For this father, everything changed 19 years ago

    In the course of human history, a few billion babies have been born. They all came into being the same way, and most of them were held by their fathers in the first moments of life. Yet nothing was commonplace about the first time I held my son.

     

     

    Originally published Sept. 12, 1994, in the The Times of Trenton

    Ricky Henry’s arrival has left me no choice but to write about him.

    In the course of human history, a few billion babies have been born. They all came into being the same way, and most of them were held by their fathers in the first moments of life. Nothing could be more commonplace, even mundane.

    Yet nothing was commonplace about the first time I held my son on Aug. 13. Language, even in the hands of someone far more skilled than I, could never approach the feelings I had. Still, they beg for expression.

    As Ricky and I gazed at each other, conventional time took a vacation. His birth changed 2:30 a.m. into dawn; his eyes transformed the present into the future; his face, with strands of ancestors I never even knew, took me instantly to yesterday.

    No doubt about it: my father’s nose. No, it was my grandmother Summer’s. But there was no mistaking my wife’s chin. No, it was her father’s. Or could it have been his father’s?

    Funny that a life so new also could be so ancient.

    Where did those eyes come from, staring so quizzically at everything? Still newborn blue, they revealed little of their lineage. But they were busy. There had been nothing to see in the dark security of the womb. Still, what his eyes were seeing at that moment mattered less to me than what they would see.

    I wished I could promise only Monet, but I knew they would find Delacroix as well. Eyes now filled with an unparalleled innocence would someday have to gaze at aspects of humanity so terrible that we have learned to look away. Yet this was no time for that kind of thinking.

    This was a time to cry elephant tears of joy and hope, which is exactly what I did.

    For what are babies if not the physical representation of hope? They reinforce in us the cycle of life, but they also propose to make life better, to right our wrongs, to travel roads we have missed.

    Just looking at a healthy newborn’s perfect little body tells us that it’s too soon to give up. Could tiny little fingers like that do anything but good?

    In the tired haze that follows the birth of a child, Cindy and I are learning to be parents. Moments that I once thought could come only once in a lifetime are happening so often that I’m afraid of forgetting them.

    When Ricky was about 18 hours old, he was crying as he lay on my chest in our hospital room. I scooted him against my voice box and began to hum. I could feel the melody vibrate through his whole little body. Soon, he quieted and his breath told me he was drifting off. In a quiet darkness that forever will belong only to Ricky and me, I began singing the words: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

    Ricky’s fingers are much larger now, but they are still doing good. He is a violinist studying at the Boyer College of Music. He prefers to be called Rick, and his eyes are green, like his mother’s.

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