I had planned to write for Father’s Day about my still wise-cracking, 100%-with-it-yet-92-year-old Dad, but then my husband, JP, piped up, only part in jest (I think):
“What about me? I’m the father of our children. You watched me, not him, becoming a Dad. Why don’t you talk about my fathering skills instead of reaching into your childhood memories?”
O.K., I’ll give it a try. But fair warning, JP, be careful what you wish for…
My husband and I didn’t rush into parenthood. We waited five years after our marriage, which caused JP’s “born in the old country” Aunt Dora to wring her hands and lament that we were not trying hard enough to have a baby. Which was true.
It was also true that we had no prior baby care experience. Caught in a pinch without a babysitter one night, some slightly older friends asked us to watch their 6 month old. After tearing through several sets of those pesky little disposable diaper tabs, we sent the baby home bound up in bright blue masking tape. The baby’s mom thought our inability to fasten a diaper was hilarious; I thought we needed help.
So when I got pregnant, I said, “let’s take a class.” JP was reluctant; his approach, as always, let’s wing it, we’ll figure it out as we go. Look at our forebears he said, they managed parenting just fine without taking any classes.
I signed up for a “childbirth education” class at the hospital and dragged him along.
Where he did little to distinguish himself. Unless you call not taking the class at all seriously a point of distinction. JP knew I was pregnant (non-spoiler alert: he was there when that happened), but even though I was 8 months pregnant when the class began, he had not yet realized that a live human being was going to emerge at the end of the process.
I, on the other hand, had no plans to stay pregnant forever and listened most intently to what the childbirth education teacher said — while my husband snickered on the edge of the room as the teacher demonstrated labor breathing techniques.
All of us (except for you-know-who) diligently practiced, chanting aloud:
“hah, hah, woo” – “pant, pant, blow” – “hee, hee, who.”
Let’s just say it was fortunate I had to have a C-section with our first child.
On the supply side, JP was equally clueless. When the teacher asked the class how many diapers to expect a newborn baby would go through in a single day –
Hands shot up in the air.
My husband said: “Four? Six?”
When the teacher said – “10, possibly 12 or 14, maybe even more, diapers per day in the first few weeks” – I thought my husband might faint.
He almost did faint before the baby was born. He got very light-headed, I was later told, while they were prepping me for the C-section, and the nurses made him leave the room. Many months later I learned that the kind person stroking my forehead during the operation was not my loving husband, but a nurse, and that my woozy spouse had been sitting it out on a bench in the hall.
So not an optimal beginning. But I was to be surprised.
JP got the hang of the Dad thing very quickly, perhaps – dare I say this now that our kids are adults? – – he latched onto early Dadhood with an easy self-confidence.
Thinking back on this, I wonder if this was because I was (am) a worrier and he was (is) not.
- The baby had a fever, I was convinced she had appendicitis. He assumed it was a just a fever.
- The baby wouldn’t eat. I thought she was getting sick. He said she wasn’t hungry.
- The baby had colic. I went into high-panic mode. He just swooped her under his arm, and rocked her around the living room to very loud music (Donna Summer’s disco songs were an early favorite) and that would quiet her down.
And then as baby #2 came along and our kids grew older, JP continued to go with the flow – from kindergarten field trips to coaching basketball to college visits to beaming father of the bride.
How did my husband learn to be such a great Dad?
Not from books. As always the believer in finding the answers in books, I had stacks of them piled on my night table (Dr. Spock, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach).
JP wouldn’t touch them.
Not from his Dad. Like mine, a great guy, but old school, 1950’s traditional model, the kind of Dad, who, while caring and loving, went off to work in the morning, expected to come home later in the day to find dinner on the table (it was) and left the less pleasant tasks of parenthood to their wives (who did not complain.)
Could it be that my husband was simply born with natural great Dad instincts?
But I won’t be getting him a “Father’s Day” card or setting up a BBQ in our backyard or buying him a nifty new gadget. Because as JP likes to remind me, he is not my Dad. He is, however, proof, that to be a great Dad, you don’t need to take a class, read baby books or have a role model. You can just be present, stay involved and figure it out as you go along.
Our kids got very lucky. Hope yours did too.