He didn't grasp the importance of parenthood until he was well into it. Most assuredly, he had prepared himself for the toil and was by his wife's side or at the baby's call throughout infancy.
But it wasn't until a couple of years in that he understood how much his children truly needed him, rather than merely satisfied their needs for mommy with him. He was home alone with the kids for the weekend while his wife attended a conference out of town. Both children fell violently ill with stomach flu.
As indiscriminate as toddlers are normally, they are downright vile when sick. He bounced between changing his daughter and mopping up the former contents of her stomach to holding his son upright and then doing the same for him. Over and over. Sometimes he even got to change himself.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, exhaustion and frustration took their toll. Shuddering at the image of his children vomiting down his back, he actually began to question being a father.
"Maybe this isn't me," he thought, struggling to sleep before the next bout, wondering if he would still be willing to retrieve them. "Maybe they would be better off without me."
And then it started again, first one and then the other, heaving heartily, coughing up little more than bile now. He picked them up, held them and slumped against the bathroom door. A child on each arm, each groaning in suffering, he wept.
And then he realized he'd done this before. Not quite the same but close.
When he and his best friend discovered alcohol - vodka administered via Mexicali - his buddy since the age of nine overdid it by a country mile. Shaking the dice, he, his friend, his friend's older brother and his brother's friends slammed more of the cheap, clear liquor than any teenagers (or adults, for that matter) should ever imbibe.
The party ended with his friend collapsing out of his chair, all but unconscious. After he puked out a full day's food and drinks, they stripped him to his underwear and put him in the shower. The older boys were amused, but he was downright frightened. He stayed in the bathroom until his friend, already developing splotches from alcohol poisoning, could make it to bed.
He would have done anything for his best friend, then and now. They had remained close after all of those years. But he meant nothing compared to his own children, his flesh and blood dependents who lived and breathed because of him.
Whatever he was willing to do for his friend, he should be prepared to do a hundred times over for them. With that thought, he pulled his boy and girl close to him, their warm little cheeks touching his.
They were his to tend to, care for, love. And at that moment, he was the only one in the world there for them. So he gathered them up, cleaned them once again, and laid himself down between them ready for whatever.