I want to share with you a beautiful moment between my daughter and I. A precious moment that I will not only cherish forever, but that makes one think about life, death, and the existential worlds before and after those events.
When I was still a grade-school youngster, my mother bought me a children’s book with a message I’m sure she had wanted to communicate to me, but perhaps wasn’t able to articulate it as well as the book did. The book goes through stages of life between a mother and son from the son’s infancy to adulthood and a repeated message of love from the mother to son. On the last page, the mother is dying and the son says the same message of love back to the mother. It’s a lovely sentiment and I cherish that book to this very day.
You see, my mother passed away almost 8 years ago. At the top of the many aspects of her death that tore me apart inside was the fact that I hadn’t given her grandchildren. It haunts me daily that she will never enjoy the laughs of my children. Attached to the pure joy of their laughter is a dark sliver of grief hovering deep inside, lurking within, disallowing the experience of full joy. Oh how I wish it would release.
I tried letting go of this book, but I couldn’t bear to part with it. When my daughter joined this world, as soon as she was old enough to comprehend it, I pulled it out and attempted to read it to her a few years ago. I couldn’t get past page 3 without breaking down into a sobbing mess. I’ve since brought the book out every so often, especially because she asks about it. Each time, I’m able to get a page or two further, but I still can’t get through it without being overcome with tears of pain and grief.
A few days ago she asked to read that book again. It had been awhile since the last attempt, and I was in a peppy mood so I thought I would give it a shot. Sure enough, my lip quivered around page 4 as I tried to hold it back, but about halfway through the book I fell over bawling. My sweet little girl, who turns 4 yrs old today, wanted to know why I was crying. “I miss my mama.” I told her. “Then go and see her.” she said with a matter-of-fact, child-like simplicity. If only…
We’ve tried explaining to her that my mom, her grandma, is “up in heaven” or that she’s “with God” and other nebulously existential descriptions. But it’s such a difficult concept to communicate to a toddler, we’re never sure on what level she’s comprehending. Her insatiable curiosity inevitably leads down some painful roads of conversation, but I do the best I can to give an answer and move on.
This time, however, there seemed to be a deeper level of knowing. She even tried to comfort me, sweetly putting her hand on my back saying, “It’s OK Papa, one day you’ll go to heaven and be with God and you’ll see your Mama.” Of course, this comforting only made my tears gush out harder. I’m crying now as I write this.
Two days later, after breakfast, she sat next to me on the sofa and said one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever heard.
“You know, last night when I was sleeping, your mama came to visit me.”
“Oh yeah?” I curiously replied.
“Yeah, and now she’s in my heart. She’s in my body now, with me.”
I hugged her and she went on with business as usual. However, I was left dumbfounded, in awe of this revelation. Could it have been a simple dream and this was her way of communicating that? Sure. But she never met my mom, nor have we watched any home videos or looked at a ton of photos of her yet…mostly because of the pain it causes me. Eventually we’ll get into that stuff, but my point is that she doesn’t really have a frame of reference to just “imagine” or conjur up her grandma in a dream.
Let me get even trippier with this.
For as far as I can remember, my mother was OBSESSED with N.D.E. or Near Death Experiences as well as Life After Death. She read countless books on those subjects. She watched documentaries, talk show appearances, life after death testimonies. Anything in that realm, she was into it. As she was dying, she told us she would come back and visit us, she was certain of it, not a twinkle of doubt as she expressed it.
Am I saying this is definitive proof of anything? Not really. But it’s yet another signal to me that there are indeed other forces at work that we don’t fully understand, label them in whatever way that floats your boat. Ancient and Indigenous cultures were more plugged into it than “modern” society is now. But there is no doubt in my mind that something special happened here, something difficult to articulate, but we can all sense it’s there. Like those times when you’re in that place between awake and dream, when you’re alone with your thoughts, when you’re staring up at the cosmos, when you think of your friend and they call you, when the song in your head comes on the radio, when you hear stories like the herd of elephants that traveled many miles for 12 hours to pay respects to the “Elephant Whisperer” who saved them years prior and had just passed away, when you feel you’re connected to everything and nothing all at once, that mystical sense that there is more out there than the eye can see. This moment was one of those times.
While I’m eternally sad that my children will never meet their paternal grandma on this plane of existence, I am starting to come around to having solace that perhaps they’ll experience her in other ways. And for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed the laugh of my child with all the joy that comes with it. Was this one last gift from my mom delivered from the other side? I can’t say for sure, but for now, that will do.
Anna, my partner, and I recently announced the birth of our second child shortly after our son Kaspyan was born healthy into the loving embrace of his welcoming family. We are so enamored and borderline obsessed with our daughter that in the back of my mind, I had wondered whether the moment of his birth would be as profound for me as hers was. Would I shed tears of joy like I did the first time? Would I hold him with as much unconditional love as I had for her during those precious first moments and thereafter? I honestly did not know what to expect. It’s a facet of life I had never really thought about until we found out we were expecting again. My heart was bursting from seam to seam with adoration for my first born, Amalya, that I could not conceive of how my heart could even handle another child. I do have a hairy kid in the form of my male Beagle named Murphy, whom I love dearly, but I knew having a human child would be a whole new level (and it is), so there wasn’t the same mystery to me the first time around as there was with the expectation of a second child.
