THE HEROIC PATH: In Search of the Masculine Heart | Chapter One (excerpt)
I watched helplessly as Kari struggled for her next breath. The room was chock-full of doctors and nurses, with surgeons on call, waiting for our twins to arrive. Kari had been in labor a full day, but it didn’t matter. We had waited nine months and a lifetime.
Now we were ready. Ready to feel those tiny hands squeeze our fingers. Ready to see the color of their eyes. Ready to hear their first cries.
Kari was strong and determined. She was radiant. Fierce and beautiful like a Nordic queen. Sahara Rose came out first, squirming like a tadpole. With a head full of raven black hair and compassion on her brow, she was bright and full of spirit and life and soul. We called her Rosie.
Hadassah Ruth came out next, crying and flapping. She was full of music and laughter and sound and joy. The nurses put her on Kari’s chest. Her tiny cries sounded exactly like a little bird, “Laa...Laa...Laa!” So we called her Little Bird.
From somewhere outside my body, I heard myself yell.
Before that moment, I wasn’t sure how I would react. Some men faint or cry. My yell was a mixture of relief and triumph. Until then, I had held every emotion in check: concern, fear, doubt, and excitement. The yell sprang up from some hid- den place deep within, booming outward, no longer able to be contained.
After the nurses weighed and cleaned the girls, we held them. They were wrapped and swaddled tight, like little burritos. I held them as if they were made of flower stems and fine china. In those first moments, everything stopped. We were struck, as if by a force. Two gorgeous baby girls—two immortal souls left their home in the womb and entered the world, drawing their first tender breaths. We didn’t say much. We just looked at them and each other, smiling.
I didn’t know what I would feel when they were born. I hadn’t carried them for nine months. Kari already had this built-in connection, as the girls were conceived, formed, and grew in her womb. This was my first touch. As I held them, my heart doubled in size.
The nagging and bothering things—the things that tried to make me worried and upset—they just slipped away. Slinked back to the waiting room to sit on the stale, mauve-colored hos- pital couches. They’d be back, but for now they were gone.
Although the doctors and nurses had seen thousands of births, they paused. They stopped and shared our joy. Life had broken through. It was more powerful than any professional numbness they might be tempted to feel. We were all kissed by the supernatural, witnessing something more beautiful than a thousand sunrises.
Our shared joy combusted into a moment of holy silence. We all got quiet. It felt really true.
We slowly made our way back to our room. Then, without warning, the nurses handed us the babies and walked off. It was nonchalant, like they were handing me a box of pepperoni pizza—“Here you go!” Just like that, the nurses were gone. They didn’t tell us what to do, show us how to hold them, or give us a field guide.
I had no idea.
As I watched the girls that first night, I had two distinct emotions.
One: profound joy. Two: buck-naked fear.
Full disclosure: I’d felt this way for nine months. I had no idea how to be a dad. I never saw one in action. And I still didn’t really feel like a man. My friend Bob clued me in a little. He told me as the father of daughters, I was homeland security. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew how to protect. So I stood guard over them like a stone sentry, hovering over their cribs for most of that first night, watching them breathe, their tiny chests rising and falling.
Little Bird coughed once, so I quickly called the nurse. “Is that normal?” I pleaded. She gave me two thumbs up, smiled, and left again.
I suddenly became fiercely overprotective of my girls and of Kari—which was good, right? My being overprotective was about fear, but it was instinctive and primal. If anyone messed with my family, I wanted to grow Wolverine’s adamantium claws and go into a berserker rage.
I think my fear was more about inadequacy.
I was never good at relating, or dating, or talking with girls, so how could I possibly deal with two more? One was hard enough. Now I was seriously outnumbered. Besides, I grew up bow hunt- ing and breaking stuff. Whenever I needed to “find myself,” I just went into the woods. In my hood, we shot bottle rockets and roman candles at each other. For fun.
Now I was expected to talk about makeup, dresses, and eventually . . . boys?
Raising girls didn’t feel so instinctive and primal. It felt more like being the only guy trapped in a tea party, with those older women who wear big hats and feather boas. “No...no...no...” the tea ladies would correct me in their British accents. “You poor little man, that is terribly, terribly wrong. Hold the teacup like this.”
How does a guy possibly fit in there?
Sure, I could fake it. But eventually I’d trip over my feather boa and spill tea on someone’s hat. I just don’t belong in a tea- room. It reminds me of something Garrison Keillor once said: “It’s like a bear riding a bicycle. He can be trained to do it for short periods, but he would rather be in the woods doing what bears do there."