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Walk the line: A father’s first steps with his daughter
I wish my daughter were 20 so I could take her for a drink, or 30 and well employed so she could take me for a drink. I wish she were the acrobat that I know she will be one day; she could tell me weird stories about life in the circus. We could sit at a table, with her lovely mom, and I could tell her that when she was two, she couldn’t read a book unless she was standing on her head.
She is two, sadly. I find myself wishing for the future often these days. Not so much because she is sometimes an unbearable little tyrant but because I worry about how decrepit I will be by the time she is an adult. The mind runs backward and forward. I nonetheless cherish my luck and appreciate my days, and I do so thanks to the first time I went for a walk with her, just the two of us.
Around a month after my daughter was born, a pattern developed: My teetotalling, breastfeeding partner would have dinner and feel exhausted; my toothless breast-fed daughter would want more milk and feel invigorated; and I, breastless, would feel useless. I enjoyed not having to share the bottle of wine over dinner, but I think something about seeing me occupied only by a bottle and a glass made my partner suggest that I take the baby for a walk.
We lived in Old Montreal, a part of town that has a lot of restaurants, bars and hotels and is soaked with revellers and noise in the summer. Our apartment was part of a converted 200-year-old house with thick stone walls. When the windows were closed, it was peaceful, but in summer it felt like a fortress. Our fear of marauders outweighed our need for air. My daughter was born in June, so the party was in full swing a month later when we went for that first walk.
After she had one last feed, I strapped her into a bright-yellow Baby Björn, poured myself a gigantic glass of wine, kissed my sleepy partner and took my daughter out for a 90-minute walk. She was weightless, a soft bag of air. The heaviest burdens weigh nothing.
I instinctively sought quiet places, forgetting that babies eventually sleep through everything. There was a restaurant 10 steps away from our door with people smoking outside. I avoided that. Gibbys, the popular steak house, was across the square. I avoided that. I went along the next street, near the water, where the buses ran. There was a massive explosion behind me, and I remembered that the annual fireworks competition had begun. Kids were out with their families, watching the fireworks and screaming. Motorbikes raced by. A BMW M3. A Maserati roared. I explained them all to my daughter and then grew worried that her first word would be “douchebag.”
She was turned to me, ear to my heart, and crying. Her arms and legs, dangling from the Baby Björn, were all that anyone passing could see. I patted her little rump as she cried, and I quickly realized that, in terms of fashion, the most alluring accessory is a newborn baby. Even the worst dressed, least pleasant people will find themselves the centre of attention if they are wearing one.
Finish reading Colin’s moving story and learn about his hopes for his daughter on the next page…
People tried to catch a glimpse of her face; some cooed as they tickled the air with their fingers. I remember realizing, years earlier when my son was born, that babies play a silent role in bringing society together, making sour faces sweet and quiet people chatty. The chattiest are often the weirdest, but that’s fine. Many of us pass strangers by, avoiding eye contact, judging or ignoring, but if someone is carrying a baby, faces light up, connections are made, we act as if this is an opportunity to go back and redo our lives.
I felt protective of her and wanted to get farther away from the noise. There’s a pocket of Old Montreal to the west that is inhabited by high-tech and animation companies, most of them closed for the night. It’s quieter there, and once I was in the thick of the darkness and silence, I slowed down and drank my wine. My daughter fell asleep, and I started to feel so lucky.
This was the first time that she and I were really alone together. My girl. Outcome of love. The choice of open eyes.
I had been consumed with thoughts of children, fatherhood and what we are as a species. I was writing a novel about chimpanzees and realizing a number of truths about what our bodies are, how all of us will inevitably behave in our families, societies and countries.
Fathers are largely unnecessary in the early days of their children’s lives, despite whatever ideas and expectations we may have about them. We don’t have milk; we don’t have the heart that played that particular music through all those months in the womb. Our role is to help the mother; we succeed or fail at that. It doesn’t matter how much we may yearn to nurture, protect and be friends with our children; that role comes later. Sometimes it can be lonely. But I was feeling something now. It grew as I walked. Through one of the lit windows on the street, I could see three young people working busily on something creative. PowerBooks, a whiteboard, a room painted to encourage new ideas. Out of the corner of her eye, a young woman saw me: a stranger staring through the window with a baby strapped to him and a glass of wine in his hand.
Some smiles can make you see the future. There is nothing I want more for my daughter than for her to be confident and open. If this world is sometimes predictable, if our species rise and fall, if all of us are largely trapped in the concerns of our own lives, at least there will be moments of beautiful colour, daughters with bright eyes who are eager to light up the darkness.
I looked down at Lola and thought: “You can be anything, my girl. You will be so many things that I would never have imagined.” I was truly in a moment—feet on the ground, the right weight against my chest—and the past and future came together and meant nothing. “I don’t know who you will be, but you are here now and you always will be.”
She brought the world to me that night. I walked back through noisier crowds; a thousand dramas unfolded, most of them calmed by the sight of her little limbs. When she drags a nightmare of boyfriends into my life, I can tell her that she has always been a head-turner, even when her head was turned.
When we got home, her mom had had some rest. I relinquished my daughter. I love the two of them deeply.
I walked with her every night.