I was surprised to hear it, of course.
I’d just been a little guy at the time, maybe six months old. And, as best I could recall, I hadn’t contributed much more to the world than a child usually does in that eat-and-excrete stage of life.
But, like my brother, who was 3 years old at the time, I’ve been assured that I played a powerful role in my father’s recovery from polio.
It was not a clinical role, of course. And, given his patience and grit, I think he likely would have made it back on his own anyway.
Still, he and my mother insist that the two little and largely unaware guys we were became his most powerful motivators on the difficult path to recovery.
It wasn’t my brother and me at all, of course.
It was my father’s love for us. It was his sense of obligation to us and to our mother, who during Dad’s illness took over all the daily tasks of running a household while carrying a double burden of worry: worry over his health and worry over what might become of us all if she lost him or was faced with caring for a debilitated husband and two small children for the foreseeable future.
At this time of year when so many are focused on the coming of a new baby, the many things that change in a family when a child arrives often are overlooked.
The arrival of my daughter’s son a little more than a year ago meant not only the coming of a new child to the word, but a new father and mother, new grandfathers and grandmothers, new uncles and aunts and cousins and second cousins.
His new life not only gave birth to these new roles and relationships, it brought new meaning to many of them that existed when his parents were only husband and wife, his grandparents only parents, his uncles and aunts only sons and daughters, and so on.
The love and excitement all felt not only forged new connections, but breathed new life into old relationships, providing the opportunity, as births do, for people to lay down old burdens and grudges, some of which they didn’t even know they were carrying.
It’s at this time of year that we sing songs with lyrics like “O, come let us adore him.”
But year round, people leave their homes, hop into cars, on to airplanes and sacrifice working wages to board buses and trains just to get a look at a new one, just to get a chance to hold and adore him or her.
How powerful this is can be lost on us.
Because as we adore a newborn, something happens: Our hearts open up. And when our hearts are open, we have the chance to look at one another with more tender, loving and understanding eyes. And that’s a window of opportunity for healing, strengthening and change.
The early engineer Archimedes claimed that with a large enough lever, he could move the earth. He made less progress trying to pry open a closed heart.
It should be considered a proper miracle that a newborn can pull that off without giving it a thought.
Email Tom Stafford your thoughts and ideas about his column at firstname.lastname@example.org