Leaving and cleaving

More than 27 years ago in Rome, I became a father for the first time.

I remember every bit of that long night, and I remember the next morning riding up on my motorino to my favorite coffee bar and shouting to the proprietors, “E’ un maschio!” (It’s a boy!) before zooming back to the hospital.

I remember when we brought Anthony home for the first time: accepting best wishes from the taxi driver and carrying the baby into the apartment with exaggerated caution, closing the door and then teetering on the edge of panic as the full reality sank in.

It was just the three of us, and two of us were pretty sure we had no idea what we were doing.

New parents really have no idea what is involved with parenting. The diapers and the suckling and the sleepless nights are the easy part. But how can we imagine the depth of the love one feels for one’s child — the tenderness that is almost painful, the protectiveness that is without reason or limit.

It is why every image of Mary and Joseph with child is so evocative. It isn’t because this triptych of love is a cliché. It is because it is universal.

And how could we imagine on that first day of our child’s life the heights of frustration, the outbursts, the stubbornness and the angst: And that’s just on our part.

The kids get pretty wiggy on occasion too!

Parenting is forever. That is definitely not clear to young parents.

The scale of the problems may change. The distances may be greater. But the parenting gene never recedes.

Yet is there anything like seeing one’s child get married? That Scripture passage about leaving one’s parents and cleaving to one’s spouse: That is all well and good when we are doing the leaving and the cleaving, but now it is our child.

Our flesh and blood — the one we hugged and consoled, cajoled and rebuked, played with in the backyard and saw off to college — that person is now standing before God and man and saying that he will love, honor and cherish a truly wonderful woman, but someone who is not us.

And it is so wonderful and bittersweet at the same time — tears of joy and welcome, but also of goodbye and passing.

My son, Anthony, is married now.

We danced in celebration till the lights were turned up and the tables cleared. He and his bride were flushed with the love of friends and family who howled in the sheer perfection of the moment.

His brother and sisters embraced him.

His parents whirled about the dance floor, as if wanting the earth to spin backward on its axis, back to their own wedding and the joy they felt back then.

Every married couple in that room thought back to their day and saw themselves in Anthony and Amanda, reliving that moment when they took their first steps on a journey they hoped would last a lifetime.

Of course, we know the risks and the pitfalls more clearly now, too.

My son said that more than a few people, upon hearing he was getting married, expressed their “condolences,” or asked if he was getting a “pre-nup.” No heart is more cynical than one that is broken.

But no heart is more pure than one that is promising — with absolutely no crystal ball — to love and honor, to cherish and respect for a lifetime another human being who is promising the exact same thing.

And it is the height of foolishness and faith in this day and age to make such a promise, a glorious, bold testament to the entire world that what St. Paul wrote is true: Love never fails.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s publisher.