Woster: Remember sitting as a soon-to-be father?
I just stood there, taking in the moment, putting the image in a safe place in my mind.
It’s Father’s Day again, and as I do most years on this special day, I’m wondering who in the world thought it would work out just fine if an inexperienced young man were handed a newborn child.
The very idea of it, of trusting a helpless infant to a young guy who knows absolutely nothing about caring for a baby, argues against the idea of a wise God. Then again, the fact that the father-child relationship turns out peachy in most instances may argue strongly for the existence of an all-knowing and terrifically watchful Greater Power.
In my experience as a father, either hypothesis could be true. When our first child, a daughter, came into our lives, I hadn’t a clue what to do with the tiny girl. I quickly realized how lucky I had been that Nancy agreed to marry me. She took to the business of mothering like she’d done it all her life, like she’d written the first, most authoritative book on the subject of caring for a child.
Fathers didn’t go into the delivery room in the late 1960s when our first child was born, not at McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, not even if the mother-to-be was a nurse on staff and had thoughtfully decided to deliver this child on her day off. I hope the staff on the maternity ward knew what a blessing my wife was to her colleagues.
Me, I had to use a pay phone in the hospital lobby to call and get the day off from my job at the newspaper. A little like Scrooge grudgingly telling Bob Cratchit he could have the whole day off on Christmas, my boss in the newsroom said I could take the rest of the day. He said I could make up the hours working two or three evenings the next week.
Do you think I cared? I’d have worked nights for the next year to have that one day to be around when Nancy gave birth to our first child. I’d have worked the night shift in Anchorage, and I hear that shift is six months long. I was incredibly excited. I had no idea, as I said, what I’d ever do with an infant, but I sure was ready to see this little creature that was about to join Nancy and me in that three-room rental house just off Cliff Avenue and two blocks from the front door of the hospital. Since our wedding, we had been a couple. As soon as the baby arrived, we’d be a family. I’d be a father. I couldn’t have been more excited. Or more terrified.
I sat with a few other soon-to-be fathers in a smoke-filled room, ignoring the television, trying to focus on a six-month-old copy of Field and Stream. When the nurse stopped in to take me to join the rest of my family, I leaped higher than I’d ever done on the basketball court.
Much of the rest of that day is a blur. I remember Nancy lying in the hospital bed, holding a tightly-wrapped, kind of wrinkled little child. Nancy looked like she’d been with that baby all her life. I should have taken a photograph, but, of course, I hadn’t grabbed my camera as we headed out, and I don’t think a soul in the whole world even imagined there’d be a time when people would snap pictured with their phones. I just stood there, taking in the moment, putting the image in a safe place in my mind.
When the nurse asked if I’d like to hold the baby, I nearly fainted. I’d never been a guy who cared to hold little kids, but I found that I really wanted to cuddle this one. She was so delicate, though, so fragile. What if I gripped too firmly and, I don’t know, broke her? What if I didn’t know how to support her head and neck? I might have set a record for being awkward that day, but it felt great. I felt like a father. More, I felt like a dad.
And there’s no better feeling than that in the whole world.