Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Memo to My Son

I wrote this many years ago. And I meant every word then and now. Tomorrow is  my son, Patrick Michael's birthday. (I'm trying to steal a march on him this year and bragging on him early) When I type 'my son' or 'my daughter' (when speaking of his sister, Michelle Alison) or 'my wife', Sigrid Katharina, I smile, not because of a pride of possession mentality but because I am truly the most fortunate person on the planet. 

If we've not met, count your blessings-I am NOT likable. Take my word on this and be assured I could send you a list of folks who could attest to this fact, and that this list would vaguely resemble the census in size and scope, helps underscore my point. 

Being not likable makes it a difficult stretch to be lovable, and yet, my wife, an otherwise sane and logical person, could not possibly be married to me for nearly thirty-eight years, but has. Our two children are the result of her ability to make someone into something they feared they never could be. She not only raised two children, she transformed a self-absorbed obliviot into an Approximate Dad. Considering what she had to work with, she done good.

I was afraid to have children--the actual, 'here's a small human to take care of and worry about for the rest of your life' portion of the program seemed more daunting to me than I could ever handle. 
When Sigrid shared with me she (and we, by extension) was pregnant, it was the early winter of what had been a rough year. Having successfully placed half a world between us, I discovered more guilt and anger when my dad died that Spring than sorrow at his passing. That's how we had been and I was afraid it was a preview for my performance.


Sigrid went into labor in the middle of the morning and we drove across town to the Offenbach Stadtkrankenhaus. German physicians in the early Eighties were pretty much an unknown species to me (Sigrid's frauenarzt was cool enough-I still have the black and white Polaroids of Patrick in the womb, his (ahem) ornaments clearly visible) and I was to them as well.

Their luck came to end with my son's birth and they were pretty good sports about it. As Sigrid's labor continued and the contractions shortened and the delivery preparation's tempo quickened, I was asked where I would be during her stay in the geburtsaal, and I assured the doctors, 'right there with her', which surprised them. 

I attempted to explain in what pretty passable Deutsch (I thought) since I had placed the order, I had every intention of taking delivery. Maybe my German wasn't that good-it was like playing to an oil painting, no smile, no nothing, gar nichts.

When Patrick was born, after what's considered a spontangeburt (for the male doctors who can NEVER experience pregnancy, in their opinion, the childbirth was accomplished without labor. Sure it was-from your lips to God's ear, Herr Arzt),

Sigrid looked she had just run a marathon and was utterly exhausted. I watched while the midwife cleaned up my son and, as she swabbed off the blood, he peed on her. Crying, basically blind, totally helpless in an alien world, he was my son and I laughed out loud maybe in amazement but more likely in joy and thankfulness for what I had just witnessed. 

The midwife placed Patrick on Sigrid's chest, for mother and child bonding and my disappointment knew almost no words. At that moment, I was so jealous of the woman I loved. I asked as politely as I could if, after she had 'had enough of holding him', if I could, and was stunned when she picked him up and fixing me with a stare that bordered on a glare (leading me to suspect that the geburt wasn't quite as spontan as the wizard in the white coat had thought and just because it was spontan hadn't meant it was schmerzfrei) handed Patrick to me, saying 'I've carried him for nine months, it's your turn now.' 

Patrick was and is, my deal with God. From the moment I held him, I no longer cared what happened to me and egotist that I am, that's saying something. I know, your children are beautiful and smart and talented and handsome and sorry they're not my children and my son and my daughter are the absolute best not only in the world, but in the history of the world (there's a barn in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (I think), that might want to argue that point but no chance, sorry).

I walked him around that delivery room for the next two hours or so, singing I've Been Working on the Railroad (the drum and piano would have cluttered the delivery room) and really working those Fie-Fi-Fiddly-I-Os, making up in volume what I lacked in pitch. I don't know why I sang the song--I'm shaking my head in bemused bewilderment as I type this. It seemed like a good idea at the time actually, it was a perfect idea.



And point in fact, I've gone on for way too long--Patrick was born faster than I'm telling you about it. In many ways, the years seem to have sped by at that same clip. He and his sister have overcome the handicap of being my children, mostly because they've had the good fortune to have the love and devotion of my wife as their Mom. And, yeah, he's made me crazy, angry, frightened, delighted and every emotion in between--because that's what children do.

And as long as you remember to make sure they always know that sometimes they will do things you will not like, but that you will always love them, they will be able to do anything, even leave you when they grow up to be adults of their own. 

There will be phone conversations that start out about one subject and become all that and that infamous bag of chips. And your eyes will fill with tears as you watch them end a chapter of what you still see as their childhood and begin to write their own novel as the life you always wanted for them finally begins.

And it hurts, my God it hurts, and maybe the keyboard blurs as I type this because it's really warm and my eyes are perspiring-yeah, that what it is I'm sure. Sorry if the folks you work with razz you today for having a dotty dad-you knew that long ago.  
Happy Birthday, Patrick! Love, Dad.

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