Some folks say that there are a bunch of souls hanging out somewhere in the great void getting ready to choose their next set of parents and get themselves born. I don't know what to think about that. But I am struck by the leap of faith babies are taking when they enter this world. As our daughter looked up at her mother and me on that very first day, she was the picture of peacefulness and serenity. She had only just learned how to breathe. The rest of her repertoire included only crying and sucking. She was completely dependent upon us. And she trusted us implicitly. She didn't know what she would need, but she seemed sure that we would take care of it, whatever it was.

At times I wondered about the wisdom of her blind faith. How was she so sure I would be a good parent? I was far from convinced of that myself. Didn't she know how easily I would get distracted from parenting by my various other pursuits? Didn't she know I had my weak points? Didn't she know that I had never done this before? 

Still she trusted me with all her might. She trusted that I would keep her warm and dry and fed. She trusted that I would keep her safe from all the harms of the world. Did she know that this world is full of harms from which I myself do not always feel safe? 

Now that she is four, she trusts me to think well of her. When she wakes me up by knee-dropping onto my mid-back she trusts that I will not shame her as if she meant to do me harm. She hopes instead that I will patiently teach her about my body's vulnerabilities and show her safe ways to use her power.

And when she is older and she comes home from school and sits around and whines, "I'm bored!" she trusts that I will hear that she needs some help initiating some activity interesting to her. She has faith that I will not blame her for her troubles in order to avoid feeling guilty about not being available enough to her.

And as a young teenager, when she gets all excited about something I think is completely ridiculous, she trusts that I will not ridicule her interests. She wants me to see that what is important to her friends is important to her. She expects me to challenge my aging neural pathways and to open my mind, with her as my teacher, on a subject I was sure I already knew everything worth knowing about. 

And when as a full-fledged teenager she says to me, "Screw you and everything you stand for!" she trusts that I will translate her words inside my head. She is relying on me to hear, "I need some space now to figure out who I am without you around. I'll be back in a little while." 

As I said, I wonder why she thinks I can be trusted with all these things. I've already messed up many times. But in the end she will be asking me to trust her. She will want me to trust that she can live her own life and make her own decisions. I imagine she'll be asking for that before I'm sure she is ready to do it. How will I be able to let her walk away when I know how much there is that she will not yet be prepared for? 

But then all along the way didn't she trust me before I was ready? Didn't she have faith that I would rise to the occasion in ways I had never done before? And didn't I do the best I could?

© 2007, Tim Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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