Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ticking of the Seconds, Minutes and Hours

Our son, Patrick Michael, celebrates his 29th birthday today. My wife was responsible for making of me a husband from a not especially promising pile of man. Our son rocketed me from husband to father. At the moment we learned of Sigrid's pregnancy (or should I more precisely say 'when I learned of'), I stopped being afraid to be a father. Patrick has helped make it the best job I have ever had.

He is the first born of two parents who were, themselves, first-born. There has been in his life no crap that we have thrown at him that one or the other of us hadn't experienced ourselves when we were children and had vowed 'I'd never do that to my kid when I have kids.' And we lied, and he turned out fine anyway.

Somewhere in our basement in Norwich , Connecticut, is a Benjamin Spock book I bought before Patrick was born in the Stars and Stripes bookstore beside the Exchange in Frankfurt am Main, which, when you walked across the parking lot, ended at the "World Famous Topper Club" (Don't get me started on the what it was world famous for stuff, okay?) and across from the street from the Topper (and the AAFES gas station) on the far side of Bertramstrasse, was #6, where I worked.

I bought the Dr. Spock book because my parents had a Dr. Spock book. Ours wound up in the basement of the apartment we lived in on Ahornstrasse in Offenbach, down the hill from the Bieberer Berg Stadion, home of the Offenbach Kickers, a First Division (Bundesliga) football team fallen on hard times and a fixture with delusions of adequacy in the Zweite Liga (Second Division).

Not too many years later, Patrick played on a team sponsored by OFC in one of the Youth (Jugend) divisions. I think he never really enjoyed playing American soccer, because he was too familiar with how the sport was supposed to be played. The Kickers are nearly finished building their new stadium. Time Flies. It must. How else to explain how the child I serenaded with I've Been Working on the Railroad for two hours in the Geburtsaal on the day of his birth is nine and twenty years today.

We were so foolish when Patrick was born- we didn't know what we didn't know. We had all kinds of books not just Spock, English and Deutsch, on child-raising, like we were building a bookshelf or baking a cake (both of which Sigrid has done, on more than one occasion and, I think at least once, simultaneously). Patrick was not much more than a toddler, running at what seemed like the speed of light, when he tripped and fell in the hatbox-sized apartment we had as the rockstar couple before Ahornstrasse and split his forehead open and bled so profusely we had to call an ambulance. Both of us can still see the scar no one else can, because we know where to look and how scared we were for him.

He was the child at the kindergarten just up the street from the apartment house who figured out how to slip the latch on the gate so he could home 'in case Mommy is lonely' and then he'd go back to school, usually before anyone noticed he was missing (always crossing the street, always at the corner and looking both ways). Sometimes he brought a few chums home as well since he was the 'Ami kind' and had toys and such from the PX of which his playmates could only dream.

One evening he explained to both his mother and I that almost everyone in his class had a little brother or sister and served notice that he wanted in on the action and preferred ein schwester. I'm not sure how much biology he understood at four but decided to NOT chance getting the answer I couldn't stand to a question I refused to ask.

On the day Sigrid gave birth to Michelle, Patrick told he'd changed his mind and wanted a little brother. It pained me (not at all) to explain all previous orders were considered final. Michelle may not appreciate my sharing that she idolizes her big brother, who dotes on her, but everything really does work if you let it.

When Oma Amerika (my mother) came to visit us, as East Germany was imploding, Patrick left us speechless at a gasthof outside of Wuerzburg by explaining to her (in English) he couldn't eat any more lunch because he was full. To this day, I have no idea where he learned my language but he did a fine job of it and was far better with mine than the dog's breakfast I made of his mother's.

When I was single, I couldn't imagine being married (judging from my social life, neither could anyone else). After we married I couldn't see myself as a father, and today, one of the reasons I am, is celebrating the anniversary of his birth with a buddy in Yankee Stadium, rooting for Derek Jeter to make history though perhaps not fully appreciating how much of ours he has helped shape through our dreams and hopes and despite our failings and our fears. And the best thing that you can do is take whatever comes to you. Happy Birthday, Patrick.
-bill kenny

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