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A Love That Binds: A Dad's Perspective
By Frank Malinconico

As an adoptive dad, I cannot speak to those priceless moments of bonding that occur between an awe-struck father and his newborn son or daughter in the seconds after birth. Nicholas was al-ready eight months old when his Russian caregivers placed him in my arms for the first time. Still, I suspect that there are many aspects of the bonding process that will resonate with new fathers no matter which route to fatherhood they take.

Nothing brings a new dad closer to baby and the realities of fatherhood than changing that first messy diaper. For me the trepidation was particularly profound: during a parenting class I managed to showcase my diaper-changing ineptitude by wrapping a ball point pen in the diaper. My first real test came during an overnight train trek to Moscow where my son's exit papers had to be processed for our return to the United States. Traveling at sixty miles an hour, while trying to keep my balance in a 4x4 compartment, I began the delicate task of removing the soiled diaper. To this day I believe Nicholas knew it was my first effort and he gleefully accommodated me with the most pungent b.m. he could muster. Hovering like a HazMat specialist over a "hot" site, I carefully completed my mission with a generous application of diaper cream. Nicholas, comfortably secured in a fresh diaper, smiled and clapped his hands approvingly. I stood there beaming, savoring the success of my first diaper change with satisfaction, until my wife, nearly overcome with the odor, begged me to discard the diaper.

As a father-to-be I got a lot of advice from veteran dads about how much life would change once Nicholas arrived. Even before I had mastered my first diaper change, installed the car seat, assembled the crib, battled with the pack and play, and risen from a sound sleep in the wee hours to bottle-feed a fussing baby, these wise old dads had already painted a picture of my future right up until his graduation from college. With knowing winks, sly smiles and snickers, they would end their predictions with, "Just wait, you'll see." Nothing in their prognostications, though, ever prepared me for the day this little newcomer would assert his claim to my wife's heart. The realization literally hit me upon my return from work one evening. Pausing to greet Sue-Ann with my usual kiss, I felt a tiny fist crash into my cheek. I looked at the red-faced little stranger with the dark, intense eyes gazing back at me and laughed. Again, I leaned forward to kiss Sue-Ann. Again the fist grazed my face, this time ac-companied by a jealous shriek. I shook my head in disbelief. Enjoying the effect I was having on my tiny rival, I decided to test him once more. Sure enough, he took another swipe at me, boldly defending his exclusive claim to Sue-Ann's attentions. In time, however, he found Cheerios and animal crackers more tantalizing than vying with me for Sue-Ann's affections and I was able to wheedle my way back into Sue-Ann's heart.

Mealtimes afford new dads plenty of opportunities to bond as well. After countless quiet meals with my wife, the sight of a chubby, red-faced toddler peering at us from his high chair has been a bit of an adjustment. So has his approach to eating. Within minutes he can transform his meal tray into an impressionistic watercolor, drawing on most of the basic food groups for his creation. What doesn't make it to the canvass ends up tucked thoughtfully behind his ears, in his hair or all over his face. Meanwhile, I try resolutely to deliver a spoonful of food to its intended target before it is intercepted by a tiny hand, by coaxing and cajoling with a repertoire of facial expressions and baby gibberish that renders normal conversation between adults all but impossible.

As the father of an energetic fifteen month old boy, I cannot (yet) comment on how dads bond with their daughters. I know, however, that when it comes to bonding with my son, play time gives me license to act as foolish and adolescent as I want without embarrassment. Whether deftly filching animal crackers from his well-guarded stash, scrambling after him on all fours across the kitchen floor, pushing him around the house in his toy car, frolicking at the beach, or hoisting him upon my shoulders to explore the great out-doors, our worlds, for a few moments at least, merge. Lost in his world I can forget about bills and deadlines, social engagements, global catastrophes, interest rates, politics, house-hold chores and yes, even the weather. All that matters for now are his infectious giggles as he fends off my tickling or his squeals of delight as I rescue him from the clutches of a breaking wave as it races toward the shore. I savor the moments I can be his hero knowing that the older he gets the more difficult it will become to appear heroic.

Frank Malinconico is an adoptive father. He and his wife, Sue-Ann, and their son Nicholas reside in Old Saybrook, CT.

 

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