As his harmonious first cries echoed in our bathroom (Anna opted for a home, water birth) while our eyes gazed upon him for the first time, the reaction was just as life altering as it was the first time. Anna and I both rejoiced in tears of pure joy… a feeling I can count on one hand how many times I’ve experienced to that level. When I held him for the first time, something interesting happened. I looked into his eyes and I felt a strange mix of emotions bubbling inside. Of course I was ecstatic to be holding my healthy newborn son, but a part of me almost felt as though I was neglecting or in some way “cheating” on my love for my first-born daughter. A strange sense of guilt was brewing inside that I had not expected and was quite perplexed to be experiencing. It’s difficult to articulate accurately, but it was as if my heart and soul were in a temporary confused state of trying to adjust and come to grips with the profundity of what had just happened. I was moving from “how in the world is it going to be possible to love another child this much? Will my heart explode?” to “This is how…”
With Amalya it was instantaneous. I held her for the first time and looked into her eyes and the flame of deep parental love had ignited, bursting my heart ablaze. But with Kaspyan, it was more of a slow burn for the first few days. The flame was lit of course, but it’s as if my inner soul was saying, “OK, we read you loud and clear, just give us a minute to make some room in here!” Anna, Amalya, and I had such a great camaraderie and chemistry together, what would this new little stranger do to that balance? We will soon find out, and I suspect we will be learning to adjust to that for many years to come.
As hours turned to days, and days to weeks and now at one month since he was born, I have been amazed at how exponentially fast my heart has expanded to accommodate the love for my second child. I finally have my answer. The capacity for love is not finite, but rather infinite in its capability. My heart’s capacity to love unconditionally literally increased to accommodate my second child, whom I am now thoroughly obsessed with on a level I never even thought possible. I can’t wait to see him, give a ton of snuggles and watch him discover the world. And when he wakes up at night, despite my weary, tired eyes, I smile from ear to ear and tend to him with excitement because…well, Love. It really is an incredible feeling to experience!
The lesson is that this concept of Love, whether it’s parental, romantic, or platonic, knows no bounds. But more importantly, I think it’s the capability of receiving that love that can help open those gates. The more I postulated about it, the more I realized that maybe it was I that needed to prepare myself for receiving the love from my second child. I am still getting used to Amalya running up to me, hugging my leg saying, “I love you, Papa!” It’s so sweet and makes my heart skip a beat every time, so maybe I’m still adjusting to all this? While I won’t go into the details here, I will say that my home life growing up was not so gilded in declarations of adoration, quite the opposite actually. So, this new life of mine I have created, as lovely and loving as it is, remains a foreign land that I’m still getting used to, so adjusting to it is a natural process, I suppose.
Love can be such an enigmatic subject to think about, much less write about, but this parental love capacity is something that had been bouncing around in my mind for months, that I thought I’d see what else was out there.
Dr. Ellen Weber wrote a blog post in Psychology Today about love and favoritism of children when parenting. Her conclusion is that parents my favor certain children during various stages of their development. For instance, one parent may love the infancy stage while another may only prefer the toddler years, and so on. So, it can flip flop. While I have yet to figure out all of that yet, I can see how certain stages might appeal to certain aspects of a particular parent’s personality. That being said, I think having an equal unconditional love baseline for all your children is important. Whether or not you like or prefer a certain stage they’re in should not affect the overall love, at least I’m pretty sure it won’t with me.
Dr. Gayle Peterson writes in her blog about how you won’t really love your kids equally because your kids will all be different and will require their own unique brand of love from each parent. While I think that’s true to some extent, there’s still that baseline foundation of unconditional, parental love that should blanket your whole brood, however many there are. The kind of love that wants to protect them, provide for them, comfort them and prepare them for the trials and tribulations of life.
I leave you with this wisdom from an article about the Dalai Lama’s insight into parenting:
“A child cannot survive without the care of others; love is its most important nourishment. The allaying of the child’s many fears and the healthy development of its self-confidence depend directly upon love.”
On this Father’s Day, I’m faced with a unique experience of it being my first without my father around while simultaneously being my first as a new father (to a human child that is, love ya Murph-dog!). A melding of various emotions, memories, both new and old dance circles around my thoughts. There exists an unsettled dissonance as I come to terms with the fragility and finality of life whilst embracing the new adventures that come along with the breaking dawn of a new one. Torn between the loss of the memories yet to come that I will never share with my late parents, yet thankful for the ones I already have that taught me the lessons the universe needed me to know and have made me who I am at this moment. Thank you Dad for all the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I’m the better man and father for it.
When I’m in need of guidance, I like to look to nature. I recently read a post about male red foxes and how they not only tend to their foxy lady mamas constantly so the mama fox can tend to their adorable baby foxes, but they also teach valuable life lessons to their young. For the first month after the female gives birth, the father provides her with food every 4-6 hours so she can stay in the den to feed the young and keep them warm. When the offspring are older and able to scurry about, Papa Fox spends endless hours playing with his critters. When they’re about 3 months old, the father starts to teach them valuable life lessons. For instance, he will bury food under leaves and twigs around the den and encourage the offspring to find it, thus teaching them how to sniff out food and forage. These daddy foxes embrace their new role as fathers with an instinctual bliss and responsibility, no “how to” books, no Red Fox YouTube channel to refer to. They just naturally do what is right for their children.
I hope I’ll be able to trust my innate fatherly instincts and rise to the occasion like the male red fox. I hope I’ll be able to improve on the positive lessons I learned from my dad and not repeat the mistakes he made along the way. I hope.
I look forward to many more Father’s Days to come as I reflect on those that have passed. As with all new dads, the term “father” takes on a whole new meaning that one can only truly understand by becoming one. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, old and new. RIP Dad, wish you could have met your granddaughter, she’s an amazing beam of light, an old soul that is sure to to teach me as many lessons about life as I will be sure to teach her.