Life as a New Dad in Brooklyn
On April 12, my wife Elisa and I welcomed a new addition to our family: Benjamin Page Booker. In the deep of the night, we packed ourselves up and forded the great river, making camp on the Isle of Manhattan to await the long expected babe. With spring’s morning light streaming across the room and Claude Debussy’s glorious works for piano cascading from the speakers, our seven pound, five ounce wondrous boy cried out his first breath to the tears, smiles, and amazement of his parents and all in attendance. What a gift to emblazon and burnish this story on our hearts! It was an experience we will both carry together, just as countless generations have carried before us.
One month into our time as parents, I’ve followed the sound advice of family and friends and begun to journal and reflect on this new adventure. So, in its briefest form, here is a week-by-week series of observations from my little corner of happiness in Brooklyn with young Benjamin.
Week One: An Oak of Righteousness
Elisa and I decided to proclaim our baby’s name upon his birth and not before. After writing a massive list of familial and Biblical names to consider, we narrowed it down to a select few. Then suddenly out of the blue, a new name — Benjamin Page — became a whisper on our hearts. In Hebrew, Benjamin (בִּנְיָמִין or Binyamin) means “son of the right hand,” which beautifully knits together with my paternal great-grandfather (and my) middle name, Page, which from its English tradition is quite literally a servant unto others. In the Old Testament, he was the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons who founded one of the southern tribes. (Funny enough, our immediate family had started calling him BBB or “Baby Boy Booker” during the pregnancy; they were just off by one word in Benjamin!) Upon greeting his face for the first time on that sunny April morning, again we whispered this name over his precious, trembling form, praying this identity, character, and soul into his new life.
Week Two: On the Subject of Eating and Sleeping
I wouldn’t be part of the new dad club if I didn’t mention the newfound patterns of eating, sleeping, crying, and pooping that come with the territory. To my surprise, the question I’ve always asked other parents of newborns was wrong: instead of inquiring how a baby is sleeping which, in turn, leads to good eating, the opposite is true. If he eats well, frequently, and fully, then (in theory) he will sleep more soundly and for increasing lengths of time. So much of the first few weeks of life (also called a “fourth trimester”) is a period of acclimating to this brave new world, developing new habits, and looking to us for tireless (ha!) leading him in the most basic rhythms of existence. In this, my wife is truly the unsung superhero and ultimate champion: deftly running a full service 24-hour operation with incredible patience, skill, and love. We make a great team together, but I am all the richer for her beautiful, graceful prelude and first act into motherhood.
Week Three: Getting to Know You
I know I’m a new dad with rose colored glasses, and this little guy can sometimes be perceived as the grownup equivalent of a shiny plaything, but I genuinely think caring for a newborn is a fascinating experience. I’ve so often heard that the few few months are rather boring because babies don’t do anything, can’t hold a conversation, and sleep all the time. Au contraire, mes amies! I find Benjamin highly entertaining: watching his every move, observing the way he sorts out his surroundings with those bright hazel eyes, and enjoying the very visible neurons firing as he figures out the mechanics of tucking his little fists in a comfortable spot right under his chin. Even the way he can mimic me when I stick out my tongue or open my mouth wide (both responses that can happen immediately after a baby is born) is truly remarkable. He is growing before my very eyes: astonishing and awe-filled with each tiny noise, inquisitive gleam in his eyes, and fierce grip of his hand on my finger.
Week Four: Communion
It’s a joy and a patient challenge to learn how to communicate with an infant. One month in, Elisa and I are figuring out what makes him tick, interpreting different cries, and picking up on other physical cues that thankfully surface when no verbal feedback lets us know it’s time for a feeding, diaper change, or nap. It doesn’t stop us from sharing a barrage of conversation (mostly talking to ourselves) or heaps of storytelling (both from our crowded shelves and sleepy imaginations) with Benjamin. If anything, it prepares us for those future opportunities to develop more nuanced idea sharing with him: sign language, drawing, music expression, romance languages, dancing, and the beginnings of storytelling. I’m so excited to impart the full richness of life’s many expressions, colors, facets, and wonders with my son!
When we prepared a room for him in our Brooklyn home, we sealed into the walls (under the paint) a verse from the Book of Isaiah, adapting it into a song of proclamation that embodies our hopes and dreams in Benjamin’s life.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Benjamin… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… to bestow on him a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. He will be called an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor… He will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd his flocks; foreigners will work his fields and vineyards… And so he will inherit a double portion in his land, and everlasting joy will be his…”
—Isaiah 61 (paraphrase)