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Love of A Grandchild, the Pain of the Bris

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On Dec. 7, 2009, at about 6:15 p.m., I saw him for the first time.

Gabriel Frances Davis. The son of my oldest son, Seth. The son of my beautiful daughter-in-law, Melissa Cohen Davis. The nephew of my likewise beautiful daughter, Marlo Davis Sims. The brother of Zachary, age 5, and Noah, age 3.

The great-godson of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (I), godfather of son Seth. When he heard that Gabriel was about to be born, Sen. Lieberman e-mailed: "Now this is great news. May the birth occur in a good hour (b'shaah tovah)."

Gabriel was all these things and more. He was gorgeous. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

But above all, he was my grandchild. Oy vey.

What is so magical about a grandchild?

It can't rank in importance with passing national health care, creating jobs, finding success in Afghanistan and Iraq (and getting out) or stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, can it?

Yes, it can.

Where to begin? Let's start with the miracle. You raise your children, and you think of them as children. No matter how old they get.

But how can a child have another child? How can my son Seth be a dad? How can he be that grown-up -- my little boy, Seth -- to be a dad? Oy vey.

But he is. And there Seth was -- standing there, holding Gabriel Frances in his arms, my little boy, Seth, a dad.

And he was so proud. So happy. My little boy Seth. A father -- for the third time!

And then there was the pride. Another Davis in the world, carrying on the name along with brothers Zach and Noah and many cousins Davis. Another Davis Democrat, I'll bet!

(By the way, makes me wonder: Why don't women insist on their name being the name of the children? With all the women's movements -- suffrage, equal pay, choice, sexual equality, husbands washing dishes, etc. -- why do almost all women go along with this tradition -- even the most committed feminists? Go figure.)

And so, when he is less than one hour old, I am finally given Gabriel to hold. My grandson! I look down at him. Eyes wide open -- eyes wide open! Amazing!

An hour before, he was safely inside his mom's tummy -- warm, breathing in warm fluid through a tube, happily fed, with good food eaten with no effort, happy -- what a wonderful life! And then -- suddenly -- oh-so-suddenly -- into the cold air, harsh air, scary air, forced to breathe, coughing, almost choking, and then -- and then -- a loud cry -- lungs filling with air, a louder cry -- what lungs! God bless him, what lungs!

And then ... I have him, I hold him in my arms. He is quiet, content, warm and cuddly, wrapped in a blanket, and I am looking down at him, and suddenly it hits me -- he is looking at me ... He is looking at me -- I mean it! and I am convinced Gabriel knows I am his grandpa. He knows! No one can convince me otherwise.

My mom always liked to ask (100 times, at least, I heard her ask, and she seemed to forget we all knew the answer, but she'd ask anyway):

"So, why is the love of a grandparent the purest love of all?"

I knew the answer. But wouldn't take it away from her.

"Why, Mom?"

"Because it's all love -- no responsibility!"

I look into Gabriel's eyes ... find it is difficult to breathe ... feeling slightly faint as I touch my lips to his soft head, still moist ... Oy vey. My grandson: all love, and no responsibility.

And then this past Tuesday, Dec. 15 -- eight days after Gabriel's birth, not seven, not nine -- the bris, or circumcision, was performed.

This is a 5,000-year-old ceremony going back to the day when God first talked to a wandering nomad named Abram. He knew ... only He could know ... that Abram had decided that He was the only God ... the one and only God ... and then God spoke to him, and renamed him Abraham, and made the Covenant with him -- that his seed would be the seed of a new nation of Jews, chosen to keep God's word and His laws, and Abraham and all of his offspring over the generations would be rewarded with the promised land, the land of Israel.

But there was a catch. The newly named Abraham had to make a promise not only to follow His laws and believe in Him as the one and only God, but to agree to another "Covenant." The full version is told in Genesis 17:1-14. Here are two key verses:

"This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised ...

"And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations ... "

The ceremony to keep the Covenant is called the bris -- short for bris milah -- the "covenant of circumcision," tracing back to a deal between God and Abraham, the ultimate father of all Jews and all Muslims, over 5,000 years ago!

And so on Tuesday, I attended the bris for Gabriel Frances Davis. And all the family and many close friends were there to witness it: grandparents on both sides, relatives, friends -- everyone was there to watch the rabbi, a certified surgeon, called the mohel, perform the cut, the holy cut, while saying prayers in a ritual tracing back five millennia to that day Abraham made his covenant with the one and only God.

Everyone was there to witness the cut, oohing and ahhing. Everyone ...

Except me.

I was hiding. In the bathroom. With a towel around my ears. Oy vey. Ouch.

God bless my new grandson, Gabriel Frances Davis. He'll forgive me someday for missing that final moment. Just as my other three sons -- Seth, 40, Josh, 11, and Jeremy, 4 -- have forgiven me. At least I hope they have.

Mr. Davis, a Washington D.C. attorney, was former Special Counsel to President Clinton from 1996-98, and served on President Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2005-06. He is the author of "Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America." He appears each Thursday to discuss his "Purple Nation" column in The Hill on XM Radio's "POTUS/Press Pool" with Joe Mathieu.

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