It should come as no great suprise to learn that I am most thankful for my wife and my son. The last six weeks have been so amazing with my wife. It reminds me a lot of when we were first married, and I watched this friend of mine become my wife in a slow, delightful transformation. She's doing the same thing now. She's becoming a mommy before my very eyes--not in the strict physical sense (she'd done that already) but in the social, nurturing sense. Tonight I watched this woman (whom I first saw as a sixteen-year-old girl on the second floor of the hotel at a reunion) goo and coo at my little son. It took my breath away.
I'll always remember how she withstood the labor pains. It's astonishing, really, what happens to a woman when she's giving birth. All the elements of personality that really give identity to my wife just melted away under the pain and struggle, and she responded to it in ways I never would have dreamed. It was like I was no longer seeing this girl I had shared my life with the past six years; rather, I was seeing the Fundamental Woman, the core biological imperative of femaleness that undergirds all of the fairer sex and steps forth in such monumental trials. My wife almost became an elemental creature in my eyes, and I was in awe, so much so that when the baby finally arrived it seemed so simple. How amazing she is. A friend of mine told me that having a child would cause me to love my wife in ways I never before imagined. How right he
I am also thankful for my baby son who's sleeping in the next room. In the next hour or so he'll awaken, probably because he's hungry or possibly because he's got a wet diaper. I've really found that becoming a daddy was very much like becoming a husband for me; in both cases, I just slowly eased into it, little by little. It's just come naturally, adjusting to the additional duties and expectations. (I said naturally, not easily; what I'm doing may feel right, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily any good at it or that I'm not often frustrated or bone-weary.) There just came a time when I referred to "my wife" quite naturally in conversation and felt undressed without my wedding band, and the time is drawing close when I will refer to "my son" with the same lack of self-consciousness. It is delightful, even joyful.
I still find it difficult to believe that my wife and I made this child. Oh, I know the mechanics and chemistry; I remember mitosis and meiosis and how zygotes are supposed to work. But this is a new consciousness encased in flesh and sinew and bone, and he's just starting to wake up to the world. He's started to smile at me this past week, and oh, how astounding that is! My heart melts; I know why that expression is used now because it seems that so much unnoticed tension just instantly releases in my chest when that little face creases itself in a grin. A little bit of me and a little bit of her and all of him, that's our boy.
I mentioned before that a baby is the completion of sex, and it is. (OK, some controversial assertions to follow.) Sex outside marriage, to my mind, is fundamentally selfish, while sex inside marriage involves elementary selflessness. (Exceptions abound in individual cases, of course, although I'd say mostly within marriage; there seems to be more selfish marriage partners than selfless unmarried partners.) Put another way, nonmarital sex is at the core about MY pleasure; the other is a vehicle to that state. (Again, there can indeed be tenderness and giving in the acts themselves, but at heart it's still about getting what YOU want.)
Marital sex, however, is designed to reinforce the giving of oneself to the other which should be the basis of the entire marriage. This finds its culmination in conception, the fruition of sex and its primary purpose. (Why do I say primary purpose? Because you have to sabotage sex to prevent conception, for one thing; for another, it's the only way to create a child, while there are a number of activities which produce intimacy or pleasure or what have you, although usually as a secondary effect.) The moment of conception is a great risk and bears with it the implicit promise that "I will remain with you", an important aspect considering the brevity of the pleasure the act produces. It is a commitment beyond the moment in a deeply important manner.
(Is this promise always kept? Not hardly; millions of stories abound with men and women who just didn't get it. At the heart of these tragedies lies that broken promise. I do not approve of making promises one does not intend to keep, nor do I condone the breaking of vows for convenience's or pleasure's sake. Someone's got to be a fuddy-duddy about this, and it might as well be me so I can more happily slip into old curmedgeon status before too long.)(Note: I'm also punting the whole issue of contraception in marriage. We can do that as a debate topic sometime, I'm sure. But I digress. Big surprise, eh what?)
So I am thankful for my son who came into existence almost magically through this mystical act of union which is, at its heart, really so simple a thing. Like I said, I know the mechanics and the chemistry, but that does not mean that it is no longer a mystery. It is, and a very great one.
I am also thankful for my family and how my child has changed that. Marriage involves the bringing together of two families, and while I love some of my wife's blood relatives more than I love my own, there's still that distinction of "my cousin" versus "my wife's cousin." But this little boy sleeping in the playpen has none of that; his cousins are his cousins regardless of whether they come through mommy or daddy. And so we'll eat lunch tomorrow with my son's grandma and then go visit my son's grandma and grandpa and then see my son's aunts and uncles and cousins. There's no distinction of my family and her family anymore; we're spending the holiday with HIS family, and everyone we see will belong to that. It's a pretty impressive feat for a baby just learning to keep his head up.
Finally, saving the best for last, I am grateful to God. I am astonished more and more by the generosity and sacrificial nature of God. In the first few days of his life, I would hold my son and tell him all the things that I was going to do with him: play baseball, go fishing, take him trick-or-treating, teach him how to swim, read to him, and so much more. Then I remembered (imperfectly, but I've since looked it up in Jeremiah 29:11) how the Lord said, "I know the plans I have for you", and it about brought tears to my eyes. Here I was doing the same thing, telling my son the plans I had for him, to prosper and not to harm, to give him hope and a future. If I can feel this with these actions on my limited scale, what did God feel when he spoke those words meant for all humanity? (Likewise, I can barely stomach the thought of harm happening to my son; what then did God feel when he gave His Son up for the salvation of man?)
I don't actually think about this too much; I suspect that if I did I wouldn't be capable of functioning very well. But from time to time the existential punch of fatherhood just hits me, and I am bowled over by what it means for me and by relation what it says about God. So I will close this long Thanksgiving missive (of the first Thanksgiving my son will see) with this admonition: squeezed in among all else you do today, give thanks to God. Don't associate it with organized religion or sets of hypocritical believers; that's not required for a simple heartfelt thank you to the Creator for your existence which, despite all that may be wrong, contains nuggets of sheer delight that call forth a grateful response. Just talk to God and say thanks; that's called prayer, and it is a great gift.
You exist. That's wonderful. Give thanks. Amen.