It’s curious, though I guess not surprising, that becoming a father has given me some insight into my own childhood and my relationship to my father. A few things are starting to make a little more sense.
The first among these is bear hugs. I’ve been getting bear hugs from my dad for as long as I can remember. I always kind of figured it was an “alpha male” thing. He was showing me that he was big and strong, and I’d better keep in line. And, oh yeah, I was family so he at least kinda liked having me around. Now that I have Sam, bear hugs make a lot more sense. I squeeze her because I want to hold her so close to me — I want to draw her inside myself even. I just try not to squeeze her too much. Similarly, all those fairy tails with the potentially eaten children — Hansel & Gretel, Sleeping Beauty (orig), etc. And the little affectionate quips like “Daddy’s going to eat those widdle toes!” Of course WHY I want her so close as to internalize her remains a mystery to me. But maybe it will be solved by Samantha Fay Capehart, baby detectiveI had a dream before Sam was born about my child being a baby detective. (S)he was talking and running around at just a few months old, and I asked her about her precocious walking to which (s)he shrugged and replied that it seemed like the thing to do. As a result, we sometimes call Sam “Samantha Fay Capehart, Baby Detective” and take some of her coos and gurgles to be elements of her detective stories like her arch-nemesis “Murlak the deceiver” (we added the “the deceiver” part).
Also, my dad told me recently that when I was a baby, my shit didn’t stink (to him). My immediate (internalized) reply was that I was a breast-fed baby. Breast-fed babies tend not to have stinky poop, so whatever. I guess I both don’t think of myself as possibly that lovable, nor my dad that capable of that love. Now, as I (mostly) gladly change Sam’s diapers, and laugh about it when she pees on me on the changing table, I’m forced to revisit my dad’s statement, and start to accept the “impossibility” of the love that he had for me (and maybe even still has!?!?).
Similarly, I knew about some of the shit I put my parents through as an older kid, but when my mom says that I was a colicky baby, I thought it was some flaw in my personality that I fortunately outgrew. Now, I see it as a strength in both of my parents that I wasn’t locked away in some soundproof box for the first several months of my life. I can get sooo frustrated with the way in which Sam’s cries can get under my skin, especially when they seem to be without reason (meaning she’s already comfortable, fed, changed, etc). And I consider myself, perhaps inappropriately, to be a rather centered, zen person.
All of this self-awareness and Sam’s not even started to walk or talk yet. Now I start to see what my dad meant when he said he grew up again with me. And it’s not just what my internal dialog had been telling me earlier — “You mean you grew up for the first time with me.”