“When I First held You” by Various Authors, Edited by Brian Gresko

You’ve done some scary things in your life.

It’s a wonder you survived your childhood, in fact: the heights you jumped from, rides you took, things you ate, dares you accepted. It’s a wonder you’re even alive.

Yep, you’ve done some scary things – but nothing was as terrifying as the moment your firstborn was placed in your arms. As you’ll see in “When I First Held You,” edited by Brian Gresko, that’s a heart-pounder that may last forever.

Try to describe what it’s like to be a father, and you may have a bit of trouble.

It’s about love, certainly. Ferocious protectiveness; that’s a given. Fear of failure, maybe, or as Darin Strauss says in his foreword, fatherhood is “something like contentment, only more profound… a warm fullness around the heart, like a water heater squirting everywhere inside the rib cage.”

When a man becomes a father, he learns, says Dennis Lehane, that “we don’t control anything. Nada. Niente. Nothing.” Peace of mind is an illusion, and the “Anything Could Happen at Any Time Chunk of Fate” could hit anywhere.

Fatherhood makes a man understand his own father, even if he wasn’t there at conception but “chose to be” a father, as did Gresko’s Pop. Becoming a father also proves that “the business of making new people is actually pretty important,” says Lev Grossman. It’s a chance to watch science in action, says Anthony Doerr, since your children are “tiny emissaries… repositories of ancient DNA…” from your genes and that of their mother.

But being a father has a flip-side, too.

It sometimes means living hundreds of miles away from your child because you’re not with his mother anymore. You might also have to live with your heart in your throat because the “earth brims with the bones of children” who didn’t live to adulthood. It means giving up sleep, time, silence, and vomit-free clothes. Fatherhood makes you understand that you owe a lot of people a lot of apologies. You’ll have to learn to play, to embrace failure, endure sickness, and let your kids go.

And that may be the hardest thing of all.

You know what I liked best about this book? I liked that “When I First Held You” wasn’t all heart-tugging and teary like many of its ilk. No, it made me laugh, it made me miss my Dad, and its truth kept me on my toes while I was reading.

The honesty – that’s what I liked.

Editor Brian Gresko offers readers a wide variety of experiences – we see the ups and downs of fatherhood through the eyes of 22 authors and writers, and not a one of them flinches from reality. Through these essays, we see warts and fears, loss, irritation, and yes, we see astoundingly fierce, blinding love.

No doubt that Dads – new and experienced – will enjoy this book, but it’s also great for Dads-to-be. If you’re a man who’s loved a child, “When I First Held You” is a book you won’t be able to let go.