“Be a father. It lives up to the hype.”
—Charlie to Will in The Newsroom

It’s a quarter past nine in the evening as I write this. Exactly one year ago at this hour, I was in the labor room with Daphne, helping her with the breathing and relaxation techniques we had picked up from birth class. In about five and a half hours, at 2:40AM, our first child would be born—3.9 kg, 52.5 cm, and really angry. (I’m sure there is a medical term for all that wonderful screaming.) He, Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan or, fondly, Adi, would in turn birth the mother and the father in Daphne and me, new roles that we have been learning to embrace this past year with much joy and trembling, lots of prayers, and never enough sleep.

Since becoming a father, I have been asked by friends to describe how I felt that moment in the delivery room when I first saw Adi. For sure, it wasn’t what I had imagined or seen in the movies. I didn’t feel all chest-thumping fatherly. Or weepy. Or light-headed (thankfully). I felt relieved, grateful to God for answering prayers, mine and other people’s, for the safety of my wife and baby. And then I felt overwhelmed. Then tired and hungry at the same time. I looked at my brave wife on the delivery table—her lips pale and her eyes droopy—and I felt a little worried, but I also felt very proud. I raised my iPhone to take a video of my son—my son!—and I felt panicky, afraid my capture wouldn’t do the moment justice. Somewhere in all that was joy. Oh, joy!—she was merrily skipping around the other feelings as though reminding them of a choreography she had long rehearsed with them.

What they say is true: nothing fully prepares a man for fatherhood.

I remember walking down the hospital after my wife and our newborn son had been wheeled into the recovery room. A lullaby was playing. Later I would learn that it was the  hospital’s ritual to play a lullaby in the delivery wing each time a baby was born. (Nice touch, St Luke’s.) At some point I did think that I was just imagining the lullaby. After all, I was sleepless and hungry—physical realities that my consciousness was just then starting to register as the adrenaline rush began to subside.

Through these past twelve months of getting to know and caring for Adi, Daphne and I have grown so much. Our hearts have swollen to near-bursting. Adi has quickened a part of us that we didn’t know was there. He draws from us a kind of love that surprises even us, one we didn’t realize we could give. More and more, as we love him, our son in turn reveals to us the father-heart of God. And we learn to love and trust Him more, also to love other people more. We pray that Adi will love and trust Jesus too.

In wisdom and grace, Abba has chosen me to be Adi’s Dada. That is one mystery I will spend a lifetime embracing. Tomorrow, we start counting years.

Happy first birthday, Adi-buddy.

Bad Cop

Daphne and I have devised a strategy for giving Adi his oral antibiotics: I hold the baby still while she “injects” the antibiotic solution into Adi’s mouth using a blunt syringe. The full dose doesn’t get delivered in one go; it requires several tries to empty the prescribed volume into our wiggly patient’s uncooperative mouth, taking great care not to spill or have Adi spit out the blech-tasting solution. I keep Adi’s limbs from knocking out the syringe from his mommy’s hand, hold his head still, and manufacture all sorts of distractions, while my partner-in-crime finds an opening. 

After all the action and drama, we manage to get the antibiotics in. Mommy and Daddy fist-bump! Our baby, face wet with tears, then reaches out his arms to Daphne to be carried and comforted, and turns to me with a look of contempt. Hurt, half-feigned, I look at Daphne: “Hey, you’re supposed to be the ‘bad cop’. Why is he mad at only me?” My wife smiles, Adi’s head snuggly pressed against her.

I suspect this injustice has everything to do with milk. Adi has figured out which parent is indispensable. I leave the room, “I think I’ll just go and try to lactate.”

Actually, I go fix myself coffee and count my blessings.

God bless mothers.

Super Adi

Today Daphne and I discovered a fun way to help our little big ball practice rolling, er, crawling. On the bed, a parent buries his or her face under a pillow and then dramatically calls out, “Help, Adi! Please save Mommy/Daddy!”

That’s all it takes to activate our almost 9-month-old superhero.

A baby with a mission, Super Adi gets on all fours and then frantically moves his limbs in all sorts of ways—he is coaxing them to take him toward the direction of the adult in (feigned) distress. Sometimes his uncoordinated movements take him backward or to the wrong side, and he furrows his eyebrows in a look of both frustration and determination. He doesn’t give up. Soon enough, Super Adi reaches his target. He throws himself onto the evil pillow (here, the adult underneath may give out a muffled “Aray!”) and wrestles with it until his parent is free.

When he finally sees the face of Mommy or Daddy, our little crawler flashes the cutest smile—one of relief, pride, and joy. We reward him with hugs and kisses (we’re still working on fist bumps).

Daphne and I are teaching Adi to crawl. With the joy we’re getting out of it, Adi is teaching our hearts to fly.

Not a bad deal.

