Lately, one of the most common questions posed to me is “What’s it like being a dad?” I usually fumble around for an answer, trying to muster some token morsel that the inquisitor might find interesting. “It’s fun,” I say, fully knowing that the word fun can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to hear my daughter laugh with me. “It’s awesome,” I say, fully aware that the word awesome–the same word I use to describe my cheesy gordita crunch at Taco Bell–feels so cheap when measured against the breathtaking joy of watching her discover something (say, her wrist) for the first time. “It’s challenging,” I say, fully cognizant that the word challenging doesn’t come close to illuminating the gravity of having a completely helpless child wanting to to emulate everything you do.
Privately I’ve struggled with my answers to this question. Not because my answers are untruthful, but because they are incomplete and completely inadequate–almost amateurish–when attempting to tell someone what it’s like being a dad. So here is the answer I wish I could give to anyone that asks.
Being a dad is everything.
It is bringing her home from the hospital for the first time and being scared that you will hurt her when you take her out of the car seat.
It is trying every ridiculous face you can think of just to get her to smile at you for the first time.
It is walking around the house at 1 in the morning, cradling and rocking her in your arms, praying that she finally falls asleep.
It’s the quiet of the early morning hours as you finally lay her down, only to realize that you suddenly don’t want to leave her because she won’t be this way for long.
It’s the first time you realize that the reason she is crying is because she wants to be with you.
It is watching her try to bat at toys.
It is the feeling that you never deserved such a treasure.
It’s walking around the mall wanting everyone around to know that she is yours.
It is the intense desire to see her after you’ve been gone all day.
It’s the way your heart melts when she screeches with joy as you walk through the door.
It’s the tunnel vision you get when all you can focus on is running to her to pick her up.
It’s the deep love you feel for your wife when you realize she is such an incredible mom.
It’s the wailing in the middle of a long night.
It’s the runny nose and teary eyes as she struggles through her first cold.
All she wants is you to cuddle with her.
It’s wanting to take away all of her sickness and all of her pain.
It’s the snot, the vomit, and the dried milk stains.
And the diapers.
It’s always the diapers.
It’s dealing with diaper rash. And then thinking it’s gone. And then changing the next diaper and realizing it is back again.
It’s the moment that you realize she might be an extrovert when she grows up.
And then getting sad because you don’t want her to grow up.
It is being fiercely protective, wanting nothing more than to defend your daughter from the world.
It’s finally buying that gun you’ve been wanting, just in case.
It is watching her become courageous and independent.
It’s watching her fall. And then fall again. And then get up.
It’s the “fake” tears that well up in your eyes as you listen to her say “dada” for the first time.
It’s the realization that you’re someone’s “dada.”
It’s being scared to death at that thought.
It’s watching her fall in love with a puppy and having to constantly say “Gentle. Be gentle.”
It’s laughing with your wife as she tries to throw a tantrum when you pull her away from the cord she’s not supposed to touch.
And then realizing that you probably shouldn’t be laughing at her every time she disobeys.
It’s watching her bob her head to her favorite songs and her pitiful attempts to strum your guitar.
And then secretly hoping that she makes it big in music.
Or maybe it will be sports?
It’s all the times you tell her she is intelligent and she can do anything she wants, even though she doesn’t understand you.
It’s being fascinated with the way she discovers the world around her for the first time.
And then wishing that you were that fascinated with the world around you.
It’s trying to explain to her that something is good for her, even if she can’t see that now.
And then realizing that God tries to tell you the same thing.
It’s the cute little dresses and outfits that I would have laughed at a year ago.
It’s the little shoes that she can’t keep on her feet.
It’s the outrageous bows that hide her baldness.
And the way she rips them off.
It’s showing complete strangers pictures of her on your i-phone even though they probably don’t care.
It’s thinking that she could be president someday. Why not?
It’s singing at the top of your lungs just because it makes her smile.
It’s the desire you have for her to grow up to love and care for others.
It’s the burning desire you have for her to love Jesus.
Which is hard because you can’t do it for her.
It’s never wanting her to get sick. Never wanting her to get treated poorly. Never wanting her to be lied to. Never wanting her to be taken advantage of.
But knowing it will happen anyway.
It’s the inexplicable pride you feel when she pulls herself up to her feet for the first time.
It’s the way she opens her mouth for a bite of food and the way she smiles when she smears it all over her face.
It’s the recognition that the depth of love you feel for her is nothing compared to Christ’s love for you.
And being blown away by that.
It’s her blue eyes and her porcelain skin.
It’s being conscious of, but still not fully comprehending, how you could be blessed with such a precious gift.
Being a dad is everything.