I must confess this writing is in retrospect. My youngest daughter will be 23 in November and the oldest twins turned 34 this past August. I will attempt to show through careful prose the things these miniature people taught me along the way. Let me first say that every grey hair (that is among those that are still there) was earned and christened with laughter and love, although it is much easier to see it this way with hindsight.
This first thing I learned was my wife would just glow when she was pregnant. I am not sure if I have the vocabulary to describe the way a woman looks when she is pregnant with a baby she loves. Sometimes a Dad might feel compelled to gain sympathy baby weight along with his wife. I am not sure why when our youngest son was born I thought I could eat dozens (I do mean literally dozens) of donut holes with not even the smallest regard to gaining weight. One day I remember, in particular, I had just finished work and when I arrived home I asked my wife what happened to the donut holes? She started to cry and exclaimed, “I ate them all”. Without hesitation, I did the only logical thing and went to the store and bought us another box. It appears common
sense is something future Dads lose early into the pregnancy.
I remember the sheer panic that beset me as I looked at my newborn baby. I thought of myself as a brave person but nothing in all my military training could have prepared me for this mission. I had never dealt with anything in my life in which guessing was the modus operandi. When he/she cries it could be a:
1. Bad Diaper
2. They might be hungry
3. They might have gas
4. They might be too warm
5. They might just need to be re-positioned
ARE. YOU.KIDDING.ME!! I was not only ill-equipped for this infants version of charades, I realized game playing isn’t something I like all that well for starters. I could not believe that trying to get a baby to sleep was like juggling nitroglycerin. One night I remember distinctly when we were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. Judi, my wife, usually woke the instant the baby rustled, semi-belched or just let out a sigh. Yours truly could have gone through a nuclear blast detonation and still no movement. As luck, karma or fate would have it, I actually heard the baby before my wife was awakened. I got up and decided to feed little James, my son and let her sleep. I guess the first mistake involved turning on the overhead light in the babies room. Then, to add insult to injury, I started talking to him and playing our usual peek-a-boo. I know, is this guy actually from this planet. By the time I got the bottle warmed and sat down to watch Sports Center (ESPN) all the while asking the baby every question that has been posed to mankind throughout the ages, he fed, burped and then was wide awake. I thought my wife said he will eat the bottle and then go right back to sleep. 4 hours later, my wife comes out to ask what happened. I was delirious from the lack of REM sleep while James I believe had gotten on the phone to call some neighbor babies over to play. This was a disastrous night and I learned that stimulation with a baby in the middle of the night = no sleep for Dad. Yet, 24 years later it is a memory I cherish. It was me and my son in a moment that will never be repeated and also never forgotten by me.
Little girls should come with a sticker that says “Dad, you are about to get rolled for a long time, and just a smile alone will make it happen.” I have two daughters and it should be against every moral law to impose such things on a Dad. One day while coming home from work I was met at the door by my 3-year-old daughter Rebecca with a Barbie Doll. Yes, you did hear that correctly, A BARBIE DOLL. Just when I thought things could not get any less savory, she asked me to change her outfit. I have pulled engines from cars with less effort and frustration. Not only was this Barbie’s outfit apparently spray painted on to her body, but it was also physically impossible to get it even halfway off, much less changed out with a new outfit. My daughter continued coaching me on all the methods I was incorrectly executing for the task, yet not once offering to take this albatross duty from me. We completed the Barbie escapade, with more than a little help from my wife Judi, whereupon I went looking for the stiffest drink I could find. Again, what seemed at the time to be the equivalent of trying to climb Mount Everest is one of my fondest memories with my daughter. It wasn’t the task, it was the time I was spending with her that made the difference. I learned that afternoon that the most valuable gift we can give our children is our time.
There should be a special spot on forms that say “Teenager”. Anybody remotely associated with kids that age would say “I get it now”. This is a period of time in which your child seems to have this immense increase in knowledge while the parents common sense seems to decline exponentially. Can this possibly be this precious child I knew just a few years ago? Somehow the child has morphed into this expensive, know it all with the propensity to let out sighs, roll eyes and those are on the good days. Although, there is that one moment when you have a semi-adult conversation and you see a glimmer of hope. Is it possible this child will make it to adulthood without a stint in prison? Then they say that magical thing, “Thanks Dad or Daddy” and your heart melts like snow on a summer day. I learned patience during my children’s teenage years. It reminds me of the old adage “I want patience and I want it right now.” I also learned how hard life can be for a young person that is looking for the right answers and the desire to do the right things. I also became aware that I was still in that same struggle. Maybe we are just grown-up versions of our teenage self when it is all said and done.
When the kids move away it is a bittersweet day. You get an instant pay raise. You add a few hundred feet of living area without spending a dime and the house just about becomes soundproof. Those are the good things and also the bad things simultaneously. Your work is mostly complete. Oh, there will be days when the kids will need your financial help or maybe even a short stay in their old bedroom, but things have changed. You realize, their childhood was a big dress rehearsal for the life they will now have to live for themselves. They will start a family and the cycle of life will continue with a new generation. You pray for their happiness and want them to succeed in everything they do and worry that it might not happen. You realize you have just experienced something amazing, the gift of raising your kids to adulthood. Grandchildren come along and you understand how precious every moment is that you might have wished away with your children.
In the end, I think my children taught me as much about life as I tried to teach them. Their innocence in the way they view our world is something every adult should emulate. Their ability to see everyone as a potential friend and the way they abhor unkindness to people should be bottled and sold to every adult on earth. There are two things on this earth I have found that love, in it’s purest sense of the word, they are babies and dogs. They just want your love, your laughter, and your smile. If we could learn to value such things, we would see a world the way it should always be.