A Gift to Embrace
God is the giver of amazing gifts, overwhelmingly wonderful gifts. But there's such a thing as our not knowing how to receive them. That was the case for me when my firstborn child, Alicia, arrived at Presbyterian Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
I was only twenty-three at the time, a young married man with a horrible past and a relatively new faith in the Lord. I was still trying to figure out how to be a decent husband to my beautiful bride, Gloria, and suddenly I found myself with the task of being a father to a precious little girl, as well. How could I possibly measure up?
Just a few years earlier a court-appointed psychologist had told me that I would never be normal. Five times he looked me in the eyes, point blank, and said, "Nicky, there is no way you can ever have a normal family. With a past like yours you'll never be able to make a marriage last. You'll be a wife beater, and you'll abuse your kids if you ever have any." He also told me the reason: "You have a dark side in your life—a side that's killing you, slowly but surely. You don't know how to love, and you don't know how to be loved."
Now here I was, a new husband and father, and those words haunted me at every turn.
From the moment we brought Alicia home from the hospital, Gloria could tell something was wrong. Several times I caught her watching me from across the room as I would bend over our daughter's crib and make faces. I'd tickle her under her tiny arms and brush her face with my hands, but I never picked her up. I didn't know how.
One evening, when Alicia was four weeks old, Gloria decided to confront me about this. I had just taken a shower and was leaning over our baby's crib, making gestures with my mouth and laughing at her reactions. Gloria could no longer keep silent. "What's the matter, Nicky?" she said. "What are you afraid of? Why don't you ever hold our baby?"
I didn't know what to say. I was too proud to admit my fears, so I just stood looking at her, speechless.
There was a lot of my background that I'd kept hidden from Gloria. She knew that I had a sordid past—much more brutal than most—but I'd never told her just how painful and abusive my childhood had been. I was convinced that she would never have married me if she'd known about the horrible things I had experienced—and done. So I never told her everything. "Tell me, Nicky," Gloria persisted. "Why don’t you ever want to hold Alicia?"
Finally I said to her, "I don’t know how."
She seemed surprised by my answer. "Then let me show you," she said.
Gently she scooped Alicia into her arms and instructed me to extend my hands toward her. She slowly placed Alicia into my arms and told me to bend my elbows and let her roll toward my chest. I did as she said, as slowly and gently as I knew how. I'd never held a baby, and I was afraid I might hurt her.