One year of fatherhood: a reflection

It was on a day much like today, just over a year ago, that I became a daddy. I’ll spare you the finer details, but let’s just say that my wife woke up around midnight to a huge contraction, and five hours later, I was holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms, wondering what in the world just happened.

I remember the lead up into parenthood very well. The day my wife and I found out we were having a baby was a joyous day, indeed. We waited eagerly for the pregnancy test to give us the news we were hoping for, much like a teenager asking a magic eight-ball if their crush likes them, and when it flashed positive, fighting back the tears of joy was a futile attempt.

The nine months that ensued were quite an adventure. As our daughter’s nanny-nook came to fruition and pockets of pink permeated every cranny of our little one-bedroom apartment, parenthood was no longer just a far-off fantasy we had both dreamed of; it was becoming very real, and fast.

Fast forward to now, and honestly, this past year feels like a blur. I can hardly remember the time when my daughter weighed less than fifteen pounds and didn’t zip around the living room floor like Speedy Gonzales, and I reminisce about the times when I would set her down and she would stay put, as opposed to now, when I have to make sure our dog’s food dish is out of her reach, lest she decide to gorge herself on its contents.

Sure, fatherhood has brought some challenges with it. As it turns out, bringing a little human into the world who is 100% dependent upon you for literally everything sucks up all of your free time. Not only that, stalking your child around the house to make sure they don’t get into things they’re not supposed to could be a professional sport. However, I’ve also gained a lot of new skills along the way, such as Spider Man-like reflexes and the ability to change a dirty diaper in ten seconds flat.

Despite the ups and downs being a dad brings, one thing’s for sure: fatherhood brings me more joy than any words I muster could ever portray.

The Lord calls each of us to different vocations, and he reassures me every morning that I’m right where I’m supposed to be when I’m greeted with the prettiest smile you ever did see and a look that could turn even the most stone-cold of men into a pile of mush. My daughter is an ever-present reminder of God’s love for me, and more importantly, of the covenant I made with my wife on our wedding day. The fact that God would use our love to create such a beautiful, perfect embodiment of his grace continually blows my mind.

I am far from the perfect dad. I fall short every single day, and I’m constantly in need of an extra dose of grace. As my daughter grows older, it’s inevitable that she’ll begin to realize that I’m not all I’m cracked up to be, and that daddy is a flawed and broken man. My deepest prayer is that I might be able to show Christ to her by living the faith to the best of my ability and simply teaching her how to love others as Christ loves us.

Throughout my first year of fatherhood, there are two things I’ve learned that stick out the most to me. First, if there’s one thing a new parent can do within the first year, it’s make a conscious effort to truly enjoy every moment they have with their new little one. It is such a gift to witness the genuine innocence and curiosity a baby has day in and day out, and this past year has been proof for me that time is fleeting. The nice thing, though, is that each new moment tends to bring even more joy than the one before it.

The second thing is to remember that it takes two to raise a child, and that teamwork between you and your spouse is of the utmost importance. As such, don’t neglect giving your spouse the attention they need as well. As new parents, it’s very easy to be consumed with showering your little one with all of your attention, which is not a bad thing, but remember the intense exchange of love between you and your spouse that God used to craft that beautiful little life, and continue to foster and nurture that love. After all, marriage is the sacrament; creating new life is merely a byproduct of that grace.

Oh, and one more piece of advice for dads specifically: if, like me, you have a daughter, don’t fight the inevitable wrapping around of her finger that you’ll experience. Try as you may to not let her voodoo powers get to you, the first time she utters the word “dada,” you’ll be done. I promise you that.

COMING UP: He’s Daddy, Pop, Dad, Old Man, Papa: ages and stages of fatherhood

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Father’s Day is Sunday, June 15. Below three men at different phases of parenthood—a new dad, a father of five and a grandfather of 10—share their perspective on the vocation of fatherhood, and what it means to them.

James Murphy and his 2-month old son Casey, last October during Casey's recovery from open heart surgery.

James Murphy and his 2-month old son Casey, last October during Casey’s recovery from open heart surgery.

Love on the spot
When his son Casey arrived in the world last August, James Murphy, 38, was introduced to a new kind of love: instant.

“You have other relationships in your life but none as instantaneous or concrete as with a child,” he said. “It happens instantly, the first time you see them.”

He and wife Tracy were overjoyed to meet Casey after more than three years of trying to get pregnant and grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage.

“The first couple of days were amazing,” he recalled. Then after they had been home from the hospital for just three days, Murphy noticed that the skin covering Casey’s feet seemed “really tight,” swollen. Not wanting to take any chances, they called the pediatrician. Ultimately doctors diagnosed a serious problem: a congenital heart defect.

“‘Someone Upstairs’ was really telling us (to pay attention),” Murphy said.

