Since becoming a father three years ago, I’ve struggled to write about the beautiful and profound shift that has occurred in my life.

It happens like this. At least twice a month I sit down to write a blog about some meaningful part of my daily life as a dad, and I end up getting frustrated twenty minutes into it because the words that type don’t do this subject justice. I want to share a glimpse of the magic of fatherhood in at least one blog post, but as sentences turn into paragraphs, that magic gets lost inside of sentimental storytelling.

I don’t publish these blogs not because I’m afraid to be soft, but more because the stories end up reading like every other story I’ve heard parents share with other parents my whole life. Stories about the innocence of children. Stories about skinned knees. Stories about tender kisses and hugs.

Why is it this way? Why these same stories? Becoming a parent changes your very being, so it shouldn’t make sense that something so epic could be distilled so perfectly into short, sentimental stories. But somehow they do.  The story is just a drop of water, but it is the essence of a great ocean. This is why parents share these very familiar stories, because behind every one of those simple stories is a profound relationship with another soul.

Last night Norah woke up twice before midnight crying about her legs hurting. Both times I sprung out of bed and quietly but quickly walked down the hall to comfort her before she woke up Stella. Both times her face was wet with tears. She twisted around on the bed, reaching back to grab her calves and repeating the word “Hurt! Hurt! Hurt!” Both times I prayed over her legs and asked Jesus to take away her pain. I rubbed her legs and feet. I sang songs to her. Somewhere between the second and third song, she stopped sobbing and joined in during the few words that she understood. Slowly… very slowly… she drifted into sleep. After a few minutes of deep sleep, it was okay for me to tuck her blankets and return to my own bed.

On the third outburst of screaming, I told Candyce that I was out of ideas and that it was her turn to try to comfort Norah. Five minutes later, Candyce came back into the room and said with desperation and defiance: “Norah told me she doesn’t want me there. She wants you to help her.” So here I was, my third trip down the hall to comfort an agitated little three year old in the middle of the night.

I did the same thing. I prayed. I rubbed her legs. I sang. But after she fell back asleep, I decided to stay put, to keep holding her close and let myself drift into sleep.

I woke up four hours later to the sound of my cell phone alarm. It was time to get up for a full day of important meetings, maybe the most important meetings that I’ll host this year. I still had so much to prepare for in the two hours before the first meeting. But I pressed snooze anyway, not because I was dreadfully tired, but because it afforded me another few minutes to cherish the sweet sweet little girl whose warm breath fluttered on my cold cheek.

The two years of graduate school was punishing for me, mostly because I had to steal time away from my family for class, meetings, homework. Class. Meetings. Homework. Then I came home to a loving but tattered little family. Norah took it the hardest. Her little heart was raw, and it showed up sometimes in bad behavior, but mostly in tears. I did my best to make time for her every day, but some weeks and months were impossibly busy.  It’s a terrible day when you are too busy to see your own child.

On those difficult days, I would wake up in the middle of the night and give Candyce a kiss on the cheek. Then I’d walk down the hallway to find a sleeping Norah. I laid next to her, scooped her into my arms, told her how much I loved her and then fell back asleep. I would be gone by the time she woke up, off to fight another day. My hope was that even if she were not alert to the fact that I held her that night, maybe her little heart, her little soul would somehow feel closer to her Dad.

You hold your child because you think they need you. And in for that abrupt moment, that’s true. But the truth is that you hold your child because you need them.