Erwan Heussaff shares the lessons he’s learned from his daughter.
I would be lying if I told you that my life instantly changed the day my daughter was born.
Before that day, when people would ask if we were pregnant, I would reply, no. I wasn’t pregnant, my wife was. All I could do was support her, care for her in any way that I could and place earphones on her belly, softly playing some Chopin, hoping to contribute in some way to our child’s development. I didn’t feel the pregnancy, I was only a proxy to it. Anne on the other hand, felt every movement, each new limb and hiccup.
Back to the birth. In the moment, a torrent of emotions took over me, none that I couldn’t really make sense of. It was all just confusing. A human that I had never physically felt, was thrust into my arms. Crying, as if to tell me she didn’t know what was happening, little did she know, I had no idea either. That scene pretty much sums up parenting for the first time. Yes, I read the books, I mentally prepared myself, I listened to podcasts and spent time learning baby CPR (side note: it’s terrifying), but with that first touch, I realized that she would be my biggest teacher.
She was a pandemic baby, born in March of 2020. How timely. In retrospect that pause in time we were privileged to have been gifted, allowed us to grow into our new role as parents. There was no escaping the house, no rooms to hide in or moments to breathe. Her first year was the most intense, yet joyous, I’ve ever had.
For the first time in a long time, I felt vulnerable. As naked as she was on her first day. It was freeing. Fatherhood stripped me of years’ worth of failures, expectations, hardened opinions and biases. Layers that eventually created a thick carapace, which in my view, protected me from the world. I looked at every aspect of my life; what I was doing right, what I didn’t want to admit was wrong, which character traits and beliefs needed to be shed. It’s liberating when you figure out that there is someone who supersedes you. Suddenly, the thoughts or activities you were brooding over, don’t seem that important anymore. That mental space allowed me to look at things more objectively. Learning how I reacted to situations was a set of collected experiences that sent automated replies on my behalf. When in fact, I should make the conscious effort to look at all angles first before acting on anything. That was her first lesson.
When I look at my daughter today, it’s hard to picture her at any other age. I do remember her vividly at 3 months, 1 year or 2 years old, but nothing feels more real than the present. Maybe when I’m in my mid-50s and she’s in her 20s that will change. She would be living her life and wouldn’t be needing me as much as she does now. Giving me more time to reminisce and linger in the past. There is just so much happening today, at her tender age of 3 that I find it hard to recall a time where we couldn’t communicate as clearly as we do now. It’s impossible to capture everything in detail and to dwell on that is pointless. This coming from someone who, pre-pregnancy, was always thinking about past events and working towards an ambitious future. I rarely took time to be grateful for what I had already achieved and now I know not to take any moment for granted. That was her second lesson.
I’m convinced that my kid is smarter than me. She picks up knowledge faster than I do. She shows her emotions when she feels like it, snapping from a tantrum to a laugh in a matter of seconds. She does what she wants when she wants. She’s constantly amazed by the world that surrounds her and she explores it with fearless abandon. She isn’t afraid of breaking into song in public or wearing a tutu with a dinosaur headband. She has a difficult time lying to us or staying angry. She knows that she is magical and that her imagination is her best friend.
This is what she’s currently teaching me. Through her, I’m learning how to look at things from her perspective. To care less about what others have to say and to start looking at life with a less jaded eye. To learn to trust my instincts and banish self-doubt. To retain a sense of childlike curiosity and to not feel guilty about being happy.
Whatever the future has in store for us, I can walk on with full confidence, because I know that there is nothing that I can do that could make her love me less and she has that same assurance from both her mom and I.
I know that I can put off big projects, grand aspirations and bucket list experiences, because little things like reading her favorite French books at night before tucking her in and playing a game of ticklish kisses, or singing songs with invented lyrics while painting her face in her animal of choice and throwing her in the air to make her feel like she’s a soaring pterodactyl in ballet shoes; all have an eventual expiry date.
To all the dads out there and to the moms who wear both shoes, your presence is precious. Whether it’s a phone call from abroad or a daily breakfast ritual, your kid will forever cherish these moments.