I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time. My first child’s first birthday. This is only going to happen once.
As the much vaunted occasion approached, I could feel the self-inflicted societal and social media pressure mounting. How would we mark this historic date? We would certainly have to orchestrate a huge blowout party to celebrate with my family and our friends. Would we go out somewhere? Would we have it at our house? Would we have to buy Maddie a bunch of presents? Should we schedule a formal photo shoot for our newly minted one-year-old? How do we do we make sure to do this the right way?
As a professional social media maven and digital content producer, I fretted about how I could possibly distill the literally thousands of photos and hours of video I had shot into a compelling multimedia tribute to the first 365 magical days of my daughter’s young life. Frankly, if I actually want to spend time with said daughter when I’m not at work, there’s just no time to craft a production of the magnitude I have in mind. I guess everyone will have to settle for searching the hashtag on Instagram and creating a mental slideshow.1
As a dad blogger, I regretted all the moments I had failed to record over the past year. I counted them up and realized that I only wrote 17 posts. That’s barely more than one per month! This was an epic fail from what I had envisioned when I first started this blog with bright eyes, a newly pregnant wife and plenty of free time. Now I figured I would have to make up for lost posts by penning a first birthday tribute so eloquent in its prose that its publication would immediately qualify me for both a Webby Award and Father of the Year.
But the big day is here now, and my overwhelmed feeling has all but dissipated. What is it about a first birthday that inspires such a need to create a spectacle? This birthday is a celebration of Maddie, the monumental changes to our family that her arrival has wrought, and all the joy she brings to us on a daily basis. As such, I am excited to celebrate it simply today, in our little party of three.
While some might argue that my incessant social media posts and blogging2 indicate that I am using fatherhood to garner likes and comments and page views, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that my reason for meticulously cataloging my experiences with Maddie is selfish for a different reason: This first year went insanely fast, and there are so many treasured moments that have already escaped my memory. Even when I’m in the midst of a moment and say to myself, “Freeze! Remember this feeling you are having right now!”, chances are good that I have a memory of saying that to myself and not of the actual moment itself.
Theresa and I were scrolling through Google Photos3 a couple nights ago and reminding ourselves of some of these forgotten moments—or completely forgotten stages—of Maddie’s first year. Remember when she slept in the Rock ’n Play every night? Remember when she would fall asleep in her swing? Remember when she would break out of her swaddle? Remember when she was just starting to make noises? Remember when she couldn’t roll over?
It’s been an incredible year, and our lives have evolved continuously along with Maddie’s growth and development. Watching her become a little girl with feelings she can express, ambitions she can try to realize, and even a sense of humor she can deploy has been the single most magical experience of my life.
I feel like the number of changes she has undergone this year is a microcosm of what her entire childhood will be like, with so many stages for us to adapt to as her parents, and these changes leading her to new and exciting opportunities and room for growth4.
Most of all, Maddie’s first birthday is an opportunity for me to reflect on how much I love her. Fatherhood has been second only to marriage in terms of learning about my heart’s capacity to keep growing and create room for more love. That’s one feeling that never escapes my memory—and the moments of pure love and connection will be cherished forever. I’ll never forget the way she used to sleep so peacefully on my chest in her first few weeks of life. When she was a few weeks older, she would slide down on my chest a bit and wrap her arm around the side of my stomach as she slept. Then she started making eye contact and cooing as she stared back at me. Eventually I was able to coax her into smiling—real smiles, not just the gassy kind. There are the times when I will be holding her now and she will just look up into my eyes and smile at me or try to tickle my face. She is finally capable of interactions that make me feel loved by her as well, even if she isn’t fully aware of the feeling that she’s expressing.
There are rough moments that inspire love as well, like the hours I’ve spent rocking her in a darkened bedroom when she screams instead of going to sleep.5 Whenever I feel myself getting frustrated in these situations, I try to think about how I am still able to sling her entire being up over my shoulder and comfort her. What a rare, precious and fleeting gift it is to be one of the only two people on the planet that she trusts completely and views as her rock and safety net. As she buries her head in my chest, I am literally her shoulder to
scream cry on. It’s not always easy to view this as a privilege instead of a nuisance, but I try.
Maddie’s first birthday—like all birthdays—is an annual reminder of mortality and, in this case, of just how much life she has ahead of her. I am overcome with emotion when I contemplate all the experiences yet to come, and of the crucial role I will play as her father. Every stage of her life that led up to her first birthday was almost impossible for us to imagine before we got there and were in the moment experiencing it. So many of those bygone stages are already quickly fading memories—and so we are left to cherish Maddie as she is right now—a smiling, beautiful, bundle of energy. I’ve never seen anyone fulfill the cliche of lighting up every room that they enter, but that’s exactly what Maddie can do. With a simple wave, she can grab everyone’s attention and turn grown men to mush.
Madeline, I love you so much. I’ll never forget when you changed my life forever at 8:13 p.m. on August 2, 2016. Becoming your father has given my life a higher purpose that I didn’t know was possible. I thank God every day that He has blessed me with your existence and put you in my care. Happy birthday, Maddie! I grow madder about you by the minute!
P.S. If you’re interested in revisiting what her journey into the world was like (including my #LaborTweets), here’s the post!