Sunday, June 19, 2016
Father's Day Mullings
Katja’s pregnancy came as a surprise because she forgot to mention she was discontinuing her birth control pills. However, it was a welcome surprise, and soon we were attending the natural childbirth classes at Christ Hospital. Both of us realized there was zero chance that Katja would actually opt for natural childbirth, but we didn’t think the classes would do any harm. When the big day arrived and we were brought to the birthing room, I followed my training and rhythmically repeated, "breathe...breathe...breathe..." Katja screamed, "I am breathing, godammit!" The nurse thought it would be helpful if I were to wait in the waiting room. It seemed like a good idea.
Back in those days mothers and newborns stayed in the hospital for five or six days. When Katja and J finally came home to our apartment complex, we were on pins and needles. J was so quiet when we put him to bed for the night that we'd sneak into his bedroom every hour just to listen to him breathe.
Katja returned to work after six months, and J joined Mrs. Tucker's entourage of one and two year olds over in Fairview. Having brought up gaggles of little children for sixty years, Mrs. Tucker had the wisdom of an earth mother and deserves much of the credit for J's early development and harmonious character. She definitely made our being parents a more relaxed task.
For myself, I envisioned the role of father as one of a playmate and buddy. Lots of games and toys and fun. Katja was in charge of serious matters like health and illness, diet, bedtime hours, consumer purchases, doctor visits, school choices, vacations, etc. I was more of an activities director.
We enjoyed all the holidays, but Halloween was the best. We’d carve a pumpkin and go trick or treating on Bishop Street with Susan G. and her daughter Jessica.
Katja, J, and I did lots of things together as a family, and we were more like a threesome than two parents plus a child. There are undoubtedly pros and cons about being a solo child, but one advantage is that you are surrounded by more mature adults nearly all the time. Plied with all that adult verbiage and reasoning, J was always rather grown up and sensible for his age.
Parenting is not always smooth, and I have to remind myself that there were times that we would all go insane and could hardly stand it any more. J didn't cry that often, but he was an ear-shattering crier when he needed to be.
One of our regular family outings was to go to Mt. Airy Forest on the weekend and hike to the end of the trail where J played in a creek bed and admired the horses in the pasture.
In the bigger scheme of things, we’d drive East to Philadelphia each summer and then spend a week at my in-laws’ summer cottage at Beach Haven on the Jersey shore. Coming from landlocked Cincinnati, the swimming and body surfing in the Atlantic Ocean was paradise, and the boardwalks at Wildwood and Atlantic city offered many attractions and delights.
Back in those innocent days it was perfectly acceptable for fathers to puff on a cigarette while holding their kid. However, it doesn't look like J enjoyed the secondhand smoke that much.
Each year J and I made a snow rabbit in our side yard as soon as we got our first big snowfall of the year. We’d sprinkle more water on it when the temperature fell below freezing, insuring that the rabbit would remain intact until the spring thaw.
My favorite parental activity was going camping as a family. Here we are inside our white Eddie Bauer tent. J liked that tent so much that we set it up in his bedroom at home, and he slept in it every night.
Being a dad transforms one's entire network of family members and friends. Here's a family reunion photo at Farm with various fathers and fathers-to-be, taken by Katja in August, 1972. Back row: myself (with a cigarette), Steve holding Jennifer, Margie, George, Faith, Doris (with a cigarette), Peter. Seated in the front row: Vicki holding J (and a cigarette), Vic holding Greg. Becoming parents was the best decision Katja and I ever made, and I think that holds for the other dads in our family too. Happy Father’s Day to all!