Days later, Casey had a five-hour open heart surgery to repair coarctation, or narrowing, of his aorta.

“I’d just met him 10 days earlier, but couldn’t imagine not having him in my life,” Murphy said. “You’re 100 percent attached, it’s an amazing experience.”

Casey’s heart was repaired and he made a complete recovery. Murphy, who works as a sales engineer, is grateful every day.

“No matter how bad a day I’ve had,” he said, “I come home and he’s smiling and reaching for me.”

Murphy, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, takes the obligation to raise Casey in the faith seriously.

“The best way I can do that is to lead by example,” he said. “It’s very important and it’s what we ‘signed up for’ when we became parents.”

When asked about advice for new fathers, Murphy responded without hesitation: “Marry the right woman.”

“It’s amazing what mothers do,” he continued. “It doesn’t always come as naturally for fathers. Dads don’t always do everything right. Take the lead from your wife.”

The Paredes family, from left: Jorge Luis, dad Jorge, Francisco, mom Viviana, Mariana, Juan Pablo and Alejandro.

The Paredes family, from left: Jorge Luis, dad Jorge, Francisco, mom Viviana, Mariana, Juan Pablo and Alejandro.

Love compounded
Before Jorge Paredes, 45, became a father he imagined what it might look like: changing diapers, taking his children to school or to Mass, doing homework together. With the birth of each of his five children—now ages 14, 12, 8, 5 and 3—with his wife, Viviana, another picture became clear.

“Fatherhood has definitely changed the way I appreciate life … but most importantly, my capability to grow and love,” Paredes said. “With each new child I feel that it is not possible to divide my heart in more pieces to share my love, but instead I feel that my heart expands and is capable to love more and more.”

To be a father, he said, means to love and shape children in a way that they can become the men and women the Lord wants them to be.

“My children are a great blessing, however sooner or later they will leave the house and we as parents won’t be present all the time to give them advice, a word of encouragement or support,” he said. “For that reason it is very important for them to develop a personal relationship with God and teach them that God has a special plan for them.

“That provides better chances for them to make wise decisions in the future.”

To help pass on the faith, Paredes, who heads up a visual communications firm, leads his family in spiritual reading, such as a children’s Bible or lives of the saints; and in prayer before meals, in the car, and at night in “the prayer room.”

“There we give thanks to the Lord, we sing, we ask for our needs, for forgiveness and finally we share a big hug of peace, as a symbol of unity and forgiveness,” he said. “I hope they treasure these special moments and understand how important it is to invite God into our home and our lives.”

When it comes to the roles of husband and father, he feels comfortable and proud, and at the same time it’s demanding and calls for great responsibility.

“The Lord provides his grace, peace and guidance to become a good father,” he said.

Deacon Brian Kerby, center, with his wife Dee, at Christ the King Church in Evergreen on the silver anniversary of his diaconate May 25 with his four grown children, their spouses, and his 10 grandchildren.

Deacon Brian Kerby, center, with his wife Dee, at Christ the King Church in Evergreen on the silver anniversary of his diaconate May 25 with his four grown children, their spouses, and his 10 grandchildren.

Love that elevates
Deacon Brian Kerby’s grandchildren don’t call him “Grandpa,” they call him “Papa.”

“There’s an intimacy with ‘Papa,'” said Deacon Kerby, 60, a deacon at Christ the King Church in Evergreen who celebrated his 25th anniversary in the diaconate last week. “I call God the Father ‘Papa.’ To me it’s a very intimate relationship … everything the Church does and teaches is about relationship.”

As father of four grown children with his wife of 39 years, Dee—and now grandfather of 10 and one on the way—he has worked to reinforce that lesson in his family.

“I teach them how to have a personal relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said. “And when you do that, amazing things come out of your life. I teach that to the grandkids all the time.”

The family prays together and he explains what’s going on during Mass to them, particularly to his two grandchildren that are now altar servers.

And since he is a papa, he also spends his fair share of time playing.

“My favorite thing is the look in the kids’ eyes when they drive up to the house,” he said. “They’re jumping up and down, so excited to see us—then they say: ‘Papa, can we wrestle now?'”

He’s happy to oblige.

Deacon Kerby feels fortunate to be a father and grandfather, in particular in his role as the family’s spiritual leader.

“Let kids live it, and be alive with their faith,” he said. “I am a very lucky man that all my kids practice their faith.”

When asked about advice to help fathers as spiritual leaders, he said: “Don’t preach (the faith), just live it. Be it. Everything comes out of your relationship with God. When you live it, you will leak it.”

“The single most important thing I can give my kids and my grandkids—and back to the Church, the laity and the faithful,” he said, “is doing whatever I can do to get them into the kingdom.”