When I First Held You, an anthology of 22 personal essays from contemporary male writers such as Dennis Lehane and Andre Dubus III, is a triumphant collection that digs deep into what it means to be a father.
Edited by Brian Gresko, the book shakes you with incredibly honest accounts of fatherhood guilt and frustration, child health crises, horrifying feelings of failure, renewed faith in a higher power, the effect of divorce on a child, etc.
And there’s humor, of course. Lots of vomit. Lots of poop. Lots of crying.
It’s a book that as Gresko writes, helps “inspire you to be the best parents you’re capable of being, knowing that you’ll never be as good as you want to be.” And it sure does.
This book filled with wonderful narratives that help you see that the struggles and beauty that come with parenting are universal, and that we all need to forgive ourselves for our parenting mistakes and just appreciate our children because that special time of their life (and yours) won’t last forever.
Some of my favorite passages:
“When you watch your kids begin to grow up, you cannot help but feel your impermanence more acutely; you cannot help but see how you are one link in a very long chain of parents and children, and that the best thing you have ever done and ever will do is to extend that chain, to be a part of something greater than yourself. That’s really what it means to be a father.” – Anthony Doerr
“In the stillness I move between the two beds … The silence of the room is like the silence of a photograph. Here the girls are fixed, they lie quietly outside of time … The girls might stir or murmur, but they don’t say a word. Not one word. I lean down toward each girl in turn to listen to what she does not say. How conspicuous, how marvelous is their silence! Because during the daylight hours, while awake and in our house or cars or backyard, these extraordinary girls, these two sources of wonder and light, almost never shut their mouths.” – Chris Bachelder
“My father loved to play. He still loves to play. How lucky are the children whose fathers genuinely love playing with them! I have been one of those children, and so it saddens me greatly that I have never been, and likely will never be, one of those fathers.” – Bruce Marchart
What a wonderful compendium of darkness and light, sadness and jubilation, and all around gorgeous writing is When I First Held You. Delve into these stories. Soak them in. Learn from them. Feel them. Because as a father, they represent you. They might not exactly mirror your personal tale, but the reflection is true and real and gorgeous.
And while When I First Held You is about the trials, tribulations and discoveries of fatherhood, it’s a book that any parent can enjoy, especially one that is a fan of great writing.
A version of this post recently appeared on his blog, Raising Sienna.
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