First written on June 14, 2015.
I think June is my favorite month of the year. Far enough removed from the end-of-academic-year maelstrom that is April, with its recitals, concerts, final exams, and meetings (oh, the meetings), and buffered by the transitional month of May, it has become, for me, the most “vacation” time of the year. The new academic year still seems far off, and the days stretch longer into the evening, with that wonderful twilight full of mauves and pinks. It’s often in June that I find myself in a season of reflection; when parts of my inner being wake up after long periods of dormancy, and that’s how I come to be writing down these thoughts.
My newest grandson was just born, on June 2. My second grandchild, this one is the first child of Myles and Elizabeth (my daughter), he’s the first grandchild whom I must learn to “share” with another family (Aidan’s paternal family is barely involved with him, while my son-in-law Myles has a large, involved, extended family), and he’s named after me! Ron Stringer. I feel blessed.
Babies are wonderful. Ponder those words for a moment. Wonderful. Tiny, totally dependent on others, yet capturing your heart and soul in an instant of time. I was privileged to be be present when he first entered the world, drawing his first breath and uttering his first sounds (loudly, at that), before even fully leaving his mother’s body! What a moment. One could feel the rest of reality receding from that scene, pulling back to the perimeter of awareness and fading into a blur, as the events of those few minutes came sharply into focus. It was as if a nuclear bomb of emotion had exploded in our midst! Overwhelming joy. If you’re familiar with the final act trio of Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, you may be able to relate to this: it was that kind of emotional experience, exponentially greater, and compacted into the span of a few minutes. Breath-taking, awe-inspiring, and immense. Life-changing, to say the least.
I remember what it was like to hold each of my own children when they were newly born. David, especially, since he was the first. Though only 22 myself, and quite “green” and naïve about entering adult life, that moment when he first opened his eyes and looked up into mine is with me to this day. The day, the time, down to the very minute, is embedded in my memory—that moment when I first held him in my arms. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present in the delivery room for the births of our three children, as they were all born by Caesarean section (in those days, the father wasn’t allowed to be present for those). While a woman goes through obvious physiological and psychological changes as she carries a baby to term and becomes a mother, I believe that a man (an involved man, at least) also experiences transformation as he becomes a father. Certainly psychological transformation, and who knows? Perhaps holding his newborn baby for the first time results in physiological changes as well.
In any case, I believe that something happened to me in those moments, and maybe the best way to describe it is “love at first sight.” In an instant of time a bond was created. I was adopted as an infant and have never known any biological relatives other than children (and now, grandchildren), so holding David for the first time was uniquely special. Now, at last, there was someone else on the planet that I knew, and he would know me, and we were related, in the biological sense of the word. This same moment was relived, with perhaps a little less intensity, with the births of Elizabeth and Becca, 8 and 9 years later. In 2009, I felt something similar with the birth of Aidan, my first grandchild.
In the years since David was born, as I’ve aged, lost loved ones, and experienced the inevitable trials and stresses of life, “man,” “daddy/father,” and now “grandpa/grandfather,” have all been terms that I’ve had to wrestle with. Maybe “wrestle” is too contentious a verb, but I can’t think of a better one. The words have intrinsic meaning that elude specific definition, and they deepen and become richer with the passing of time. For example, when younger, I’d somewhere picked up the idea that “real men” don’t express physical affection for each other, and keep their emotions in check, completely beneath the surface. Now, it’s much easier to share a hug with other men counted among my close friends, especially men in my family. I cannot say exactly how this developed in me, but I suspect it was a combination of a feeling of mortality that comes with being older, and also with the experience of having children and grandchildren of my own.
Now in my fifties, my body feels the effects of middle-age (and even old age, at times), and I cope with chronic arthritis pain and less mobility/flexibility than I had in my twenties and thirties. Aside from that, I am in otherwise excellent health, and maintain good eating habits and an exercise regimen consisting of both cardiovascular and strength training. Knowing from a young age that we’re all headed for an eventual end is one thing; feeling that mortality is another, and that comes with getting older. One realizes that one is closer to the end than to the beginning, and that there is, indeed, an ending. This realization (often coming as an unwanted epiphany brought about by one health crisis or another) leads one to ponder the meaning of life and to identify the things that are most important.
What has grown in me has been an appreciation for relationships, health, and music. These three things are the things I hold most dear. The young evangelical in me would add “and my relationship to God,” but my faith has taken me to a place where I simply say that everything is experienced in a context of faith in God who is Love, and is so matter-of-fact that I simply don’t think about it. The thoughts I share now are inspired by relationships, which brings me back to the present: one new grandchild and one more coming soon.
This picture captures a lot of all this. It’s been my privilege to spend a few weeks with my daughter and son-in-law, and newest grandchild, Ron. I’ve been spending time with him in the morning, just after waking up, and holding him close as shown here. Much has been said in recent years about skin-on-skin experiences with newborns that is beneficial to them; I must say that I find it beneficial for the adult, as well. With the physical closeness comes a bond of love, a feeling of connectedness that goes beyond simple naming, or knowledge of family relationship. And this, combined with looking into the eyes of the beloved, brings with it a something that can only be described as “love.” And it’s not only looking; the other senses are involved as well—the sense of touch, as has already been mentioned, the hearing of the baby’s little sounds (ranging from little grunts of contentment, simple breathing, and, well, other bodily functions), and the scent that is unique to the head of a newly-born infant. I’ve heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Looking into the eyes of a newborn one sees both nothing and everything. Nothing, in that the soul is new, fresh, and a blank slate not yet written upon by the experiences of life. Everything, in that a grandfather sees the potential of the new life, and senses the dreams and hopes of the new parents burning brightly within.
Update from February 2016:
Colton Maurey was born just three weeks later. Here is a picture of my three grandsons. From left to right: Colton Maurey, Aidan Maurey, and Ron Stringer. Love, indeed.