Tom Burns remembers the exact moment he started loving his daughter as a person rather than as an ideal
It all started with a tap, tap, tapping.
I was completely bowled over when I found out I was going to be a dad. I was elated, terrified, anxious, giddy, shocked, terrified… did I mention terrified? I can honestly say that, in that moment when I first found out about her, the daughter that was growing in my wife’s belly, I loved her. I loved the idea of her. But that’s all she was at the moment – an idea. And loving an idea and loving a person are two completely different things.
One of the many, many things that differentiate men and women is that, when a woman is expecting, the baby is a concrete fact, an existing thing, much earlier in the pregnancy for her than it is for him. Yes, minutes into finding out about the baby, I was already starting to feel emotional, protective, and proud of it, but there’s no way I can even pretend that I had the same appreciation of that child as a physical, three-dimensional human being that my wife did.
The baby was inside of her, it was part of her. On good days, the baby was a symbiotic organism, a companion, a complementary life-form inexorably tied to my wife’s being. On bad days, the baby was a parasite, sucking away nutrients, blood, sleep, youth, and inspiring her to throw up chocolate milkshakes or whatever else she was able to keep down that week. However, throughout the good and the bad, my wife’s early interactions with our baby created a bond that I was sometimes jealous of. Her love for our daughter was both a tactile and an emotional love and I just wasn’t there yet.
Maybe it was because a kid is a hard concept to wrap your mind around, if you’re not holding it, looking at it, or changing its diaper. I was the proud father of an abstract idea of a baby and I was nervous about how my feelings would change towards it when that child emerged out of the aether and solidified into an actual, living person.
Cut to four months into the pregnancy.
We’d had a long night. My wife’s anti-nausea medicines hadn’t done their job, so she’d spent a lot of time in the bathroom with me perched above her, delicately holding her hair.
I awoke from a dead sleep to feel my wife tapping on my hand, obviously trying to wake me up. Maybe she needed me to get her new meds, grab her some water, or run out to look for some food that she might be able to stomach for a few hours. I didn’t mind. Nights like last night made it clear that my wife was getting the short end of the stick on this deal, so, getting up a little early to go grab some glazed donuts was nothing to complain about.
I groggily glanced over at my wife. She was turned towards me, fast asleep and curled up on her side. I was confused. Had she passed out while waiting for me to wake up? Had I dreamed it? But then I felt it again. A tap, tap, tapping…
My eyes went to my left hand, which was pressed up against my wife’s stomach, which had been pressed there for most of the night. A second passed and then, from inside that stomach, a living, breathing person tapped on my hand, grabbing my attention and letting me know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was real.
I’d felt the baby move before, but this was different. This was the first moment that my daughter and I ever shared on our own. My wife was asleep and this chorus of tapping – it was for me. It was an introduction, a private conversation, an intimate hello.
Lightly, very lightly, because I didn’t want to wake my wife, I pressed back, tapping as if I could communicate with my daughter in some form of in-utero Morse code. She tapped again, I responded, and, in that moment, my love for my daughter was no longer abstract. She was a person, a person I had now met, a person I had a relationship with, and, in that funny little moment, my love for my daughter was concrete and real and as grounded as it ever was and ever will be.
Now I know that there a million different ways to debunk what happened there. It was probably just gas, or I was feeling her knee, or there was no way she could’ve been responding, or fetuses aren’t particularly known for their ability to communicate old-school telegraph style. I am aware of them all and I do not care.
Because, even if it made absolutely no sense, that was the moment where my love for my daughter evolved, the moment where the unreal became real, the moment where I got my first sense of what it would be like to love “My Daughter the Person” rather than “My Daughter the Idea.”
That silly tap, tap, tapping endures to this day as one of the most loving moments of my entire life and I’m so happy my daughter woke me up to share it with her.
Original uncropped image – Credit—Photo: Beglen/Flickr