Evolution programmed us with a sex drive that keeps the species going. But contraception now makes parenthood a choice. Evolution also has programmed into most of us a psychological propensity to get all gooey and mushy when we see a cute little baby. But is this enough reason to accept the decades-long responsibility for a child? Why choose to be a parent? What’s in it for me?
Let me review some highlights of the girls’ physical and mental growth so far and see what answers emerge.
When they were first born the girls had three modes of behavior: sleeping (they were so cute!), feeding (they looked right into our eyes!), and crying (such lung power!). But as weeks went by a fourth mode emerged: awake, quiet, wiggling, cooing, just taking in their surroundings.
Soon they would begin to react to the music and movements of mobiles above their cribs, reaching for the revolving figures overhead. Then they would try to hold their bottles during feeding in their own tiny hands. Soon they could hold a small rattle and then larger toys. And now they must hold and touch everything.
At first they could only lay in the position we put them in, on their backs or their stomachs. But soon they were able to turn over on their own. Then they would try to crawl, at first jerkily, pulling themselves along. Soon they were moving smoothly on hands and knees all around the room.
That vision of my toddlers taking joy in their lives stays with me, and such a scene has now been repeated often.
And soon they were strong enough to hold on to a chair or table and pull themselves up. Then they would let go and stand for a few seconds on their own. Then they would take a few wobbly steps, and then a few more. Now walking and running have replaced crawling.
At first they would utter only single syllables, including “Dada” and “Mama” when around the appropriate parent. Now they string together sophisticated sounds. Those sounds for the most part aren’t recognizable as words, but the girls are quite insistent in their utterances and are clearly trying to talk. And for some of the sounds the meaning is clear. Allegra, especially, for half a year, a hundred times a day, says “Wa zat?” (“What’s that?”), pointing to anything and everything.
At first to the girls our voices seemed simply to be soothing noise. But now the girls understand more and more, and respond in actions correctly to “Where’s your nose? Your belly button? Your sippy cup? Come to Daddy and Mommy!”
At first we would read to them children’s books to soothe them. Now they hand us a book and we read it to them and they laugh and hand it right back to us again and we read it to them over and over and they are delighted.
At first their attention span was short and they were easily distracted. But now they’re beginning to remember. We take away a cell phone or TV remote that they are playing with but that we don’t want them to destroy. We hide it on a shelf but they see where it is and they keep pointing to it. They won’t be deterred!
At first we would hold, hug, and kiss them, but affection was a one-way street. But soon they would give us little smiles. Now they give us full-faced laughs and run to us when they see us coming and hug our legs and lift their arms wanting us to pick them up.
So what does this greatest hits list say about being a father?
I have the joy every day of watching the emergence and growth of human consciousness and intelligence in two individuals. The girls are insatiably curious about the world around them. They love the new. They’re always looking, touching, tasting, opening, exploring. And I take daily joy in the joy they take as they explore their own capacities as well as the world around them.
A few months ago Talia, the girls, and I were waiting for the start of a political dinner at a country club. We were early and we were in a huge, empty lounge next to a huge buffet area with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on a lake, emitting the afternoon sunlight. Our girls took the opportunity to run round and round in that open space, laughing loudly all the way. That vision of my toddlers taking joy in their lives stays with me, and such a scene has now been repeated often.
As a father I join my Talia in guiding the development of our daughters, of training them and teaching them, in fostering the best within them so that decades hence they will be mature, flourishing adults. This is as worthy an enterprise as one can imagine, with consummate rewards. So for me, Father’s Day is indeed a day to celebrate!