The biggest news of my life was delivered in the tiny bedroom of our tiny apartment. My wife of less than a year told me she was pregnant with our first child.
Have you seen the YouTube videos of wives who cleverly tell their husbands they are pregnant, and the husbands beam with pride or melt to tears when the joyful news sinks in? That wasn’t me. I tried to react the way I thought I was supposed to — big smile, big hug — but inside, my reaction was a 50-50 cocktail of denial and terror. It was the spring of 2002, and I was 24 years old.
Eventually, as the baby grew larger, my fear grew smaller, morphing into acceptance and then, as the due date drew closer, excitement.
But despite the nine-month lead-time, I was woefully unprepared to be a father. And yes, I’m sure all expectant dads say they are woefully unprepared to be a father, but I had never spent time around a newborn baby let alone had one placed in my lawful custody. Sure, as a former day-care worker, I loved kids, but only kids who could talk and walk and had been trained to go to the bathroom by someone much more qualified than me.
To illustrate my point, lest you think I’m exaggerating, and at the risk of sounding like a doofus, here is an actual question I asked my actual pregnant wife days before the birth of our child. It’s a story she takes too much enjoyment telling. Because I had no experience with newborn humans, I simply asked her how long it would be — days? weeks? — before the baby would be able to open his or her eyes. You know, like a kitten.
I could only assume that her uncontrollable laughter simply hid her confident realization that she no doubt had chosen the wisest and most insightful husband to help her raise her children.
While I was mildly unsure about a few minor details of newborn babies, at least I was certain of the gender: boy. Had to be a boy. Please, dear God, make it a boy. Because if I knew little about babies in general, I knew even less about baby girls. I couldn’t imagine my life with a daughter. What could we possibly have in common?
After rushing my wife to the hospital (and having her tell me multiple times to slow down, because apparently hitting bumps on city streets at 80 mph don’t feel super when you’re in labor), our doctor said the words I’ll never forget: “Congratulations, dad; it’s a girl.”
And this time, there was no need to fake the reaction. I sobbed tears of joy. And after the doctor cut her umbilical cord and pinched her chubby cheeks, he handed me my 8 pound, 7 ounce daughter. It felt like he handed me the weight of the world.
Olivia Marie Warden was born Jan. 7, 2003. Today, she turns 13. I have a teenager.
Over the past several months, when people realized the impending milestone, they would give an awkward laugh or a condescending pat on the back, as if to say, “Teenage daughter, huh? So sorry. Good luck — you’ll need it.” They assume that when she wakes up, she’ll flip a switch and turn into all the negative stereotypes of a teenage girl: emotional, bratty, disconnected, boy-crazy.
But yesterday, she was none of those things, and I have faith that the same will hold true tomorrow.
Recently, just to make sure she hadn’t somehow literally glued herself to her iPod (Pinterest addiction is real), I confiscated her favorite accessory so that she could focus elsewhere for a bit. I didn’t have to snoop through her texts at all to find out all I needed to know about my daughter (though, since I know she’s reading this, I’m not above that). The lock screen on her iPod was a screenshot of a memo she had written to herself. It was an outline of her average day. I’ll quote it verbatim:
Living the Catholic Faith — never be lukewarm
1. Get up — pray the morning offering, guardian angel, St. Michael
2. Go to school (be kind!!!!)
3. Get home — do homework, pray divine mercy chaplet
4. Pray with family
5. Go to room — pray the rosary, Bible
That isn’t the typical day of a 13-year-old. But there has never been anything typical about her. I try not brag about her very often — we leave that for the grandparents — but beyond her ability on the softball diamond or volleyball court, beyond her piano recitals or her report cards, it is her kindness that stands out, and that is because of her deep faith in Christ and his Church. We couldn’t be more proud.
Thirteen years ago, I was worried we wouldn’t have anything in common. And now she is just like me: She loves sports and constantly is listening to music. She has an incredible sense of humor. She loves to read. And thankfully, she is just like her mother: loving and sweet, beautiful and devout, hardworking and honest.
Thirteen years have passed since I was wholly unprepared to be her father. Thirteen years have passed since I couldn’t imagine my life with a daughter.
And now, I couldn’t imagine my life without one.
Happy birthday, Olivia. Your daddy loves you.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.