I LOVE BEING A FATHER
"The nature of impending fatherhood is that you are doing something that you're unqualified to do, and then you become qualified while doing it." John Green
This picture is 44 years old as of last Friday. That's me holding our first child Elisabeth in the hospital while "rooming in" with her and my wife Marcie. She came a few weeks early and hadn't had time to plump up, hence the skinny legs. Marcie was the photographer.
In those days it took a lot of effort for a father to attend the delivery of his children, and even more to have the baby stay in the room with us, instead of in the nursery. We had to use a hospital 30 miles away because the local hospital would not permit such things.
The 30-mile-away hospital required us to attend Lamaze classes beforehand. The only Lamaze class we could find in the area was taught by a young hippie-looking couple who lived far out in the country in a rustic log cabin kind of homestead. They were very much "in to" all things natural. We and a few other expectant couples sat cross-legged on their living room floor and learned the rudiments of natural childbirth. Sometimes during class, the teacher's four-year-old son who was still nursing would take his place on his mother's lap, pull up his mother's blouse, and proceed to have his supper. The mother kept right on teaching without missing a beat.
On July 17, 1976, the long weeks and months of pregnancy finally came to an end, and it was time to get to the hospital and put our training to work. On the drive there, we benefited from a police escort of sorts. In my haste to get Marcie there in time, I was speeding (yes, literally speeding) along the interstate to the hospital when the red and blue lights of the highway patrol told me to pull over. As the officer approached the car, I told Marcie to be sure to act as if she were in great pain. She just laughed because at the moment she was between contractions.
I told the state trooper my wife was in labor and we were headed to the hospital to deliver our baby. He ran back to his car and motioned for us to follow him. He led us, racing at full speed with siren blaring and lights flashing, straight to the hospital. He dashed to the ER to retrieve a wheelchair and then wheeled Marcie inside while I parked the car. We later wondered if he did that to confirm we really were having a baby and not just making up an excuse for speeding.
After a few hours of painful and UNMEDICATED natural labor using our Lamaze training from the hippie couple, we welcomed our darling baby girl. Marcie did all the work, and for me, it was love at first sight, as it was with all our six children.
Our newborn didn't have a name in advance because in those days we didn't discover her gender until she actually arrived. That key piece of information eliminated half of the candidates on the prospective-name list, but then we still had to see which name fit the child. The actual naming took place in our room where the three of us were isolated for a couple of days. We called her Elisabeth, with an S, like John the Baptist's mother in the New Testament.
"Rooming in" meant we had the baby to ourselves and were responsible for her care. Visitors could peek in from the door, but couldn't come in. The privacy was heavenly. I can say I was a hands-on father from the beginning. I got to hold her as much as I wanted. I gave her her first bath, and was the first to cut her tiny little fingernails. By the time we went home, we were fully bonded, which set a pattern for the next 44 years with her, and for her siblings who arrived over the next 17 years.
Since then, five more beautiful babies have joined our family and have become permanently embedded in my heart. I wish I had the time and space to tell you about those five other births, but suffice it to say, each was a moment of pure love and true joy, each in its own unique way. I couldn't be prouder of each one of them, from the moment they came into our lives until today. And I couldn't be prouder of Marcie for her desire to have them and to deliver them all au natural, and then nurture and cherish them forever.
Over the years, I have found Theodore Roosevelt's statement about fatherhood to be 100% correct: "There are many kinds of success in life worth having. It is exceedingly interesting and attractive to be a successful business man, or railway man, or farmer, or a successful lawyer or doctor; or a writer, or a President. But for unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."
They are grown up now and moving forward on their life's journeys. As it turns out, we've all grown up together. Being their father has taught me far more than I have ever taught them. "Fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man," said Frank Pittman.
I thank my dear children for all they have taught me, and for making my life richer and fuller than anything else I have ever done.
Except, perhaps, to have married their mother.