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I am aroused to a state of semiconsciousness by the rustling of tangled sheets and tiny feet. Through the darkness comes a whispered call, “Daddy.” Louder now, “Daddy, Daddy, play.” I open my eyes and scramble from my warm bed to lift my 2-year-old son as he rises from his little bed next to ours.
“Mommy?” he inquires.
“No, Noah, it’s sleepy time.”
No lights are turned on. As I have done so many nights before, I tiptoe to the glass door, Noah snuggled against my shoulder. He raises his head and peers up into the clear night sky. “Moon, Daddy! Sun?”
“Moon at night, sun during the day.”
We whisper for a few more minutes about swings in the yard and airplanes in the night sky. Noah drifts back into the sleep of angels and, with a heavy sigh, relaxes in my arms.
This is a magical time. Even though it’s cold, I’m filled with warmth from his small body.
I couldn’t have imagined 2 1/2 years ago that my nighttime thoughts would be about anything other than my busy workdays, let alone that I would anticipate these quiet interludes. No one could have told me that fatherhood would evoke the depth of feeling that now readily bubbles to the surface, sometimes as tears, at other times as falling-down laughter.
There were no family precedents or role models for me in fatherhood. When we found out that my wife was expecting, it was my boss, a father of three, who said in an uncharacteristically gentle tone, “Welcome to the club, my friend. Your life is about to change in many wonderful ways.”
He was right. Since Noah’s arrival, my conversion to fatherhood has manifested itself in a variety of ways. I adopted a new driving route to work. It adds five minutes to my commute but is less stressful. Everywhere I drive, I scout playgrounds. They must have enough sand on the ground to dig a hole, a bench where Daddy and Mommy can rest, swings with seat belts and big freestanding metal slides. “Daddy, slide down.” Noah leads the way up and then we slide down together, landing in a giggling heap at the bottom.
My interests in the environment, politics, ethics and religion have arisen from the ashes of youthful narcissism. I care about the future that my son will own. No pesticides are found inside or outside this house; I spray a concoction of soap, beer and Listerine on the lawn. I happily pay my school taxes and vote in local elections. I wrestle in the early hours with the notion of organized religion.
In the quiet of the night, I ponder these feelings and the defining moments that have become the true measures of self-worth over the past few years. I gently lay Noah down on his bed and kiss him on the forehead. My own warm bed invites me back and I crawl in next to Valerie, who is pregnant with Noah’s sister. Darkness gives way to sleep, and I dream of our next child and the new challenges and wonders that she will introduce into the life of this father.