Walking (Nov-Dec 1997)

By Matt Dabbs

by Scott Brunner
November – December, 1997

29My little girl, Claire, turned one the other day, and on the afternoon of her birthday, I stood in the doorway of her cheery little room and watched her napping. After 12 months, I still can’t stop looking at her – and that’s a good thing, too. If I were to blink, I might miss something significant.

In the past two weeks alone she learned “doggie” and “cow” and says “gotta go” when she wants to ride in the car; finally learned how to sit herself back down after pulling up to a standing position on the coffee table; and showed the first signs of understanding that Mommy will allow only so many Cheerios to hit the floor before Mommy takes them away.

Claire can almost walk now – almost – although she doesn’t much care for it. She’s more fleet of hand and knee than foot at this point, and whines a lot and tends to plop down on her fanny when we stand her upright.

But although the mechanics (and allure) of walking apparently elude her at this point, she’s nevertheless very bright (of course). As of this week, we can identify almost 30 words she knows and can say, and if she’s not yet ready for freshman comp or German lessons, she can nevertheless hold her own in a confab with a child twice her age.

She’ll walk eventually. Me too, I hope. I’ve fallen on my fanny more than a few times in the past 12 months as I’ve tried to keep pace with her growth. Who’d have thought Daddy and baby would learn to walk together?

I expected there to be some rules, a manual or something. “Do these things and have a well-adjusted child, guaranteed” – something like that. Instead, I’m realizing that there’s more to fathering than can be gleaned from last month’s Parenting Magazine, or even from a talk with my dad. It’s sorta like, well, learning to walk. External support will only get you so far, then it’s up to you.

Mothers, I suspect, have known this for centuries, but then, they come equipped with maternal instinct, don’t they? We daddies generally aren’t so sophisticated – at least not at first. In the delivery room, a nurse thrusts a squalling bundle into our arms, and there we are, fathering for the video camera. Inside, though, we’re as disoriented as the newborn, just as pitiful, but not nearly as cute. At that moment, the only thing we can do instinctively, as we try not to bobble the bundle, is worry about how we’re gonna pay for braces and college tuition.

We spend the next 12 months or so flailing about – ruing the reproductive process that created our disequilibrium; wondering why Mommy is so grumpy; longing to do something spontaneous, like catch a movie. In the wee hours of the morning, to the tune of an infant’s wailing, we sort through our feelings of inadequacy, trying groggily to get a handle on exactly what being a Daddy is supposed to mean.

And then suddenly, we’re crawling – I mean, the baby’s crawling, and Daddy’s doing okay, too. Curiously, having got past the initial trauma brought on by that dose of awesome responsibility in the delivery room, on-the-job training gives rise to our own visceral understanding of our role as fathers. Maybe a paternal instinct, albeit a late-blooming one, exists after all.

Listening to that emerging instinct requires every bit as muc poise and balance and circumspection as Claire’s reluctant first steps do. It means weighing my words and actions, knowing what to say and how to say it, when to hold and when to hush and how to fix things when you mess it all up. It often means foregoing the evening news in favor of tumbling on the floor It means less me, more us.

Most of all, it means walking the talk. Newbie that I am, I’m just beginning to grapple with the unmitigated influence I apparently have as a father, Just beginning to fathom the power of my example. The other morning, as usual, I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, readying myself for work, drying my hair. I looked down at my feet and there was Claire, on her knees, doing her hair, mimicking my every movement with imaginary hairbrush and dryer. “Daddy,” she said, and patted the top of her head.

Sure, it was cute, but it also was epiphany. There, staring blankly into the bathroom mirror, I saw the real challenge of fatherhood: to be, in my daughter’s eyes, exactly what I profess to be; to practice what I preach.

And there’s the rub. Precepts I can ladle out. It’s the role modeling that’ll keep me on my toes. Just thinking of all the bad habits I need to change – my wife says I should start with my driving – gives me a headache. Oh, to be a babe with someone to mimic. I’m sure I’ll fall on my fanny plenty omore times. And I’ll have to get right back up and try again. After all, that’s what I’m teaching my child.

Claire can almost walk now – almost – and although she doesn’t much care for it, some days it feels like she’s progressing faster than I am, and I wonder if I’m going to be ready for that next developmental stunt she’s sure to pull. Today it’s teaching her not to eat the house plants, not to rip pages out of Mommy’s Southern Living magazine, that “no” means “no.” Tomorrow it’s teaching her to share, to say “yes sir” and “no ma’am”; to assuage her fears and to respond appropriately to myriad impossible questions she’s bound to ask. Then comes getting her ears pierced and dating, and I don’t even want to think about that right now.

Gotta learn to walk first, one step at a time, both of us.Wineskins Magazine

Scott Bruner is an Association Executive in Jackson, Mississippi, where he attends the Meadowbrook Church of Christ and delivers four-minute essays on PRM< Public Radio in Mississippi, as breaks in NPR’s Morning Edition.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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