God in three verses

 Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 2.57.00 PM
These verses, tucked away in a well-visited chapter of Psalms, joined forces one morning and blew me away. Individually, these three verses are familiar to me. But taken together, they are spectacular! In this triumvirate of verses, the psalmist declares a grand truth about the nature of God. A truth so dizzying and unimaginable it is comforting.

[3] He heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
[4] He counts the stars
and calls them all by name.
[5] How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension!
(Psalm 147:3-5)

The God who is so personal that He heals our broken heart and bandages our wounds (v. 3) is the same God who keeps an accounting of the heavenly bodies far above us and has established stellar nomenclature (v. 4). And then, in verse 5, a succinct and apt summary: How great is our Lord!

In my mind I try to travel that distance—from the broken heart to the farthest star. And then back.  I cannot grasp that greatness. The God to whom I address my repetitive prayers for a smooth delivery for my wife and a healthy firstborn, my request for a parking space in a packed hospital, my wish for encouragement to come my way on a particularly dreary work day—He is the same God who choreographs the dance of the galaxies, sustains life on a small ball of a planet called Earth, powers and directs all the forces of nature and beyond…

Words fail me, as they should.

What ought to be my response? The psalmist helps me with this by declaring that God is great—He has absolute power and incomprehensible understanding. The psalmist worships.

Worship, I submit, is an exercise in measurement. In worship, we employ all that we have—our senses, our encounter with Scriptures, our experiences, our voices, our creative powers, our words, our thoughts, our feelings, our mind, our body—as measuring tape. We attempt to wrap this “tape” around God, only to realize that He cannot be fully measured! Not even close. Interestingly, this does not frustrate us. It comforts us. It reminds us that God is big enough to handle anything we throw at Him. That nothing we can build or break can threaten or disorient Him. That we, notwithstanding our many attempts at being large, are truly—thankfully—small. And in that smallness is a miracle unparalleled: we are loved.

Worship sobers us up. God is big and therefore terrifying. Lucy, the little girl in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, got it right when she said that the lion Aslan, the God personification in the story, is good but not safe.

Surely the God who wields the absolute power that runs the universe in which I am a minuscule, pulsating dot is terrifying. Surely the God who knows my pain and administers healing to me is tender. Surely He deserves my worship.



He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery

Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife—
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this—His way was right.

John Oxenham

I first came across this poem as a 17-year-old preparing to leave home in Davao to go to university in Manila. Now, with 20 years in the rear view mirror since I committed this poem to memory, I can see and I can say, “His way was right”.

The Wise Writer is far from finished though; He continues to wield His Providential Pen on the paper of my life. Many times with furrowed brows, I wrestle with His strokes, trying to decipher the curves and swirls, the dots and blots.

In my life I have seen countless  exclamation marks of blessings.  I’ve also seen Him place a definitive period to a sentence that, to me, does not yet need to end.  At times I am tempted to superimpose a question mark on what He has thus far written. (And lovingly, He lets me.)  Ellipses are the hardest— I am impatient: I  stare at the three cliffhanger dots, pestering God to keep writing so I can see what’s next…

Through it all, He remains patient and purposeful. He whispers, “I will complete the good work I have begun in you.” By His grace, I believe I am learning more and more to be less squirmy, more still—trusting the Hand and the Heart behind the pen.

Oh for grace to trust Him more.

In a few weeks, God will have begun a beautiful new chapter in my life—fatherhood. I am excited and anxious. I pray for grace to trust Him in this new chapter and in all the others He is yet to write. I also pray for faith to say with all my heart, even before I get the benefits of hindsight, “His way is right.”

the day your name was born


Dear Little One,

Let me tell you how your name was born.

(But first, our gymnast-in-gestation, promise you’ll go easy with the kicks, jabs, and turns? Mommy has been losing sleep because of your spirited acrobatics at very odd hours.)

You’ve probably heard us call you Tiny Tan. We started using that as an endearing monicker (and convenient hashtag) when we didn’t yet know if you were a boy or a girl. But, obviously, we can’t use that as your real name. It’s cute and catchy, but Tiny Tan is surely too generic and, yes, lazy. Not to mention ridiculously shortsighted—we have no intentions of keeping you tiny forever or sentencing you to a life of being bullied. Besides, judging from my genes, you’ll probably be a tall fella. So, Tall Tan then? Nah.

When you were still a few weeks in the tummy, your mommy and I embarked on the wonderful journey of picking a name for you, the unspeakably precious gift that ended our twosome. Not an easy task, by any measure. It’s our first time too. So we took our own sweet time. We tossed around boy names and girl names. Somehow, even before we knew we were carrying a boy—the sonologist placed the odds at 95% certainty, and I saw the “turtle”—we would often end up making more progress with boy names.

After many a wondering, a trying, and—yes—a googling, one glorious day in Parañaque, while I was driving from a meeting and texting your mommy at the same time (not good, I know), we finally pinned down a name for you. Two names, in fact. In conjugal harmony, we decided that you, our firstborn, shall properly, irreversibly—and even birth certificate typos shall not prevail—be known as Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan. (Good luck on your first few days of school, son.)

