Thursday, November 04, 1999

while you're sleeping

Dear Evangeline,

As I write this letter, you are nearly one week old, and sound asleep at your mother's side. It's going to be a few years before you can read this, and even longer before you understand exactly what I'm feeling right now.

This letter is one of the hardest things I've ever had to write. I've made my living from words for nearly four years, but they're failing me now. Nothing can describe the sublime joy and wonder I have felt since 3:36 p.m. Oct. 30, 1999, when you were born.

You were born weighing 8 pounds 14 ounces, and when they told me you were a girl, I felt so excited my heart could have burst.

I guess the best way to describe what I'm feeling right now is "surreal." Babies are something that happen to other people, generally people who are older than your mother and myself, or at least it's always seemed that way to me before. I've long wanted to be a father, but somehow I don't think I ever really believed it was going to happen.

But now you're here, and a week after your birth, I still haven't settled down. I can honestly say that I have never felt this strongly about anyone before, except for your mother. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you, and no danger I wouldn't face to keep you safe.

Now that you've been born, I do all sorts of positively saccharine things. I sit for minutes, doing nothing but watch your chest rise and fall, as though the fate of the entire world hung on each breath.

I still feel a sense of wonder as you kick and squirm about whenever you wake up, or when you stretch your teeny-tiny limbs, wrinkle your little face, and cry.

I never thought I would say something so patently ridiculous, but I even enjoy changing your diapers. I enjoy it even at 2 a.m. when you drag me, sleepy-eyed, from my bed, and you choose that moment to christen my bed and my hand.

Then there are those other times, those what-if moments when something doesn't seem quite right. You'll understand these better when you become a parent yourself.

Your mother and I went on an emotional rollercoaster your first few days because you weren't eating well. Last night, I was on one again because you hadn't dirtied your diapers for about 14 hours.

Both of those are completely ordinary in newborns, but I wasn't comfortable until I was assured that nothing was wrong. That's just the way parents are about their children, I guess. I'll try not to embarrass you unduly when you reach middle-school age, but if I do, please understand that I mean it for the best.

Over the years to come, you and I -- and your anticipated siblings -- will do a lot together. I'm sure I'll let you down, and there'll be times you'll wish you had someone different for a father.
But I want you to know that I'm always going to be there for you, and that you always will hold a top place in my heart, along with your mother and future siblings. (I admit, your wedding day will be hard on me.)

There are a few things you'll need to know:

First and foremost, the visible world isn't what it's all about any more than the hokey-pokey is. It's hard to grasp, even at the age of 29, but the only reliable measure of character is how far ahead of ourselves we place other people.

The most important thing I can tell you is to serve God and love him with all your heart. The second-most important is that you can do that only by loving other people as much as you love yourself.

Thirdly, suck the marrow from life, but don't choke on the bone. Enjoy life as much as you can. There are always more people to meet, more places to go and more things to do.

All of them have something you will sorely miss if you don't find them -- particularly the ones everybody else ignores. Seek them out, but stay true to the values your mom and I will try to teach you.

That's about it right now. Later on, we'll get into the specifics of brushing teeth and washing behind ears, making good friends, and what to look for in boys you want to date.

Right now, I'm happy just to change your diaper when it's dirty and listen to you breathing as I hold you against my shoulder.

Right now, I just want to treasure that moment, and enjoy it while it lasts.


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