Monday, August 17, 2009

A hole in my heart

One old, fat author and father; one young, beautiful daughter and college student.

Sarah and I this morning, just before we all drove off to Duke.

Almost exactly eighteen and a half years ago, Sarah was born. Earlier today, we dropped her at Duke, where she is beginning college.

The night Sarah was born, Rana was exhausted and needed to sleep, but Sarah wouldn't stop crying. I knew nothing about being a dad beyond what I'd seen on television; for most of my childhood, I had no father. I sat on the torture device the hospital provided as a bed/chair for new dads, a rough, short, narrow contraption much like the sleeping surface an angry troll would design to hurt children, and felt powerless, because I had no clue how to comfort Sarah. I tried picking her up, walking around, and the few other moves I'd acquired from babysitting, but none of them helped. The world for this tiny newborn was too rough a place in ways I could not comprehend, and Sarah had to cry. She had been alive only a few hours, and already I was failing her and despairing of ever bonding with her.

Finally, in desperation I stretched out on the bed/chair and held Sarah's head to my heart, a technique I knew sometimes soothed kittens.

She instantly stopped crying and went to sleep.

After about five minutes, I began to get uncomfortable and adjusted my position.

Sarah woke up and cried.

I returned to the awkward posture, and she quieted and fell asleep.

I stayed in that position for almost six hours, my muscles aching and my fatigue almost unbearable and sleep unattainable. The entire time, I stared at my sleeping daughter. Sometime during those night hours, I came to understand at a bone-deep level what it meant to be a dad: That I would do anything for my daughter (and later, when he was born, my son), and that my love for her was greater than anything I would ever be able to express.

I also realized by the end of that night that the only chance my children would ever have of understanding how much I love them would be for them to have children of their own, because if they did, I could stand with them as they held their babies and say, "See how much you love them, how impossible it is for your heart to hold it all? That's how much I love you."

In the years since Sarah's birth, I've done the best I could as a dad. I've worked too many hours, and I've gone on too many trips, and I've spent too much time alone in my home office, and I've taken too much time for myself, and I've missed too much of their lives, and I've constantly felt like I was failing. I still do. I've tried to balance being a good provider and being there and all the rest, and I know I've screwed up. Only one thing have I gotten right, though I'm not sure how much it counts: I have always, always, always loved her and Scott with a fierceness of which I suspect they have only an inkling.

Every single night of their lives, I have either stood outside the doors of their rooms and to the darkness whispered, "Good night, Sarah. Daddy loves you. Good night, Scott. Daddy loves you." as if it were a blessing that could keep them safe, or said the same words to myself as I was falling asleep in some other building in some other place. It's a dumb tradition, dumber inside me now that I see it in writing, but it's mine, and it's theirs, though they've never participated in it, and I don't ever intend to stop it.

And now, Sarah has left this house and moved into a dorm and started the next phase of her life. All of that is good and proper and natural and what I have desired for her; heck, I'm paying for it. I want her to have her own life, and in any way I can, I will help her get it. I also know she'll be home at holidays, and we'll find our old ways quickly enough, we'll talk and laugh and hug and play Halo and rock-paper-scissors, and for a short time we'll all be living together again.

Today, though, there is a hole in my heart and an ache in my chest, a heart that still beats for Sarah, and a chest that will for as long as I'm alive be a place she can rest her head against a rough world and know that her father, that I, will do anything in my power to keep that roughness at bay, and that I love her more than I can ever express.

Daddy loves you, Sarah.


Michelle said...

Wow....every child everywhere should have someone love them that much. Wow...

vampi said...

that was beautiful.

good luck to Sarah.

Mark said...

Thanks. I also wish her only good, now and forever.

Lisa Shearin said...

Mark, that was amazing and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us all.


Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words.


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