One night, I was sitting on my bed, my 3 month old baby girl playing in my lap throwing her hands and legs around in an increasingly more fluid and less robotic fashion. The room was dark but there was enough light for us to see each other’s faces. I could see that she was looking right at me while I kept bringing my face down and placing the tip of my nose on hers, like I love doing all the time. She brought her hands to my face and started exploring my cheeks, pulling my hair, rubbing my beard and grabbing my nose, like she had recently learnt to do. Somewhere during this little episode, the realization hit me with an intensity like never before that I was now a father of a girl who I loved so much that it was impossible to describe. Just to look at her playing calmly in my lap gave me a sense of happiness. It felt like I was in a deep state of meditation, in a cave far away from the rest of humanity, and it opened my mind to thoughts I never had before. I was discovering how much I loved my daughter. Right here in that moment, perhaps she was learning to love me too. I was her window to the world, but did she know that right now? I realized that there is something special about a father-daughter relationship that only fathers and daughters can understand.
It is incredibly difficult to know the heart of a father, I realized. Mostly because society talks more about mother’s love, fatherhood gets a distant second mention. Mind you, I don’t think any less about mothers. After all, they go through nine months of pregnancy, then a painful and potentially life threatening delivery, and then years of the child being stuck to them for physical as well as emotional nourishment. It is a huge task and my respect for mothers has only increased with our own experience. But what about a father? What can explain the way he falls in love with a baby who is still in the mother’s womb, months away from birth? He, who accompanies the mother-to-be to the midwife clinics every time and remembers to ask the important questions which she herself would be too nervous to remember. He, who stands by her for dozens of hours while she is in labour, encouraging her to go on. He, who sees the baby’s head and her body come out into the world. And he who then stays awake for the rest of his life so that he can protect them both from the very same world. And finally he, who decades later stays calm and takes charge, while the mother loses herself crying and howling, when that daughter leaves them for her new life with a new partner.
My chain of thoughts is suddenly broken as my 3 month old darling daughter scratches hard with her nails right next to my left eye. In the dark, I know she can see my face and the tears that had just fallen from my eyes. Is it just her innocence or is she telling me not to worry right now? After all, she has barely learnt to move her limbs and there is still a long way to go. I lift her up, hold her tight to my chest and kiss her on her cheeks, and then on her forehead while she continues the exploration of my face and neck with her tiny hands. We sit there like that for a long time as I learn what it is like being a dad to a girl. I used to think that fathers are furthest in the chain of emotions, but holding my little girl in my arms, I question how that could ever be true. I know now how my dad feels about my younger sisters, even though he never shows it, and how much they really must love him back. I know how much my wife loves his father and how much my mom her own. That I am now myself part of this sacred relationship makes me feel special, enlightened.
So, I look down back at my darling daughter and tell her what every father tells his daughter, ‘Nitara! My dear Noni! Papa loves you.’