One year ago today, my life changed forever. There aren’t that many days in your life that you can brand with such a dramatic label, but for whatever reason, I’ve experienced many of them in the last couple years: getting married, buying a house, being diagnosed with cancer, beating cancer and—one year ago today—learning that I was becoming a father.
And that’s what happened. I became a father. My daughter is four months old now, upending and enhancing my life in ways too numerous to tally. The fatherhood fan fiction that I began to write in my head moments after my wife’s pee made the plastic stick foretell my future has since been brought to life in glorious technicolor. The little bundle of cells that we first saw on a hazy ultrasound screen became our bundle of joy and now a bundle of energy—kicking and grabbing and squealing and wailing her way into our hearts.
My daughter is four months old now, freshly baptized this past weekend, and currently in the guest room that became her nursery trying to learn how to sleep in a crib without a swaddle. Our house is sufficiently overrun with baby furniture and clothing and diapers and accessories. Our schedule is no longer solely our own, and an evening out requires detailed planning of the rest of the day to incorporate naps and feedings. A minivan is our vehicle of choice now, and the diaper bag is never out of reach when we’re out of the house. Bedtime routines have been established and broken and established again.
Was it really just a year ago that we learned this would be our new reality? Despite feeling like a long time ago, the curious mixture of shock, excitement and trepidation that I received from the positive test is still easily retrieved in my memory. It was a typically brisk Sunday morning in December and we were scheduled to meet my family for a Christmas concert at Mundelein Seminary later that day. Theresa and I had previously chatted about how recent cyclical strangeness would necessitate a pregnancy test, but I was still surprised when she ran into our bedroom that morning clutching the device–the countdown already on to determine if we were still alone in the room or if we were now a party of three. As we waited for the test to finish cooking, my head was swimming with imagined scenes of the next nine months, a baby boy or girl, the drastic changes to daily life, and my potential new identity as a father.
The time was up and we removed the tissue that was covering our fate. A plus sign. The head-spinning increased with abandon. Then came the overwhelming excitement. Then came the doubt. How could we be pregnant when my oncologist expressed doubts that we could get pregnant within a year of my chemotherapy and statistics showed it was going to be difficult to get pregnant at all? How could we be pregnant when we seemed so unprepared to be pregnant? How would we tell my family? Well, I had the answer to the last question at least.
I remember the rest of the day being a bit of a blur, as I contemplated the creation of this new life that would lead to a new life for me and Theresa. I quickly fell in love with the idea of my daughter long before I ever met her or even knew for sure that she was a daughter. I started this blog, did some fatherhood homework, sought advice and tried to contain my excitement as we made our way through the stepping stones of preparation. During that entire process, however, I was left to guess at the actual details of how my life and heart would be transformed by the arrival of our little blessing.
Now that she’s here, I witness the miracle of her life on a daily basis. She is a living embodiment of the G.K. Chesterton quote: “Every instant of conscious life is an unimaginable marvel.” And that’s a two-way street. She marvels at the world as her emerging senses bring the details into greater clarity each day. The world marvels at her growth, her curiosity and her undeniable cuteness. I watch her light up every room she enters and light up the faces of those who encounter her. I often joke that Theresa and I were invisible before we had a baby. We could go to the store, attend Mass, or eat at a restaurant in relative obscurity. Now perfect strangers want to meet little Maddie and beg her for a smile…which she is usually happy to provide. I find myself marveling at her ability to improve a moment of someone’s day merely by existing.
Even in its earliest stages, fatherhood–like marriage before it–has already helped me to find a greater sense of purpose in my own life. My heart has made room for my wife and my daughter. Far from three being a crowd, the formation of my own little family has unlocked capacities for love that I didn’t know existed–that I could never have conceived of as a 20-something who wanted a family eventually but was doubting whether that would ever really happen and wondering if there was some other path. Now I find myself suddenly and beautifully living out the vocation I always wanted…and I think the wait and uncertainty of its arrival has made me even more grateful for it.
Christmastime has long been one of my favorite times of the year–a season of hope and family and celebration and rebirth. How fitting that we would be given the news of Maddie’s existence on Saint Nicholas Day last year, and how sweet it is to now be celebrating the season with our own baby who brings so much joy and hope to the world around her. I will always treasure the memory of finding out about our little miracle and my call to fatherhood. It is a supreme blessing and a sacred commitment that I am honored to uphold.