brucekluger.com

    USA Today, June 16, 2005

    A ride like no other: Fatherhood

    By Bruce Kluger


    For the first time in nine months, I was genuinely torn.
    Since learning that my wife was pregnant, I had become
    every bit the expectant dad, diving headlong into the job
    as if I were carrying the kid myself. I accompanied Alene
    on all of her doctor's appointments, went on late-night
    food runs (her favorite cravings: scrambled-egg
    sandwiches and Gatorade), and was by her side from the
    first sonogram to the last childbirth class.

    But then I faced a dilemma. Just minutes after the birth of
    our first daughter, a nurse carried her to a bassinet that
    sat beneath a small bank of heat lamps. Suddenly, I was
    forced to choose: Do I stay with my wife at the delivery
    table, or follow my new child?

    With apologies to Alene, the decision was a no-brainer. As I watched Bridgette "pink
    up" under the lights, I instinctively reached for one of her tiny wrinkled feet and
    covered it with kisses. "Uh-oh," I heard the midwife say to her assistant. "There
    goes another one."

    And there I have remained for 10 years.

    This week, millions of fathers across the country will be celebrated, coddled and
    conferred upon with hugs and ties and hand-painted cards, a yearly gesture that
    hopes to confirm to many of us that we're handling our Daddy assignment OK. It's a
    lovely if somewhat silly ritual that, like Mother's Day, tries to suggest that the
    complicated job of parenting can be summarized in a single day. Rather than
    modestly decline this Hallmark-enshrined honor, however, I choose to embrace it.
    Being the center of attention never stinks. Neither does breakfast in bed.

    But as I look back on my first decade of daddydom, I've come to realize that, for me,
    parenting has become less about how my wife and I provide for our two daughters
    than about what they continue to give us in return.

    I'll never forget walking down the street with Bridgette when she was only 3. We
    were on our way to her preschool when she suddenly threw her head back and
    faced the sky, her eyes clamped shut. A smile erupted on her face.

    "When I close my eyes, the sun looks like lemonade," she said triumphantly. That
    was the first time I realized that one of the jobs of children is to teach us poetry. Not
    an adult I know can re-conjure the magic of the first glimpse the way a child can,
    and now I am addicted to my kids' wide-eyed view of the world. From Bridgette's
    running commentary on the cosmos (stars, she tells me, embody the souls of the
    departed) to her scientific assertion that mermaids are real, Bridgette has become
    my own personal Yoda. Only taller.

    In 1999, her little sister, Audrey, arrived, instantly teaching me that parenting is a lot
    like paintingthat the same colors and brushstrokes don't always guarantee the
    same picture. Whereas Bridgette had been a fussy baby, Audrey was mellow and
    cuddlyduring the day, that is. Nights were another matter, as my second-born
    quickly proved she had inherited her father's inability to live by the clock.

    In the ensuing years, that restlessness would transform into an indefatigably
    creative spirit, forever reminding me that parenting is less about hammering home
    conformity than about encouraging independence. Audrey is my wild child. I
    wouldn't have it any other way.

    When Sept. 11 exploded into our lives, our kids played a vital role in our attempt to
    sort it all out. I remember sprinting up Broadway to Bridgey's school to pick her up.
    Along the way, a stranger and I exchanged a quick glance on the street. I must
    have looked as frightened as he did.

    From that day forward, our children became a daily reminder to my wife and me that
    "providing for our kids" isn't just a cliche. With each question that Bridgette fired at
    us about what happened that awful morning, we gradually became aware of the real
    and sobering responsibility of parenting: giving our kids a decent world to live in.

    This singular mission remains paramount in my life. Each time Audrey asks me one
    of those out-of-the-blue Audrey Questionsabout the homeless guy on the corner,
    about "boys who marry boys," about her shot at becoming America's first "Fashion
    Girl President"I take joy in formulating an answer that works for both of us.
    Indeed, I have come to treasure both of my daughters' endless curiosity and
    exquisite naivete. I recognize how, even as I try to deconstruct life's bigger, more
    complex issues for themthings such as fairness and compassion and loveI am,
    in truth, really teaching myself.

    Sentimental sap that I am, I have had a lump in my throat a lot lately. A decade ago
    last week, not only did I become a dad, but 10 days later I also lost my father. As I
    celebrated Father's Day that first chaotic month, I felt like I was tumbling down a
    hallway of mirrors, as images of my own childhood refracted among all the new and
    splendid ones I was taking in every day.

    Ten years later, that crazy, bumpy journey continues, and I'm enjoying the ride
    immensely.