I never thought I would be a father. What sort of sick, narcissistic drive, I wondered, motivates people to create smaller versions of themselves? What is the logic in creating another mouth in a world full of hungry people? And what sort of pathetic arrogance makes you want to shape a completely sentient human being under their own terms?
So when my wife and I discovered we were pregnant, my first feeling was one of conflict: it was the first time I actually considered being a father. Though it wasn't exactly a surprise and she wasn't pregnant on accident, I had imagined fatherhood, like pregnancy, to be a state you immediately entered into once a cell started splitting and began the process of becoming a living being. This wasn't the case. In fact, it was a leap off of a tall, dark cliff.
Fatherhood was a murky concept to me. My father was largely unavailable throughout my life and wasn't one to fulfill any sort of paternal responsibilities unless they were required by the courts. As a result, I figured it that a typical father's duty to simply keep his kids financially taken care of or maybe call or visit once in a while. In contrast, my most vivid images of fatherhood came from movies and literature: I pictured Robert Duvall in The Great Santini bouncing a basketball off of his son's head. I imagined Dmitri in The Brothers Karamazov asking, "Who doesn't want to kill the father?"
When the ultrasound came back showing a girl, Debbie and I were amazed to hear her heartbeat. We were going to be holding a baby girl in a matter of months. That night, I experienced my first real anxiety over being a father. I woke from a dream: I was holding a doll’s head and I was standing in front of an Excel spreadsheet. Some of the cells showed amounts we needed to save for food, formula, clothes, and so on. I looked down at the doll's head and realized it was my daughter. My subconscious had no way of conceiving our baby in any way other than a disembodied object, one that required care and careful financial planning, with no human, physical, or emotional qualities whatsoever. This did not help me to further understand the concept of fathering.
When the concept did become clear was months later, sitting in a brightly lit operating room as Harper Lily Gong was born and held over a draped sheet and Debbie and I were able to see her for the first time. Debbie held her and wept and we finally saw her buttery skin, round face, and wide eyes. It was pretty clear then what our jobs as parents were; It was clear what my job as a father was: to love my daughter.