When my son Pearson was born, he weighed five pounds and four ounces, had a wheezy cry and pink skin with just a little too much yellow. Shortly after the miracle of birth (which I have previously described as “pulling a frog out of a butterball turkey”), they whisked him and his sister away to get cleaned up and swaddled. Later that day they would take my boy up to the NICU and observe him, occasionally putting him under biliruben lights that reminded me of the heating lamps in fast-food restaurants.
And then the nurse told me to take off my shirt.
I was unaware that one did such things. The nurse directed me as one would tell a newcomer to the Royal Court the proper method of curtsey: “now you take off your shirt and sit in that chair over there, and I’ll put little Pearson on you for some skin-to-skin time.”
Of course. What?
Paternal skin-to-skin contact, as it turns out, calms and comforts a newborn. Mothers and doctors cite the bonding that occurs as the infant takes in the warmth and smell of the parent. It is meant to aid in reassuring the newborn after the traumas of birth, which assists in breastfeeding and even (some theorize) long-term child-parent relationships. (1)
I was a little nervous. My experience with newborn babies, let alone my shirtless experience with newborn babies, was limited at best. (2) But though I was nervous, I felt that this was something good to do, something I was supposed to do, so off went the shirt and I held Pearson tight against me, hospital swaddle covering us both. His little chicken arms stretched, and tiny hands grasped at my chest. His breath, still wheezy from early lungs that were yet-unpracticed, was fast and shallow at first but began to slow and deepen. He was warm and small and so light!
I only held him for a few minutes then. I don’t know whether our time together made him a better nurser, or whether it bonded him to me, but I know it bonded me to him. The experience is now indelible in my mind. To this day I seek every opportunity to snatch up that little boy, hold him close, listen to his little breaths and nuzzle against his hair. Any time he wants to be held I will drop what I am doing and hold him. I secretly love it when he wakes up in the night and wants comfort, because it means he might end up in bed between me and Sumer. Whenever he wants to turn to me, I will turn to him.
I’m a young father, and I guess not all fathers are like this, but I believe in a Father in Heaven who feels this way. Sometimes when I read the scriptures I hear a Father desperate to hold us in his bosom:
God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.
And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
I don’t know how long my son will be willing to let me steal hugs and nuzzles. I suspect as he gets older, he will begin to slip away; but I also suspect that my bond to him will not slip away so easily. Perhaps God feels this bond to us, and though we strike out on our own and pretend not to need his love, he needs it still. He must feel something for us, because we read: “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is a love that surpasses my own. I cannot imagine loving another so much that I could give my son, but this is the love of our Father.
I expect that whenever my son wants to turn to me, I will welcome it. Whenever I have turned to my Heavenly Father, without exception, I have found him there welcoming me. Sometimes I feel like I can’t turn to him, that I wouldn’t be welcome; sometimes I feel like there is too much in the way: the world, my own sins, sometimes even his church. But if God feels for me anything like what I feel for my son, I know that he will never not embrace a son or daughter who seeks to press against his bosom. This all-surpassing love is completely amazing to me.
Ours is not a God without body, parts or passions; we have a Father who sees and loves us. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
(1) There is much literature on this topic. See, e.g., ScienceDaily (June 12, 2007), summarized at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070611113914.htm
(2) It still is pretty limited.