What a Stuffed Duck Taught Me About Fatherhood
This duck makes me cry. In fact, I have cried over this duck more than you can possibly imagine. And yesterday, on Father’s Day no less, it taught me a new lesson about Fatherhood.
The Duck’s Story
About five years ago, I found out I was going to be a daddy. My wife surprised me in the airport picking me up from a business trip. There I was, late at night in a nearly empty airport sobbing while holding my wife tight feeling a tidal wave of emotions crash over me as a life-long dream was being realized. Yes, I said life-long. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a daddy. Even at the age of nine, I was told one day I’d make a great daddy. And here we were with a limitless future on the horizon weeping silently in one another’s arms.
The next day reality hit. We had NO kid stuff. It’s an odd thought now. Here we are with two little boys, and more kid stuff than adult stuff these days. But we were noobs. My wife and I had been together for almost fifteen years, so we had amassed quite a collection of non-kid stuff. Then the voices hit. The little niggling ones that asked questions like: “How can we afford a kid?” or “Am I really ready for a child?” or “How the hell can I live up to a lifetime of being told what an awesome daddy I’m going to be?” So, to quiet the those voices, we went shopping for baby stuff!
We searched around all of the baby stores looking for something to buy. Not knowing if it was going to be a boy or girl made it pretty hard. Then we found this duck. We took the duck home along with a book, and I began the nightly ritual of reading to mommy’s tummy every night. I won’t go into the whole story as I have already talked about it here, in greater detail. Long story short, we lost the baby. It’s name was Peanut. And when I got the call, my world fell out from under me. We took one last night to read to Peanut and say good-bye. I hugged the duck and cried as I felt I was dying inside.
We kept trying and had our first son. And because I
didn’t want to was completely unable to get rid of the duck, I gave it to my son. It became one of his toys and I was fine with that. Then we had a second boy and the duck gladly fit into the array of boy-chaos around the house. Things were fine.
Then a Tornado Hit Moore, Oklahoma
I know what you’re thinking, what the hell does a tornado five states away and a stuffed duck have to do with me learning about fatherhood? I’m getting there. A friend of mine in Moore, OK posted a facebook event where they were taking teddy bear donations for the kids who lost everything. I pledged my assistance and asked an awesome group of men from my church if they wanted to help out. The Courageous Dads group stepped up and we put the call out to the rest of the church that we needed animals. The call went out during services and on facebook. The response was amazing. But I digress…
We told my oldest son about the animal drive and asked if he had anything he wanted to donate to the cause. He thoughtfully looked through his pile o’ toys and produced a cute stuffed doggy…and the duck. My gut told me to put the duck away and tell him to pick something else. But I realized something. The duck didn’t mean nearly as much to him as it did me. And I decided it was time to let the little guy go. I choked up as I talked to my wife about it. She could see the pain in my eyes and asked if I really wanted to do this. I nodded quietly. Yeah, it felt right.
So, I took it to the church on the first day of our animal drive and I lovingly placed it in the bin. Looking back, it was almost reverence. The following weeks saw the bin being filled and re-filled and re-filled again. There were so many animals in the church lobby. It made my heart happy and I knew I made the right choice.
Father’s Day Meltdown
This Sunday, Father’s Day, the entire congregation did a “Blessing of the Bears”. They had all of the animals lined up across the stage, up on the altar, across the top of the piano…there were animals everywhere. When I walked in, I saw the duck. During the first song, they invited people to come up and take an animal to pray over if they wanted to. And, of course, I had to have the duck. I needed one last moment with it. And some other lady took it as I was reaching for it. I thought some nasty thoughts as I took a couple of animals back to our seats. My wife looked at me. “I thought for sure you were going to get the duck.”
Yeah, I would have but that old biddy over there got it as I was reaching for it. Yeah, I was mad. And I was mad at myself for being mad. So, instead of festering over it, I walked over to the lady and explained why I wanted that duck. She nodded and swapped animals with me. I know this sounds silly…but at the time, it was the single most important thing to me. As the service went on, I realized that pastor was talking to me. I don’t know what sermon everyone else heard, but the one I heard was aimed directly at me. Some of the words stung. Some of them hurt. But they all rang true.
I held the duck. I prayed. And I cried. Dear Lord, I cried. It was during the service that I had an epiphany. The reason I needed the duck was because I wanted one last moment with Peanut. Wait..what? Yeah, over the years I had equated the duck to our lost child. Somehow, I had put all of my joy, pain, longing, anger, and loss into this inanimate object. Deep down, I was afraid of letting the duck go, for fear of forgetting about Peanut. Ever see a parent who loses a child and then keeps the child’s room exactly the same even decades later? I realized the only tangible thing I had was the duck…and by trying to hold onto it, was doing the whole ‘room thing’.
I realized that by letting the duck go, I could actually say good-bye. I could finally let the wound close. I could finally begin to heal. It also made me realize how truly devastated I was when we lost the baby to begin with. It made me see how I had suppressed the pain because, I was just the dad…I didn’t feel it was fair for me to hurt as much as my wife. She was the one carrying it, after all. I also realized, that by her feeling her pain and processing it those years ago, she was in a much healthier place than I was. So, I held the little duck tight and prayed that whoever got the duck could feel the healing hand of God the way I just had.
And when the service was over, we put the animals back in their place. And instead of setting it down with the reverence of a holy relic, I put a stuffed duck in the pile. Because, that’s what it is. A duck. It wasn’t my lost child. No, Peanut is in my heart. And always will be. And I realized that I love Peanut as much as I do my two sons. And, maybe someday, we’ll finally get to meet. Until then, I’m content with my memories of those few weeks as Peanut helped me figure out if I was ready to be a dad.
Goodbye Peanut. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally
ready able to let you go. Thank you for everything. You helped teach me that I COULD be a dad, and that I was ready to be one, in the short time we had together.