When I stop to realize that our daughter has been with us for only twenty-three days and home for only eleven, it's truly astonishing what changes there have been. There are the important but prosaic changes, such as her learning to use a sippy cup or start to learn to use a fork and spoon or sleep through the night. There are those milestones such as her taking her first unassisted steps or learning to talk (soon, we hope).
But there are the subtler changes that involve becoming a parent. When we were in China, one of the other men in our group, already a father, told me that becoming a father was for him a real watershed: his life changed so much that he could hardly remember what it was like before they adopted their first son. I see what he meant. It's a bit hard for me to realize that, this time only last month, fatherhood was a purely hypothetical state of being for me. Now that Caroline is with us... It's hard to remember or imagine life without her.
The first book I read about international adoption was China Ghosts(1) by Jeff Gammage. Gammage's thoughts prior to becoming a father - indeed, when his wife first proposed adopting a child - were very much like my own:
When it came to the subject of having children, the role of Most Important Person in the Story of My Life was already filled by someone infinitely better suited for the job: me.
I didn't need an eight-pound understudy.
Needless to say, Gammage's attitude changed radically... as has mine:
Becoming a father is like growing a new skin. It make you aware of and sensitive to all kinds of new sensations, to experiences heretofore unnoticed and unimagined.
Yes, one of those is the scent of toxic waste that indicates that a diaper needs to be changed, but I've been surprised that I've taken this in stride, just as I (more or less) have done with cleaning child, high chair and floor after a meal, or toys scattered all over the room that I had regarded as my own private refuge, or having to structure my day around meals and naps. Another of those new sensations that Gammage writes about is learning to enjoy doing something for somebody else, to revel in what to the pre-fatherhood man would have been a chore or a burden to be put off or avoided.
I realize that we will continue to progress, that her coos and giggles and jabber will become words, and that (sooner or later) those words will be irritating or hurtful. I realize that we will continue to progress, and the joy of watching her learn to walk will (sooner or later) become annoyance or even panic when she walks somewhere that she shouldn't.
But the biggest progress, the Big Step, has been achieved, and it's really a remarkable thing:
I am a father, and this little girl is my daughter.
(1) Gammage, Jeff. China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.