Becoming a father for the first time is a big deal. And like most big transitions, it’s easy for the deep significance of the change to get lost in details that are material, financial, logistical, and medical. Amidst all the planning and reflecting that I was able to do with my wife, there were some questions about what it meant to me personally to become a dad that merited some time and attention. Was I really being fully present and conscious to the miracle and mystery of new life? Was I appropriately grateful for the blessing that my wife and I were experiencing? Did I know what kind of dad I aspired to be? Was I clear on the intentions that would animate my relationship with our new child? To make sure that I had some time and space to focus powerfully on these big questions, I made an appointment at the mikveh.
When I arrived at Mayyim Hayyim, I brought my writing pad and my mental list of matters to tend to as part of my preparation to immerse. I took a shower, cleaned my nails, brushed my teeth, and then sat down to reflect.
I spent some time experiencing real gratitude for both the pregnancy and the birth soon to come. There had been times in my own life when I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen for me, so I allowed the miracle of the moment to wash over me. Then, I thought long and hard about the kind of father I aspired to be. I made a commitment to be as physically and emotionally present as I could be for the child we were soon to meet, and I thought a lot about the importance of both setting boundaries and encouraging dreams and creativity. I thought about all the wonderful things that my own father had done for me, and how I would take those with me when I became a father. And I got clear on a few ways I wanted to do things differently. I worked on a list of intentions that I committed to bring to the task of being a dad and wrote until I realized that I had nothing more to say. Then, and only then, did I put the writing pad away and descend the seven steps into the mikveh.
I had made the appointment for a month before our baby’s due date, but the little guy ended up arriving three weeks early. So the immersion ended up being just a few days before the birth, and all that reflection—and the spiritual transition of the dunk—were very fresh memories as I stood in the hospital holding our new son for the very first time.
I realized right then that I had watched enough TV and movie scenes of this moment to have internalized a vision of what was supposed to happen right then. According to Hollywood, I was supposed to experience intense wonder and joy, accompanied by a neurotic rush of questions, fears, doubts, and insights triggered by the physical arrival of our new son.
But that wasn’t my experience. Thanks to my immersion, I was clear about what the arrival of our son meant to me personally. I knew what kind of father I hoped to be, and what my intentions were as I embarked with my wife on this new adventure. Instead of the neurotic rush of questions, there was only the wonder and the joy… and a powerful sense of clarity, calm, and presence that were surely the result of feeling spiritually prepared for an important, complicated, and life-changing moment.
Dr. Max Klau is a leadership educator whose work focuses on guiding idealistic young adults through an inner process of leadership development. He is an alum of four Jewish service programs, has completed two years of service in Israel, and has led Jewish college students on service trips to Honduras, Ghana, and Ukraine. He is married to Beverly Klau (a Jewish educator involved in programming at Mayyim Hayyim) and is father to Bernie (3) and Sadie (1).