I was never a big fan of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. It always seemed a bit absurd that we would set aside just one day to tell our fathers and mothers that we love and appreciate them. My neurotic skepticism about this was further fueled by thoughts that these ‘holidays’ were artificially hyped by greedy corporations in order to sell cards and stuff that people do not need. And then when my wife and I entered the infertile years, my disdain increased because these days were nothing more than painful reminders.
My wife and I struggled with infertility for five long years filled with countless doctors’ visits, procedures and medications. We finally conceived a sweet little girl on our 4th attempt at IVF. Then, about a year later and to our complete shock and amazement, we learned that it is also possible to conceive through good ole fashioned intercourse! Our second daughter was born just a few weeks ago, which means I am now getting ready to experience my first Father’s Day being the dad of two little girls. Knowing that my tendencies are to be a little grumpy about days like this even when things are good, I am aware that the posture I need to have is one of gratitude.
I am grateful and I really love being a dad, but unlike the myth I wanted to believe during the height of infertility, it is not pure bliss. Parenting is filled with ups and downs. I experienced the full extent of this truth last week. We decided to make a three hour drive to visit my parents, which some would consider brave with a toddler and a newborn. We left a little after bedtime having visions of grandeur that the babies would simply sleep the car ride away. About an hour into the ride, we hit a terrible storm. Lightening furiously flashed every two seconds while the rain beat down with authority. A violent wind aggressively attempted to direct the car off the road. Our infant started screaming, which caused a similar reaction in her older sister. I jumped in the back of the car, wedged myself between two car seats, and frantically tried to soothe two kids at once. This fatherly gesture was failing after twenty minutes, when the infant dramatically vomited multiple times all over herself and the car seat. The vomiting caused her to cry even louder, which caused a similar reaction in her sister. We had to pull the car over in the pouring rain on the side of the highway to deal with the mess. Recognizing we were not even one-third of the way to our destination, I sort of freaked out on the inside and wanted to be out of the parenting gig. I even asked my wife, ‘Are we sure this is better than infertility?’ She was in a better place mentally (she often is) and gently assured me that indeed we were better off despite the temporary circumstances.
The car ride home was the exact opposite experience. This time we left when it was convenient for us, and the girls were complete angels. We stopped along the way so my wife could nurse, and I took the toddler into my arms and walked over to a look-out point near the rest stop. She is learning her colors, and sat calmly in my arms for 45 minutes excitedly calling out the color of every passing vehicle. It was dusk, and the sunset that evening was remarkable. It was a sunset that lingered for a long time and the sky was illuminated with warm reds, oranges, and purples found in thousands of rays bursting through scattered clouds. Holding that little girl in my arms while watching it all literally brought me to tears. I remember being profoundly grateful that the suffering of infertility had stretched me in a way that I now savored this exact moment with such depth.
So, on this Father’s Day I am grateful, and not just in the artificial sense. I am grateful for the obvious fact that I have two healthy and beautiful girls. But with the blessing of hindsight, I am also grateful for infertility. I am grateful not only that I survived it, but that it has made me a better dad.