One of the Most Important Things I Can Do As a Father


By Shawn Smucker | Twitter: @shawnsmucker

We were under blankets in the semi-dark, dusky light lining the blinds. I was trying to soothe my 4-year-old’s bruised feelings, his heart aching at some fresh discouragement, his disappointment cresting at the great injustice of a 7pm bed time. When you are the fifth of six children, and the youngest boy, life hands you many unfathomable offenses. His protests came armed with tear-filled brown eyes. My mind dashed around, looking for some way to calm him.

“You know what?” I asked him in an awe-filled whisper. My tone of voice got his attention. “What?” he asking, sniffling, looking at me with skeptical curiosity.

“I remember the day you were born.”

His eyes grew wide, the beginning of a smile pulling on his cheeks. I could tell he could hardly believe it.

“It’s true,” I whispered, reaching up and pushing his hair back. “I remember the day you were born. We had just moved into our new house, and your Mama was painting and moving furniture and working hard, hoping it would help you arrive on time. And then, when you were ready, we went to the birthing center and you came out of Mama and we hadn’t told anyone else your name, but we knew. Mama and I looked at each other and whispered, ‘Leo Henri’.”

And the sound of his own name, a sort of awe spread over his face.

“And there you were. You were such a wonderful baby, Leo. Your aunty came in and held you, and your Mimi Silva and your Mimi Smucker were both there, and they all held you. And you fell asleep with your mama, and then we brought you home to our new house.”

His crying had completely stopped, and he stared at me in amazement, that I could tell him such a thing about himself, that I could somehow know about the moment in time he took his first breath, the moment his eyes first saw the world.

“We couldn’t wait for you to join us,” I said. “And we are so glad you are here.”

Our breathing aligned and slowed. He put his finger in his mouth, his index finger, and turned his back towards me, pushing up against my chest, pulling on my arm so that it draped over him.

* * *

It has happened a handful of times at the dinner table. The birth story of one of the kids will come up, and then everyone else wants to hear us retell their story, too.

“Cade, when Mama was in labor with you, we were living in England. Wimbledon was going on, and Mama paced around in the yard until I took her to the hospital.”

“Lulu, when you were born and I told Mama you were a girl, she didn’t believe me. She asked, ‘Are you sure?’ She was so happy to have a daughter that she cried and cried.”

“Abra, you were the baby who came to us after Mama had a miscarriage, and we couldn’t believe we were able to have another girl.”

“Sam, Mama was so warm and tired when she was pregnant with you that she gave me the responsibility of naming you. When I whispered into her ear that your name was Samuel James – Sam for members of my family, and James for your grandpa – she cried with joy.”

“Poppy, after you were born, Mama passed out! But she was so happy to have a third girl to match the three boys we already had. You were named for the poppy fields in England where your oldest two siblings were born.”

Of course, Poppy is only 18 months old, and she looks at us with an uncomprehending grin, simply saying, “Yep.” The eight of us laugh.

* * *

There is something powerful about where we have come from, something powerful about being told who we are. In a world that is more apt to tell us we’re not-as-good-as, or in some way deficient, or not quite living up to the standard, the importance of having a voice that will tell us where we came from and how loved we are, cannot be underestimated.

When I think about how amazed my children are at the retelling of their birth, I wonder if it’s not one of the most important things I can do as a father: remind my children of the moment they took their first breath, remind them of where they come from, remind them that they exist and that is a good thing.

But maybe that’s one of the most important things we can do for each other, no matter the relationship. Father. Child. Grandparent. Husband. Wife. Friend.

Acknowledge each other’s existence, each other’s value.

You exist, and I celebrate your existence. You are loved. This is what I know about you, and it is good. Your story begins with the beginning of you, and I am so happy to be part of it.  

I am so glad you are here.


About Shawn:

Shawn is the author of the award-winning YA novel, The Day the Angels Fell, as well as its upcoming sequel, The Edge of Over There. He lives in Lancaster, PA, with his wife and their six children.