Or, fondly, Adi.

(I smiled as I typed those three little letters, pretty much the same way I smiled when I saw your tiny thingies, blankies, onesies hanging out to dry the other day after mommy had washed them for the hospital bag. We have your Lola Lils to thank for that nickname which we love. And one of your mommy’s uncles had the same nickname!)

Your first name Xander is derived from my given name, Alexander. My parents, your grannies in Davao, named me after a legendary Macedonian king and warrior, Alexander the Great. I like my name. But I am grateful they decided to do away with “the Great”. Otherwise I would have lived my whole life feeling hopelessly inadequate.

Adi-buddy, do not believe the rumors that we got your first name from the name of a certain teleserye character who may or may not possess the dashing good looks of your father. It is a complete coincidence. Before that fumbling teen actor was Xander, I already was and still am Alexander. Besides, your parents hardly watch TV—not by choice, but by circumstance. (Long story.)

You are Xander because you are the spawn of Alexander. I think I now understand a father’s desire to perpetuate himself in the name of his son. Your mother was amused, and she enjoyed teasing me about it, when I insisted on an Alexander derivative to find its way to your name. It’s a father thing, I suppose. Don’t worry, I was never tempted to make you my junior.

Xander, I can’t explain it now. But I want you to always carry a part of my name, my presence, with you. I hope this will remind you as you go through life that I am proud that God chose me to be your father. And you will bear that beaming pride in your name (and quite possibly in your lack of dancing skills too—sorry). But more than that, I want you, Xander Amadeus, to be the man God has intended for you to be.

Now, Amadeus. This is the good part, son. Friends to whom we’ve shared your second name immediately think of Mozart, the great composer. We don’t mind.  (Interestingly, Mozart’s actual second name was Theophilus, which is rendered Amadeus in Latin, a change that he effected as his popularity rose.) Some of our friends assume that we have grand musical dreams for you. The truth is, you weren’t named Amadeus because we want you to be a famous composer, like your Austrian namesake. (But by all means, be one, if that is your gifting and calling! We’ll be the loudest “BRAVO!” in the audience.)

Now back to that day in Parañaque. I was driving and texting (and this you mustn’t do, okay?). For months, your mom and I had been trying out all sorts of names to go with Xander. (Some very silly ones too, from which we will spare you!) But nothing really stuck. That day on the road, I realized I had not really prayed to ask God for your second name! Shame on daddy. And so, on that dusty Parañaque road, while negotiating a series of humps, I prayed.

“Father, would you bring to mind a name for our little one? One that is meaningful and that would remind him of his identity. I know there is no guarantee that life will be easy for him. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be bumps, twists and turns, ups and downs, on his life journey.  I would like a name that will tether Him to You. A name that You could perhaps use to remind him of who You are and who he is, especially when he would seem to be losing his way.”

Then the name Amadeus came to mind. I knew it was Mozart’s second name, and I remembered reading about it in Philip Yancey’s book, What’s so Amazing about Grace? I got excited. “Rock me, Amadeus” played in my head. I may have head-banged a little. Xander Amadeus, Xander Amadeus, I repeated to myself. I loved the sound of it. Eager, I reached for my phone.

“Siri, search for meaning of Amadeus.”

“Okay, I found this on the web for meaning of Amadeus…” came the iPhone’s assistant’s emotionless reply.

(You’ll meet Siri one day, Adi. And you can ask her all sorts of goofy questions. I predict Siri and I will be better acquainted in the next few months as your mommy and I learn how to take care of you. “Siri, search for adoption centers?” Kidding.)

Amadeus means, literally, “love of God”. It is—thanks, Siri, for pulling the info from the web—derived from the Latin amare (“to love”) and Deus (“God”).

I was sold! It felt right. It felt… you! More importantly, your mommy was sold, too, after she learned of your name’s meaning. I could have rammed into a tree and not cared. Now the growing joy in my wife’s belly had a name!

From that day on, we would whisper your name to you. I would place both hands on your mommy’s watermelon belly and spread them as wide as I could, amazed at how fast you’ve been growing. With mouth close to mommy’s navel, I’d whisper, “Xander Amadeus? I love you.” Sometimes you would move, and I could feel joy swell within me and my eyes would mist. In the middle of the night, I would hear your mommy talking to you by name, calming you down when you are restless.

We cannot wait to hold you and get to know you, Adi! (We suspect you like spaghetti.) Your name has been born, and it awaits your birth.

My son, you are Xander Amadeus Guerra Tan. And you are loved.


P.S. Despite the clear and multiple “turtle” sightings on ultrasound, there is a 5% chance that, come delivery day, you’ll turn out to be a lovely girl. I want you to know that that is perfectly fine. We’ll be ready, sweetie. I guess. (“Siri, what’s the female version of…”)