Gretchen burned her hand tonight while she was making dinner. It wasn’t anything too serious, but she was in pain and unable to use one hand for the rest of the evening. As a result, I spent a lot more time holding Sammy than I usually do. It made me think about him, and about being a father.

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When Gretchen was pregnant we attended child birth classes together. I was genuinely excited when we got up on a sunny Saturday morning and drove to the first session. I was thinking of what a great dad I was going to be and how hard I was going to work to help Gretchen during labor. During the class I took notes, I read ahead. I asked more questions than I did in all four years of high school. When the teacher asked for a couple to help demonstrate a pain management method my hand was up first. I massaged Gretchen’s back and counted aloud earnestly while she sat on a rubber ball and breathed loudly. It wasn’t until the video that I realized I was completely unprepared for what was about to happen. All of my confidence and zeal evaporated when I saw this:

Dwayne and Barbara are sitting on a couch together. They talk about what they think labor is going to be like. Barbara leans her head on Dwayne’s shoulder and looks up at him. Now they are walking into a hospital, holding hands and smiling. Now they are in a room full of medical equipment and the Barbara is wearing a smock. Her breathing is labored and she looks uncomfortable but she is still smiling. Now she is completely naked, squatting on a hospital bed and screaming. Dwayne holds her hand and tries to comfort her. “You’re almost there honey”, he says. “I can see the head.” Unspeakable horror is now coming out of Barbara. Dwayne is wearing red suspenders and he is sweating. Barbara screams again. The unspeakable horror leaps out and is caught by a doctor with particularly good reflexes. Barbara collapses.

When the screen had faded to black I realized I wasn’t breathing. I turned to my wife, who was eating a pretzel and looking for her cell phone as if she had not just witnessed the seventh level of hell as I had. She looked at me and said “Are you alright? You look pale.”

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I thought of Dwayne’s suspenders a month later when I was standing in a hospital room myself and saying the same things to my own wife while she brought our own unspeakable horror into the world. “You’re doing great”, I said. “Just keep breathing, you can do it.” I had no idea what was going on, but I assured her that everything was perfect. At one point the nurse said to me, “Mr. Evans, would you like to see the head?” Without thinking I leaned over and looked, and… it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was kind of interesting. There he was, our baby. His wrinkly little scalp was beet red and dotted with scraggly blond hairs. Gretchen would push and his head would peek out a little, then she would stop and he would disappear. She would strain and groan and a little more of him would be visible, then he would be gone again. Finally, the doctor said, “Alright, he’s really coming now, keep pushing, don’t stop”. She pushed and pushed until I thought she really would die, then all of the sudden he slipped out and I saw that he had no face. I panicked. “He has no face! Holy crap he doesn’t have a face!”

As it turns out he did have a face. He was still partially in the amniotic sac and his face was just covered. After the doctor cleaned him up he actually looked a lot like me (unfortunately for him). A nurse handed him to me and I looked at him and smiled. He vomited up some goo and looked back at me. I laid him in Gretchen’s arms and sat next to her on the hospital bed. We said a few automatic things to each other like “He’s beautiful” and “I love you”, and then we were quiet for a while. I had expected to feel different at this point. I had expected to feel fatherly and grown up, but instead I didn’t feel much at all. For what felt like an hour we just sat there holding hands and looking at him.

It was later that night that I did feel something. Sammy and Gretchen were both asleep and I was lying in the supremely uncomfortable chair/bed monstrosity the hospital provides for new dads, and suddenly I loved him. It wasn’t like I expected it to be, but I loved him very much. It had nothing to do with him being cute or helpless or because I was supposed to. I just realized that he was my son, and that I was his father, and I loved him.

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