My mission as an expectant father years ago was to get to the hospital before the baby reached the end of the birth canal. I never was privileged, however, to go with my wife any further than the delivery room doors for the births of each of our four children.
Back then, future fathers were confined to the “Stork Club,” a small room with some magazines, uncomfortable hardback chairs and a stiff sofa to match. A small television picked up just five channels, which all went off the air at 1a.m. leaving the “Dads-to-be” with nothing to listen to but each other’s snoring, an occasional moan from the delivery room area and their own anxious thoughts.
There were no parenting instructions on what to do when your turn arrived to be addressed as “Father.” A nurse led the new Dad down the hall to a recovery room occupied by his weary wife. The baby was whisked away to a bassinet in a room with several other infants. If you were fortunate, your baby was placed near the viewing window and you could get a good look at your new son or daughter.
There was nothing like that first tender walk with Mom to see the new child!
Fears of being an inadequate father surfaced immediately. The first responsibility was to make sure mother and baby were all right by talking with the doctor; then you notified parents, friends, neighbors and work associates. You also bought a box of cigars wrapped appropriately in blue or pink cellophane. Since Mom and baby would be in the hospital several days, Dad kept the house functioning and got it ready for a new tenant.
Our pediatrician insisted papa share the duties of feeding and changing the baby at least once during the night so Mom could get her rest. After you get past the first dirty diaper without throwing up, you have it made. The secret is to hold your breath until you can dispose of the smelly thing.
As you sit in a rocker at 3a.m. holding and bonding with your tiny creature, the awesome responsibility you have undertaken begins to sink in. “Can I do this?” you ask. “Can we do this?” you ask for both of you. This baby only has its often, annoying cry to communicate with you. It doesn’t care about the time. It is totally dependent on you for its comfort and survival. It can’t sit or stand, and its neck is not strong enough to support the weight of its head, which has a soft spot in the middle of, that you are afraid you might accidentally poke your finger into!
Not only do you have to get past weeks of late-night feedings and constant changings, you must begin thinking about the lifetime commitment you have for this little person. What are your hopes and dreams for your baby? What will his or her talents be? Do you want your child to be a clone of you or your spouse, or will you both have the courage to let it choose its own way, with your guidance and support, of course.
The married vocation has intensified into parenthood. What makes a good parent, you question? Do you pattern your parenting after your parents or will you change some things? You begin observing with keen interest how other parents handle the job in stores, restaurants or church. Do you like what you see or will you handle a situation differently? You vow to equip yourselves with the best tools to deal with whatever comes up as you raise your child, from religion and school decision; friends and cultural interests the youngster chooses; and the vocation he or she pursues eventually. You find yourselves taking about these things long after the baby is asleep.
Good parents should not be afraid to ask for assistance, first from the Lord who gave them their child, next from parents, relatives, friends and professionals, if need be. In that sense, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
With the birth of a child, a father’s life changes forever. He no longer is number one, if he ever was. And yet, it is often Dad’s job to provide for the family, without letting career, hobbies and personal interests overshadow fatherhood. It ‘s a tough balancing act sometimes. Due to the nature of our culture, Dad is expected to resume his job immediately after the child’s birth. That means he may not be home to witness baby’s first words or steps, and many other events in the youngster’s development.
Years ago, radio and TV programs made Dad out to be a very smart guy. One show, in fact, was titled, “Father Knows Best.” Today, however, a father has to overcome the image portrayed by the sitcoms and many commercials that make dear ole Dad out to be a buffoon who needs to be bamboozled into making an intelligent decision.
There are only a few role models of good fathers.
What comes to mind first is God the Father, who represents “love;” Abraham, from the Hebrew Scriptures, who represents “unselfishness;” and St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus from the New Testament, who represents “protection.”
When you think about it – love, unselfishness and protection are a father’s greatest gifts to his family.
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