Sweet Child of Mine

Illustration: OWN Digital

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C.J. Evans on the long, hard road to connection.

For the first four months of my son's life, he never, not once, slept longer than two hours at a stretch. His crying was a shrill wail we could not quiet. My wife and I tried everything: medication for acid reflux, pacing the hallway, rasping "shh, shh, shh" until we went hoarse. Once we had to go back to work, we split shifts. I'd watch him scream until 2 a.m., then take him into our bedroom, where my wife would lie with him until 6. I would sleep a few hours on the too-short sofa, then get our 2-year-old daughter ready for preschool.

There were no happy times with him, no cuddling or playing. For fathers, who don't have the intimacy of pregnancy or breastfeeding, parenthood is something that deepens with time and interaction. But all he did was scream at me. Sometimes I screamed back. I'd walk away from the useless swing, shut off the music that wasn't soothing him, and bury my face in my hands. I felt nothing but doubt and worry and emergency.

One morning, as usual, I stared blankly into his shrieking face as I put him in his swing, said goodbye to the nanny and got on the bus to go to work. Ten minutes later, my wife called, frantic. The nanny had heard him crying, the sound muffled. She found him facedown, and when she picked him up, his lips were blue. I had forgotten to buckle him in. He had turned over in the swing, his face pressing against the padded seat. My wife was racing home to take him to the hospital. I shoved my way off the bus and sprinted the 15 blocks to our house.

I can still feel the adrenaline in my hands and feet during that run, the flush in my face. As the world narrowed to a pinpoint, as everything besides getting home to my son ceased to matter, I felt the connection that had grown without my even realizing it. This moment of terror showed me that I had become his father.

He's a year and a half old now, healthy and happy. Another few seconds, the doctor said that day, and he would have had brain damage. Or worse. We were lucky—so lucky. I had almost lost him. Not just a baby. Not just my responsibility. But Auden, whom I loved.