7:26 a.m. My daughter Angel Leigh Vaughn was handed to me eyes shut closed from nine months of darkness trapped in her mother's womb like a caterpillar waiting to break free from its shell so it can transform into God's great intention, my butterfly. Her body covered in the afterbirth that was used to protect and shelter her from harm while in her mother's womb. Suddenly, her cries begin to drown out every sound in the room, and as I held her, I began to feel something tingling up my spine and releasing a certain euphoria that only new life could produce. With such responsibility in my hands, fear started to consume my thoughts and emotions: fear that I would fail, fear that I would fail Angel Leigh Vaughn. I began to pray. I prayed for courage. I knew I would need it.
Three days ago, at 2:00 a.m. in Austin, TX at my little two bedroom two story duplex on Spoke Court that I shared with my roommate Hector, a 6'2" 275 lb Hispanic with wandering eyes, quick fist, and a love for Slayer, there was a knock at the door. As I heard that knock, a strange feeling consumed me. It was like a sixth sense telling me this was no good knock. I felt like I wanted to throw up, and it wasn't because of the two 18 packs of Bud Light that my roommate, Hector, and I had consumed. It was a different type of nausea. As I answered the door with a Bud Light bottle in my hands, there she was: the mother of my daughter Angel Leigh Vaughn. She appeared out of the front porch light, with fog-like mist rising up from the ground engulfing her presence like something out of a James Cagney film. Chablie Sanchez was there with Angel Leigh Vaughn crying, and as the fog brushed over her, I could see droplets from the mist-like fog produced falling down the hairline of her head consuming her tears blending in to her like it was just part of the night. It was a moment that I will never forget. It was her words that hit me like a ton of bricks, very subtle and sad, she stated, "Please I'm not ready. Take her." And with a quick lunge and handoff, Angel Leigh Vaughn was in my arms, and just as fast as I looked down at Angel Leigh, I heard the car door close. There was no room for discussion or compromising. Her mother, Chablie Sanchez, was gone, and from that day on, Angel was mine.
It's been three months, and still, the fear of the responsibility of taking care of a child consumes me. I question everything. Am I changing her right? Am I feeding her right? Am I making an impression on her? Does she even know who I am? Am I wrong for not picking her up just because she cries? It's obvious that I lack something. I just can't put my finger on it. God has a funny way of sorting things out. I had faith that God would sort me out, because I needed him. I don't mean to whine. You see, I have always believed that real men don't talk. They just do. Here I was just doing. Angel Leigh was turning out to be something of a terror. First, she began to crawl, and I thought that was pretty cool until she started crawling into the cabinets like mini GI Joe. She was everywhere. I went out and bought a play pen, and let me tell you; she hated it! She cried every time I placed her in it. My roommate, Hector, looked after her when I could not because of work. Their relationship was hysterical! I believe it was love and hate. He would get so frustrated and say, "Angel Leigh, I'm not going to pick you up! You're staying in there!" It was two men and a baby, and it was funny because neither of us knew what we were doing, but we weren't giving up. Hector would not let me. Then, she began to walk and talk. I tell you, she will not shut up. Walking for her was like an answer from God. She no longer cried over the play pen; she just climbed out. She no longer cared if you picked her up because she would just crawl up your leg to your waist and on your back. Heights had no fear for her. If I turned my head, I would find her in the strangest places: in the cabinet, above the sink, on top of the car, or even on top of the mantle dancing like she had just climbed Everest and, as if to say to the world, "I am here, and I am Angel, and I have come to conquer." Conquer she did; she conquered my heart.
I saw her eyes twinkle and a small smile of content rose over her face. Calm, cool, and collected as if she knew I was here forever. Here to never leave. Here to protect her. Here until the end of time. She looked at me with such grace and innocence as if to say, "Dad, I love you." I pulled her close and hugged her so tight as if I was trying to hold on to that very moment, embedding it in my brain, putting the memory away in my mind, locking it away in my own personal vault, cherishing it. It was her first birthday, and finally, some answers to my questions were revealed. Did she know I was there? Yes, she did; she knew I was the only one there. Did I do right by not picking her up just because she cried? Yes, I did; it made her independent and strong. Did I change her diapers right? Yes, I did; she never had a rash. Did I feed her right? Yes, I did; she was healthy. Was I being strong for her? Yes, I was; she was strong, and most of all, she was with me, and I was happy with her. On her first birthday, she looked at me and words could not describe the look. Like I said, I pulled her close and gripped her small infant body with such love and content, and even though her breath barely escaped her, she embraced my hug and gave it right back. She was my angel, and I was her father forever until the end of time. She ran off to the jungle gym, laughing as loud as she could, drowning out again every sound in the room. At that moment, I knew that the Lord had given me something. He gave me courage. Because of that courage, I am here with my daughter, Angel Leigh Vaughn. She is mine, and I am hers.
Courage passes through my bloodline like the blue blood is before it hits air. It streams through my veins flowing directly through my body like a river without rapids. In times of fear, courage quickly consumes any and all thought of fear. It engulfs the doubt that plagues me, helping me to let go of weakness and emboldening me with strength. I am a strong man. I will not be subdued to life. It's in my bloodline to survive. It allows me to overcome any atrocity life has to offer. Courage, it gives me strength when I think I have none. After facing responsibility for my daughter Angel Leigh, I now look every problem in the eye. I now know what God gave me, or should I say, "He allowed me, courage." My daughter is ten years old now, and I'm still here - forever her father. She is forever my daughter. We live together, we eat together, and we breathe together. Courage is my inherited trait, and I will not forget that.
John Vaughn is a resident of Sweetwater. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.