A New Prayer, a Father's Prayer
The spiritual accomplishment of fatherhood
Joseph was born on July 5. There were no more fireworks, and the band had stopped playing Souza marches. But the hot, tired, helpless yet celebratory feeling reminded me of a midsummer childhood experience: My dog had run away, and after searching for him, feeling defeated, I finally prayed for his return. A few hours later, after chasing jack-rabbits and birds, he came home, ready to be my dog again. I thanked God for answering my prayer.
On this blistering Independence Day weekend, many years later, as my son prepared to make his entrance, I found myself praying again, but in a different way.
My wife Jeana and I had gone on a walk. She and I were trudging up the hills of Somerville, Mass., on a Sunday afternoon, feeling mildly guilty for not being at church, but feeling even more nervous and excited about the mild contractions she had begun to have. But we were determined to bring our baby into the world as soon as possible--and walking was supposed to help.
Jeana stopped a few times during the walk and at one point suggested that we pray. So we stood at the crest of a hill with our sweaty heads huddled together as I speedily whispered an invocation to God that was a polite request for assistance crossed with a scream for help. We walked a little farther, and then Jeana couldn't continue.
I trotted home as fast as I could, part of my mind praying that she would be safe and wouldn't have the baby while I was gone, part of my mind numb. With a friend, I drove to where Jeana was resting casually. We rushed home, grabbed the suitcase of things one ostensibly needs for having a baby, quickly prayed as a group (again in a fashion that outwardly resembled respectful queries but were really cries for help), and drove through the crowded maze of Boston's streets to Brigham and Women's Hospital.
I have an aversion to hospitals and to anything remotely related. So if ever I needed help from the Divine, this was the time. I wasn't exactly counting on a calming chat with God in the waiting room, so I had asked a friend, Holly, to come along for moral support. Time dragged slowly as Jeana cycled through contractions, talked herself out of them, fell asleep, and then restarted the process an hour later.
When things were quiet or unbearably tense, Holly and I left my wife with her sister Cindi (a doula, or labor coach, by profession) and, beating a path between the delivery room and the cafeteria, talked about family relations, life changes, and other "light" fare. All the while, I was constantly praying but in a visceral, pleading way, almost as a baby who knows only a cry will petition his parents for food. After Jeana had struggled in labor for what felt like days, the doctor pulled my son away from his mother, and I saw him for the first time.