'To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.'
Winston Churchill was not referring to parenting when he uttered these words, however, if he had been, I would have gone right out and bought his parenting book. My greatest achievements as well as my greatest failures in life have all revolved around fatherhood and my ability to adapt to change. In the infancy of my venture into parenting I realized that great triumphs and failures could be experienced in one short visit to the changing table.
Like many men, I was not fully prepared for the degree of servant-hood required to be a new daddy. My wife seemed to step into her new mommy role like she had been training for it all her life. While my formulitive years were spent playing with trucks and shooting army men with rubber bands, she was caring for her dolls and making sure that the cat was dressed up nice. I approached fatherhood knowing it would require some sacrifice, but I didn't realize my underestimation until my early attempts at diaper changing.
Many hours had been spent setting up the nursery; I restored the crib that my parents had used for my sister and I , we wallpapered and decorated in primary colors, I even crafted a solid oak cradle. It all seemed pleasant and good except for the vinyl clad mystery that loomed in the corner. It was a changing table. My wife had convinced me that we needed one, but I wasn't sure why.
"Why can't we just change him in the crib?" I asked innocently. My wife responded with a chuckle and the 'you've got to be kidding' look. The table had some compartments for stuff; I figured we'd keep some toys and maybe a blanket in it. The top was a padded flat surface, but it was vinyl and didn't look very comfortable. Surely our newborn would prefer having his diaper changed in the comfort of my lap.
The glorious day arrived when my son was born. I had dreamed of that moment for years, but never in my dreams did I realize how tired I would be. I new that women always seemed to go into labor in the middle of the night, but I was unaware that it was usually another twenty four hours before they actually gave birth. My fear had been that I might miss breakfast; I never expected to miss a whole day. About the time things finally quieted down and I was able to fall asleep in the most uncomfortable chair in the hospital, our relatives began to stream in. Hours passed until the last spectator bid farewell, then the hospital kicked us out. I couldn't believe they were sending me out in my delicate condition, and my wife seemed tired to. The thought of stretching out in my own bed did seem appealing so I didn't put up a fuss.
Arriving home my wife informed me that she needed to sleep and that I needed to care for the baby. It seemed odd that she was the tired one, she had been lying down most of the time at the hospital while I had been standing, but I figured my son and I could bond with a little nap on the love seat in the nursery. As my wife retired to our bedroom, I got comfortable on the loveseat and held my son close to my heart. It was a precious moment that lasted nearly seven minutes. Then a strange sound filled the room followed by an even stranger warm sensation on my shirt and arms. Diaper leakage was never discussed in our new parent's class, but the grim reality was literally staring me in the face. Then the changing table caught my eye and a sense of hope filled my heart. I rushed over to the table, being as gentle with my child as I could, set him on it and then frantically removed my shirt, threw it in the garbage and began to scrub myself with baby wipes. A cry brought my back to a state of consciousness and I looked down at my son. He was completely helpless and in great need of a few diaper wipes himself. I had never changed a diaper alone before, but how hard could it be?
The first challenge was to remove the old diaper without touching it. This was further complicated by the jerky little movements of my son's legs. I managed to undo the adhesive tapes and open up the diaper. I stepped back in shock at the site of it, and the realization that I wasn't wearing protective gloves or safety goggles. It was at that moment that those chubby little legs kicked in to high gear and started stomping in the mess I was trying to clean up. Snatching the dirty diaper, I tossed it into pail and grabbed a clean one in one smooth fluid movement. The nightmare was almost over, until I realized he was dirtying another diaper, and the diaper hadn't even been installed yet. It was becoming apparent why my wife had insisted on buying the changing table. The thought of trying to do this on my lap sent shivers down my spine.
Needless to say we survived that ordeal, and my wife even managed to sleep through it. There were many new discoveries to follow that centered around that changing table. I learned that just when you think you've got everything under control, God seems to throw you a curve ball, like introducing solid food. I also learned practical lessons, like covering a baby boy's privates with a diaper rag when changing; it's not just for modesty sake. The greatest thing I learned was that I had someone who needed me. No matter how big a mess he made, I would be there to help him clean it up. There were times when a major diaper eruption brought on the feeling that he would never be clean again, that he was ruined. As a loving father I had to approach those moments with care, diligence and sometimes several packages of diaper wipes. No mess was ever too big, and no clean up operation, even though some took longer than others, ever failed to provide the desired results.
That baby boy is almost sixteen years old now. Through the years we have taught each other many things. Currently I am teaching him how to drive, and he is teaching me that, during some of the near-misses we have had, it might be beneficial if I wore diapers. If I had to choose the single most important thing that fatherhood has taught me it would be that having someone who needs you is a beautiful thing. I realize that God must delight in my dependency on him. During times that He has had to help me clean up the messes I have made in my life, He never stops loving me. Change is inevitable, and with each change comes a new kind of mess, but the love of the Father never fails to make right what we have made wrong, and with each change comes a renewed strength to move on to the next challenge.
Brad Paulson is a Construction Superintendent by day and a freelance writer by night. His focus is to honor Christ through his writing. Several of his short stories have been published in Faithwriters anthology books. He has also contributed to a number of print and online magazines.