Running Toward the Fears of Fatherhood

The one true challenge when roaming the country with wife and child is facing the doubt you brought with you.

We were on the warpath even before we left. Digging through boxes we hadn’t opened in eight years, investigating relics we’d stashed under the steps the day we moved in. Tossing everything that didn’t have an immediate value. I was thumbing through a stack of photos and notes when I found it: a few lines of scribbled text on a sheet of notebook paper, the blue ink smeared, maybe from rain. A quote from Emmanuel.

“Every moment of your life, you are offered the opportunity to choose—love or fear. To tread the earth, or soar the heavens. Fear would walk you on a narrower path, promising to take you where you want to go. Love always says, ‘Open your arms and fly with me.’”

I walked upstairs, went and taped it to the wall of the camper, right above the sink. Placed it where I’d have to eye that quote every goddamn day.

No one wants to think themselves a coward, but the last two weeks have shown me to be just that. I am run through with fear. Twisted with worry that something will happen to our daughter. A tumble down the stairs, a tick-born disease, a snake bite. Or something worse that I’ve yet to even imagine. Somehow, I didn’t grasp the whole ante of what we’re doing before we left.

Zach Bowman/TheDrive.com

She’s 13 months—a brilliant age. We’re watching the flickers of her personality ignite. She’s stubborn, independent. Wants to do everything herself and hates help of any kind. Has a flash temper. Is a perfect goofball. Loves blowing kisses and waving at absolutely everyone, curling her chubby fingers in and out in slow, sad goodbyes to strangers. And on: She adores animals, cannot help but smile, is beautifully curious. She studies trees and clouds and violet hibiscus with ferocious intent in those brown eyes.

And she’s ours. I lack the language to describe what that means beyond the truth that, for the first time in 31 years, I know the full meaning and dark depth of the word, “precious.” How it cannot be said or conveyed, only felt raggedly in the chest like a gasp, a stutter of the heart. How the vastness of my desires is reduced to this: keep her happy, safe, healthy. And how I’ve gambled that by casting us to the road.

No one’s kind enough to tell you that parenthood is another word for worry. That the first nine months in the womb are a preamble, the gamut of tests and screens for possible complications just a preface. The odds seem so impossible that she could come out perfect that when she does, you don’t quite believe it. I didn’t. I waited and I watched and I knew. Knew. Something would be wrong.

And when it wasn’t? It felt like a gift I didn’t deserve. A thing to say thanks for; it’s as close as I’ve come to understanding prayer.

Zach Bowman/TheDrive.com

I want to tell myself that this wager’s worth it: that the world we’re showing our daughter outweighs the risks it exposes her to. To believe anything could happen at any time, anywhere—that death or tragedy are no closer on the beaches of the Carolinas than they were in our old living room. What’s the difference between her being bitten by an East Tennessee copperhead or a Florida cottonmouth? But that’s not how fear works.

We left the narrower path months ago, but it was fear that led us there to begin with. I don’t know how to get out from under it. Time, possibly. Practice, hopefully. And maybe a careful nurturing of the optimism I abandoned years ago.

It’s rare, but I feel it there, sometimes. A glimmer. Two nights ago, watching the sun sink below the still water of Marathon, Florida with her on my shoulders. Or watching her wade with her mother in the shallow sea off Long Key, splashing and kicking with unconditional joy, a lifetime away from the safe and quiet sanctuary of her nursery.

For better or worse.