Written on 10/10/99.
I remember the births of all the kids, they all have their own unique stories (well two of them anyway). I have been graced with a boy and two girls and our family is complete. We thought briefly of stopping after two, we had the boy and the girl and were happy. But the girl was such a good baby, to this day I maintain that she was, in fact, never a baby. She enthralled us so much as a baby that we thought “What the heck, this is easy, let’s have another!” It is a young families common blunder. We never factored in the odds, at two on two we were even and held the upper hand, bringing in a third would sway the numbers in favor of the kids. The girl will have her tale, oh, she will have her tales, but this is not it.
First there was Gabriel, and for some reason looking back, Gabriel was first before we conceived him or contemplated him. It was essential for me that our first child be a boy and that he be Gabriel. I don’t ever recall an in depth discussion about his name because one was not required. Gabriel just was, and had to be. I was terrified at the thought of having children and I think if we would have had a girl first that she may have been an only child.
I remember the night he was conceived, it started out . . .wait, that’s a different story too, let’s skip ahead.
The wife was quite pregnant with him (we had no empirical proof at the time that it was a boy but I think we both knew) when we decided to travel in our little red Nissan to visit her father in Kentucky. It was the fall of 1999 and I remember very little of the trip south, however I recall every moment of our trip back north.
It was her father’s birthday weekend and she wasn’t so far along that we thought the trip would be dangerous. We arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon with little fanfare and proceeded to visit and watch TV. Her father occupied the white house on the top of the windy hill at the intersection of Hogg Ridge and Adams road. As the evening wended on the wife excused herself and returned a few minutes later to deliver to me a simple query:
“Can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?” she asked politely.
“I think my water broke,” she said.
I recall some deliberation as to whether or not she was sure that the proposed event had, in fact, occurred and then finally resigned myself to a simple all encompassing and loud: “Fuck.”
We were 300 miles away from home, from our house, from our doctors, the hospital, all of it; and my wife’s water had just broken and she was about to have our first baby. To say I was distraught would be a vast understatement. I followed up my initial expletive with several more and as I surveyed the landscape of creative language I’m sure I pounded on some things. The entire house quickly became aware of the situation.
I did not know what to do. I was entirely out of my element. The wife, soon to be The Mom, was clearly looking to me to be a Man and figure it out but I had very little Real Man experience at the time and had to look to the one Real Man in the room for advice.
I remember when I first met the father-in-law distinctly but I’m not sure exactly where it was in my relationship with the pre-wife. We traveled to her house in Loveland and she went inside and left me on the back deck to await his arrival. I knew he was a truck driver and I knew she loved him more than anything. At the time I was a a pretty big NASCAR fan and I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan and when he came out to meet me I would have sworn it was Dale himself marching out onto the deck.
The conversation we had is lost to the darkness, maybe he remembers what we talked about but I do not. I know it wasn’t a long conversation but I feared and liked him instantly. He was a truck driver, and a poet, and flawed, and a Real Man. He would soon after sell his purple truck and move into the house that his grandparents built in Kentucky.
So here I was far from home, with my wife’s father and her sister all gathered around a kitchen table trying to decide what to do. My father-in-law has Kentucky in his veins, he was born in Kentucky and the wife was born in Kentucky and if he would have said so we would have just driven up the road and his first and only grandson would have been born on his birthday in Kentucky as well.
At this point in my life my entire Real Man resume contained very few items. I was married and we had bought a house. That was pretty much it. I had a job, but I must confess it was a lot like college, we played a lot of videos games and spent a vast amount of time plotting practical jokes, buying coffee, and walking to and from the pizza joint. It was pretty awesome and not in the least bit grown up. Unfortunately that job was not to last, (I can’t imagine why), but again, that is another tale. Back to the kitchen in Kentucky.
After much deliberation and swearing I recall finally turning to him, and asked him boy to Real Man: “What would you do?”
And he gave me the greatest, most terrifying answer I could have asked for.
“Well if it were me,” he said, looking me straight in the eye, maybe for the first time ever. “I’d want to get back to my home turf.”
Which was all I needed to hear. We were hardly unpacked so we were packed up again in minutes and headed out the door. I left first to take the bag back to our little red car and throw up behind the garage (for some reason my kids love the puking part of the story). I’m pretty sure my father-in-law saw me emptying my dinner next to his propane tank beside the garage and the image of him that night was eerily similar to the first night I met him on the deck of the house in Loveland. The man can project the hardness of the hills of Kentucky while maintaining the demeanor of her softest heart. I imagine he nodded to me as I finished up by the corner of his garage, but for all I really know I’m not even sure he was out there that night. Maybe it was Dale Earnhardt on the deck, but he wasn’t dead yet so I guess that is improbable too. I was getting ready to drive my pregnant-water-broken wife 300 miles and five hours north to the hospital in the middle of the night.
So I did. It was much easier with an empty stomach. She worked in the Cleveland Public Schools so I had gotten her a cell phone in case of emergencies. At the time they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now (cell phones that is, emergencies in Cleveland Public Schools are still ubiquitous). It was like carrying a shaped brick around and I think that a shaped brick actually carried more charge than her cell phone did. But she was able to alert her Doctor’s office that we were on our way as we wended our way north. There are many locations along the I-71 corridor from Cleveland to Cincinnati that we can say “Do you remember when” not the least of which is when we stopped at Fields Eartles road to get gas that night. Over the years, almost every exit has a story.
I checked the blue hospitals signs the whole way back north, always calculating whether or not I would have to go forwards or backwards to a hospital should the situation turn dire (five miles back; eight miles until the next exit; keep going north). But it never did. And she was able to sleep part of the way, with her towel pillow tucked underneath her.
We made it back to the hospital but she still had some work to do. Her best friend and Mom and sister made it as well. A room full of women suffered by a single male.
As for the birth itself, with Gabriel I don’t remember much. Real Men stay the hell out of the way when that activity is going on, and while I was just a boy, I had male instincts that told me where to stand and where to not look. If there was ever something that qualified as “Women’s work” this was surely it. I tried to take care of my wife as much as possible, hovering near the head of the bed and avoiding the business end of the transaction at all costs. The mirror she demanded almost pushed me over the edge but I focused on other things:
“Look at that monitor showing her contraction levels; Wow, that one must hurt. I wonder how that works and if it is networked, wait a minute someone is biting me on the shoulder, what the hell?! Is that a helicopter landing?!”
“Don’t look down.”
Gabriel’s birth and the technique, or lack thereof, of the “Doctor” would lead the wife down a much different path for the birth of our girls. Looking back, I’d like to punch that “Doctor” bitch in the face for her whole attitude and ineptitude for what she put the wife through. But that is more of a Real Man reaction than the boy I was at the time. I’ll just say that when my wife says “That hurts” your are not allowed to say “No it doesn’t” Doctor.
But there was Gabriel. There he was. I had my boy. Born on the same day his grandfather was born, 50 years later. Born on the half birthday of his mother. Born the same month as my father, 64 years later. Born with really good numbers (this is so important to my mother) 10/10/99. Born close enough to home; mom and son, healthy and safe. I held him the afternoon he was born and we watched the Browns vs. the evil Bengals while his mother slept. It was the the first year the Browns were back after something terrible had happened and taken Pro football from us for three long years. The Browns lost, but only by one point. Not to get off on a football tangent but they would beat the Steelers that year for one of their two wins.
In the end, I was a boy having a baby, growing up quickly but realizing, like it or not, I was entering the realm of Real Men, the realm of my father and my father-in-law. Wondering though, as I tapped his tiny swaddled ass, when he would be old enough to play with legos or break out the old twelve inch G.I.Joes.