As the weather steadily gets warmer I find myself taking my daughter to play on the local church lawn more and more often. It is the closest big flat grassy area to our house, and since flat areas are hard to come by on our little piece of land, I have been making the steep and arduous trek up there whenever the sun shines. The church is old and has a few huge uneven granite steps leading up to the front doors. We spend a lot of time going up and down these steps, ignoring the lawn and the toys I have so invitingly spread out on it.
At her current stage of development she needs a lot of assistance to make it up and over any obstacle, especially big granite stairs. I hunch over, grab both of her hands and pull her upwards as her little feet scramble to find purchase, splaying in every direction. On the way down it is more of an assisted jump, with me serving as a brake to slow the descent. It's a time-honored ritual echoed by parents everywhere for ages. It gets old pretty fast for me but she takes such joy from it and is so intent that I assume some major developmental stuff is going on. So I ignore the crick in my back and the monotony of it all and make it happen.
As I was engaged in this the other day it struck me how much trust is involved between parent and child. Of course, there is trust involved in every action--she depends on me for feeding and changing and making her feel safe and secure. But it hit home that this act of walking up and down stairs was a direct physical representation of this trust, and more than that, of her blind faith in me. After 'walking' down the stairs she often takes four or five steps away and then turns around and heads back to go up them again. After a few rounds she is so sure I will be there that she does not bother to look behind her when she reaches the bottom step. She just raises both of her hands while in mid-stride and assumes I will grab them. She has blind faith that she can raise her foot to go up the first stair because she is certain that my hands will be grabbing hers, not allowing her to fall, helping her make it up those steps one more time. And she is right. I am there. Each time and every time. And that is the crux of my 'job' as a father and as her daily caretaker--to reward her blind faith.
She has to know that whether she is hungry or simply wants another story, I will be there. I will put her down for naps even when she doesn't realize she needs them, and keep her comfortable and dry in clean clothes and diapers. When she needs space I will leave her alone and when she needs comfort I will scoop her up and do my best to make everything OK. And when she wants to go up and down the church steps for the twenty-eighth time, I'll be there to grab her hands and help her make it happen. She doesn't have to know this on a conscious level and I do not have to try and explain it to her. Our day to day interactions reinforce this sense of security. She has placed all of her trust and all of her faith in me, and my role, at least for now, is to reenforce her budding belief that this is exactly the way life works. Her job is to grow and learn and absorb all that she can from this confusing and wonderful world. My job is to reward her blind faith in me by giving her what she needs to do just that.
At fifteen months old, she has no concept of what Father's Day is or means. At thirty-eight years old, I am just starting to get the idea. Sorry it took so long, Dad. Thanks for everything.
(Images: Richard Popovic)