I knew unconditional love the instant his curious blue eyes found mine.
I knew paralyzing fear at the thought that, one day, I would not be there to protect the helpless, wiggling bundle nestled safely in my arms.
I knew my life had meaning the moment he stopped crying as I gently squeezed his tiny warm hand.
The mystery we had so excitedly watched twist and turn and grow for nearly a year was now a beautiful reality and, with this miracle, I realized that dreams really do come true.
Those were the cherished memories that filled my heart as I tearfully watched a young man gently cuddle his own newborn in the quiet of a darkened hospital room nearly thirty years later. Now he will know the inner peace that comes with rocking a fussy baby to sleep in the early-morning hours as powdery, soft snow drifts upon a frosted nursery window.
He’ll learn the magical healing powers of a Flintstones Band-Aid and a kiss when applied lovingly to a barely-skinned knee.
Amidst shrill giggles and the colorful commotion of bouncing balloons and pointed paper hats, he’ll watch his daughter blow out three candles on a birthday cake and realize that it is his wish that has come true.
Of course, as a newly anointed grandpa, I also secretly reveled in knowing that the poetic justice of “What goes around comes around,” was about to pay dividends before my eyes. My own challenging little bundle of joy would now get to experience first-hand the unpredictable, bungee-jumping extremes of emotion and unfathomable (at least to adult logic), impulsive childhood idiosyncrasies that face a rookie-dad.
In addition to love, tenderness, and joy, he would experience feelings such as pain – like the pain invoked by an agitated infant-son who once pulled hair and yanked crooked eyeglasses off an unwitting father during a tantrum-tainted diaper change.
He was likely to discover spontaneous terror, the kind elicited by a bored, terrible-two-year-old who once awakened his “sleeping-on-the-sofa-nincompoop-dad” on a lazy Saturday morning just in time for said nincompoop-dad to see the looming, rectangular shape of a wooden Playskool workbench as it careened into the bridge his nose.
A euphoric state of wonder might ensue one day, like that experienced the afternoon a certain bewildered dad stood with his mouth open, mesmerized and in awe, as the garage door inexplicably rose and fell. It wasn’t until later that evening that the dad learned the baby-bopper riding in the backpack had grabbed the remote opener.
He was also likely to experience the unadulterated pride that all parents crave. The kind of self-glory one can only dream of, like when a beloved son finally shares his long-anticipated, first word with a doting-dad.
“C’mon pal, you can do it. Sound it out.”
“That’s right. Who am I? What’s my name?”
Dah. Duhhh….. DUMBO!”
Maybe Disney videos weren’t such a great babysitter after all.
Life is a roller-coaster, a journey shaped by chance and an infinite array of Rubik’s Cube-like choices that must ultimately be reconciled with reality. There would be two more special deliveries, and with each blessing came the dream that my son would finally find peace.
What I couldn’t know when he was born was that my baby boy would one day honor his country by serving two tours as a Navy Corpsman in Iraq, but the nightmares of war would haunt him forever. I didn’t know he would grow up and bravely tend to wounded soldiers under fire in the battlefield and give some a second chance at life. I had no idea that the visions of those he lost would be tortured memories that would never heal.
Many hearts were broken on that sunny autumn afternoon. Mine broke the instant his wife’s name appeared on my caller ID, and a neighbor’s shaky voice urged me to come home. The words CPR and Flight-For-Life offered a flicker of hope, but I knew.
Now, whenever I get the chance to tuck my grandchildren beneath a fuzzy Queen Elsa blanket, I tell them how much their dad loved them. As a sliver of silver moonlight peeks through the blinds and sleep quiets the room, I always take one last look at their angelic faces and watch tiny fingers gently squeeze love-tattered teddy bears that have been carefully crafted from his old military uniforms.
The sincerity of their spirits gives me hope. The innocence of their fathomless enthusiasm reminds me of a remarkable life lesson I learned long ago, but had almost forgotten:
Dreams really do come true.