My mission as an expectant father for the first time in 1967 was to get to the hospital before the baby reached the end of the birth canal. Back then, Dads-to-be were not allowed to go with their wives any further than the delivery-room doors, but 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 1 a.m. leaving the future fathers with nothing to listen to but someone’s snoring, an occasional moan from the delivery-room area and their own anxious thoughts.
When my turn finally arrived to officially be called “father,” a nurse led me down the hall to a recovery room occupied by my weary wife. The new baby was whisked away to a bassinet in a room with several other infants. There was nothing like that first tender walk with Mom to see our new child through the viewing window. A boy! We named him Michael.
There were no parenting instructions so fears of being an inadequate father surfaced immediately. The first responsibility was to make sure mother and baby were alright by talking with the doctor; then I notified grandparents, friends, neighbors and work associates. Tradition demanded I also buy a box of cigars wrapped appropriately in blue cellophane. Since Mom and Michael would be in the hospital several days, I tried to keep the house functioning and get 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 some rest. After I got past the first dirty diaper – they were cloth then – without throwing up, I had it made. As I sat in a rocker at 3 a.m. holding and bonding with the new tiny creature, the awesome responsibility we had undertaken began to sink in. “Can we do this?” I thought. “What makes good parents? What are our hopes and dreams for Mike? What will his talents be? Will he be like me or more like my wife?”
With the birth of a child, a father’s life changes forever.
Dad’s job is to help provide for the family without letting career, hobbies and personal interests overshadow fatherhood. It’s a tough balancing act sometimes. I know, because we had three more children after Mike – Greg, Tim and finally a girl, Christy. Due to the nature of our culture then and even now, Dad is expected to resume his job immediately after a child’s birth. That meant sometimes I was not home to witness first words or steps, and many other events in a child’s development. But when you think about it, love, unselfishness and protection are a father’s greatest gifts to his family.