inadvertently teach her otherwise by my behavior.
DAD 1: Every parent memorizes the little things that don’t change just as much as the big things that do. This is a minuscule example, but when you were still very, very tiny, you’d grasp a corner of your blanket with one hand and make circles with it against the palm of the other; then years later when you were all grown up, I think we were sitting in a restaurant, and you absent-mindedly began doing the same thing with your napkin. That so touched me. Maybe it’s still too early, but have you started looking for those little things that might be the first emerging signs of Ella’s individuality?
DAD 2: Sarah thinks it’s cute that I do that (thank goodness), and hopes Ella does something similar. So far the only thing I’ve picked up on is her tendency to return to the position she had in the womb. Almost like an olympic diver performing a flip, she likes to have her legs perfectly straight, pointed up to her head. She seems unusually strong, and those flexed legs can be a real obstacle when its time for a diaper change. She also loves to have her hands up to her face, and no matter how well I swaddle her, she somehow manages to wiggle them free. I’ve been calling her Little Houdini.
Those wiggly hands come out as
Ella tires of the hospital room lights.
(Photo by Poppy. That’s me.)