By Julie Richmond

Today at the park I heard you humming a tune as you worked in the sandbox. I wanted to interrupt, to ask if it was one of the songs I had sung to you when you were a baby. But the look on your face was so serious; whatever you were creating with your pail and shovel required your complete attention. So I stood there and watched until you emptied your pail, lifted your shovel and told me it was time to go home for dinner.

Before you were born, Alex, I was so scared of fatherhood. My dad wasn’t around much; after work he had a lot of important business to attend to at the local tavern. You never met your grandfather – a few years before you were born he found God while he was on a convention in California. I haven’t heard from him since, so I guess God keeps him pretty busy out there.

So while your mother fretted over disposable versus cloth diapers, sleeping strategies and just how natural a childbirth she could manage, I worried about what kind of father I would be. I wanted to carve out a special place in your life.

After much thought, I hit on something that would bring you and me together from the beginning. I would be the one to put you to bed every night. I liked the intimate nature of being the person to guide to the place where babies dream.

I have always been a bit of a geek, and I took my role as Master of Lullabies quite seriously. By the day you were born I had memorized songs in French, Old English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Italian and German (not the most soothing to my ear!). I knew all the old standards and their regional variations.

Your mother, the strongest woman I have ever known, had elected to give birth in the bed in which you were made. (I can see your grown-up face now; yech, it says.) And the only time Genie showed any serious distress was when I broke into my most recent find, a Swedish lullaby from the early 20th Century.

Let me just say you were the first and shall be the only one to
hear any of my lullabies from beginning to end.

It took about an hour to feed you and wipe you, count all your fingers and toes and wrap you up in a blanket as soft as a cloud. I stood silent and watched your mother as she completed the rituals, placing close attention to diapering technique. All done, she passed you to me.

“I’m going back to bed,” she whispered; “Do your thing.”

I held you close to my heart like some book recommended, and listened to your mother’s breathing go from restless to sweet. Then we took our first steps together — I had never held anything so heavy and so light. We didn’t have far to go to your nursery and the rocking chair I’d chosen to sit in while I sang you to sleep.

I started right then, with you barely an hour old. You didn’t seem twitchy and anxious like the other babies I’d met. You listened to my songs like you’d been waiting to hear them all your life. Midway through the Welsh ballad, you fell asleep.