He entered our lives completely unexpectedly. It was 25 years ago that we learned he was on the way. We had long thought that our family was complete, and we were quite content and felt extremely blessed with our two beautiful daughters. Then we found out a baby was coming. What a stunning bit of news it was. We had no idea such a thing would ever happen again at our house. We were dumbfounded and excited and probably a bit frightened-and happy beyond words.
In those days you generally didn't find out if your unborn child was a boy or girl till delivery time came. I remember that throughout what seemed like the 48 months of the pregnancy, I told the world that whatever the sex of our new little one, I would be the proudest man on earth. I really meant it, and I really would have been.
But, truth is, if I could have ordered the baby from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, I would have put "Boy" on the order blank. After all, I already had two fine daughters, and I was a big baseball fan. What baseball-loving father, deep down inside him, doesn't want a son?
Those were the lamaze days, and the birthing process was quite different from what it had been when our first child had come along almost 11 years earlier. Then, fathers were kept outside the delivery room where they walked hallways, smoked cigarettes, and waited for somebody to tell them what was happening inside that mysterious place. Now, fathers could be IN the delivery room.
And that's where I was. When the little fellow made his appearance that night, showing us in the old fashioned way that he was a boy, and I looked into his face that first time and he blinked back up at me, we instantly were buddies for life. We formed an immediate bond that has gotten nothing but stronger through the years. It started out special there in the delivery room of Southeastern General Hospital that Wednesday night in 1979, and it has continued to be special. Always, it seems, we've had a closeness that has made me proud, humble and most especially, grateful.
Through the years, as we watched him grow, his mother and I have done a lot of smiling. For sure, there have been days with frowns-some times when it seemed appropriate and prudent to pinch his head off, or at least, stuff a big white Nike sock into his mouth and put him back where he came from, wherever that was. But those times were rare. Mostly, we have done a lot of smiling.
It seemed pretty easy with him. Our daughters had broken the ground for child rearing at our house. They had already trained us, as it were. By the time he got here, we were experienced parents, which meant we were more relaxed, which meant, at least according to the daughters, so were the rules. That, at least, is the way they recall it and tell it today, but their memories are not really so good on the subject. Truth is, they didn't have it near as bad with rigid rules as they remember. Our house was always child friendly.
Still, child-rearing experience delivered its child-rearing lessons. As a grizzled old veteran of fatherhood, I've shared with many a young parent that I don't know which is more needed for bringing up a child-love or patience. Our daughters, since they came along first, showed us we had to have both qualities, and in enormous amounts. Enormous amounts of both are needed.
Love fuels patience; patience tempers love-especially with children. Without them both, how could parents guide and steer, prod and push, cajole and sometimes shove a child towards adulthood, and do it properly? Gotta have love and patience. Gotta have lots of both.
With our son, we practiced the lessons his sisters had taught us, and surely he benefited from them. The more relaxed approach, with its healthy mixture of love and patience, must have worked. He's turned out well. But then, so have his sisters, and they were the guinea pigs. Who can figure?
All too quickly for most of us on the parenting end of the deal, our children are grown.
Another bit of advice I have shared with many a young parent is not to worry about their children growing up too fast. Enjoy them as they grow, and an amazing thing happens when they get grown. You'll enjoy them just as much as adults as you did when they were children. That was another thing our two daughters taught us when they became adults, and now their brother is showing us again how true that is.
He is now a man. The little surprise package of 1979 is, so quickly, now a man. That status, if there was any question about it, will become official in the most beautiful of ways Saturday. He'll marry his sweetheart in a 4 p. m. ceremony in Monroe. We're ready for him to take this step, and Lord knows, he and she both seem ready to take it. It is a natural step for them. She's a fine young woman, and he's a fine young man. And they're in love. What better way to celebrate that wonderful affliction than as husband and wife
As I stand with him Saturday afternoon during the ceremony, I'll be remembering lots of things, and I'll maybe even get a little teary-eyed as I do. One memory I'll especially think about. It is one that I hope will be a guiding lesson for him and his beautiful young bride throughout their lives together.
Once when he was about nine and we were on a weekend Cub Scout outing, a severe middle-of-the-night thunderstorm woke us as we lay together on the ground in our tent. Great bolts of lightening were popping all around, and the thunder was awesome. Ran drops pelted our canvass sanctuary so hard it seemed they would rip it apart. I could feel his little body tremble as he huddled close to me, and as the lighting would hit, I could see the fear in his face. I remember hoping he couldn't see it in mine.
I don't guess he could, because of something he said after one particularly strong bolt of lightening hit nearby.
He pushed against me as close as it was possible for him to do and whispered urgently, "Hold me, Daddy. Squeeze me tight!"
As we lay there on the ground that scary night, clutching each other as hard as we could, I knew immediately that it would be a remembrance I would always have of us. I knew immediately that it was one of those little events parents and children experience together that the parent never forgets.
And I knew immediately that it was a lesson, principles of which were not to be forgotten. It was a lesson his mother and I always practiced with him, and his sisters, and with each other, whenever there were clouds. All these years later, I hope it is a lesson he will practice daily with his wife.
Such a simple lesson it is: When the storms visit, and they will, hold each other, and squeeze tight.
If he remembers to do that, and she remembers to do it back, the storm will pass, and the sun will shine again.
And there's something else he should never, never forget:
He's my boy. Always has been, always will be.