FROM JANUARY 5, 2010
January 5, 1985 was a scary day for me. It was also the best day of my life.
Today is my only child’s birthday. I have recalled his first day on earth often. At least once a year for the past 24 years. Today he is 25.
When it was time for my son to be born – I mean really time – I wanted out. I didn’t know how to get out. All I knew was that I had changed my mind. I just didn’t want the responsibility. Now, granted, I had kind of painted myself into a corner on this one. I mean, I probably initiated the whole thing nine months earlier, and now my wife was panting, breathing, screaming and cussing me from a hospital bed when the nurse threw a set of surgical blues, a shower cap and booties at me. Telling me that it was time.
Time for what? Time to run like hell? Time to tell the doctor to keep that thing inside his Mom and to never let it out? All I really wanted was a stiff bourbon, a few dozen cigarettes and a quiet sandy beach somewhere. I have never felt as helpless as I felt at that very moment. Obviously, it was time for me to “man up.”
And I did. But I almost too “manned up.” I got into the delivery room garb and into the delivery room and thick of things. The wife was pushing and groaning. The doctor was pulling and talking nonsense. They had to use forceps on the child for some reason. I was thinking at the time that maybe the Doc had tickets to that night’s game and just wanted to get the little guy out so he wouldn’t miss pre-game cocktails. The sight of some man I didn’t know, pulling and tugging on the head of my unborn child, especially from that region of my wife’s body, was disturbing. Especially since I wanted the little guy to stay put forever! I swear, I think I saw that man put his foot on the foot of the bed to brace himself while he yanked out my child with those big metal tweezers. Again. Disturbing.
So the Doc was pulling and tugging and wrestling and God knows what else, when my son was finally pulled from his Mom’s womb. His head was long and distorted and close in size to the rest of his little body. He looked awful. I was terribly afraid. Marva, the Lamas instructor, never told us of this freakin’ possibility. My baby wasn’t right. Something was wrong. About the time that I became convinced that my child would not be normal, the doctor, with a chuckle, said, “Well, it looks like we have another little cone-head baby!” I swear, if my wife hadn’t had the incredible bone-crunching, blood-stopping grip on my right hand at that time, I would have punched that doctor. He delivered my deformed baby and then made fun of him!
I do not hit people. The last person I hit was 7-year-old Johnny Lemon, a few weeks after my 8th birthday. But I was ready to pound this guy.
At that moment. At that very moment. I became a Dad. My urge to punch the doctor was my very first parental instinct, and it happened just moments after the birth of my child.
I have never been proud of the feeling I had when the nurse threw those surgical blues at me. What a wimp I was. I even failed at the “birthing coach” thing. One of the nurses on duty sort of showed me how to do it. She would look at some monitor that graphed contractions. At the time I thought, “Why the hell do you need to graph pain?” Anyway, the nurse would tell the wife when pain was coming and say things like, “Okay, it’s peaking now. The pain is peaking. You should begin to feel better. Breath. That’s it. Breath. The pain is going away. You did it. That was good.”
After the nurse left the room, confident that Dad had been properly instructed on his coaching duties, my wife had yet another contraction. I was very calm. I could do this. I remembered everything the nurse had taught me. I encouraged my wife as I watched the graph needle climb on the monitor. I said, “Honey, the pain is coming. Okay, it’s getting a bit stronger now, but you are almost through this one.” I kept watching the needle on the monitor. It climbed almost as high as it could, then dipped. I said, “There, now. The pain is over. You should start to…” At that time the damned needle shot up to the top of the graph like a freakin’ Sputnik launch. She let out a scream like I had never heard. That scream was even worse than the one I heard when I told her the year before that my Mom was coming for a visit! Yeah. Good job, Coach.
So I will readily admit I was a terrible coach. I don’t guess I was much better at being a husband, then or even in later years. But the fathering came so damned naturally. I cannot explain this. It simply happened. January 5, 1985, I became a Dad. I felt it. I knew it. It was natural. It was real.
It was beautiful.
It still is.
Happy Birthday, Matt.
Thank you so much for everything, my friend.