Sitting across from me at our favorite Thai restaurant, staring at the baby blue pacifier I had arranged for the waiter to hide in his green tea ice cream, his face was almost the same shade of green.
“Whaaat?” he said in a low, shaky voice.
My heart sank. It wasn’t the voice I was hoping for when I announced the big news.
We had talked about this, hadn’t we? It’s not like we didn’t know this was a possibility. But still … this soon, just a month after we started trying — it was a shocker. And I knew then, though he had said he was ready, he really wasn’t.
I ended up losing the pregnancy three weeks later. Perhaps the universe’s way of making sure we were in this thing together. And while I was devastated, I think he was secretly relieved.
I was more than a little nervous to broach the subject again. There’s never a “right time” to start a family, I told him. When we’re more settled. When we pay down some debt, own a home. When his music career takes off. All the things we’d considered but had yet to check off the list. I’m 36, I said. Who knows if/when this will happen again? If we wait for the right time, there may be no time for us at all.
He’d never been a “kid person,” I knew this. With nieces and nephews, my friends’ kids, he’d politely shake their little hands and exchange pleasantries in his cool, steady way as if they were a new management executive or a groupie meeting the band for the first time. His focus was music — preparing to travel the world as a professional drummer. Still, he knew he wanted a family. And he knew he wanted one with me.
So we tried again. And after 13 painfully long months that always started with hope but ended in disappointment, that little stick finally revealed two pink lines once again. And his voice was just slightly less shaky.
Pink, as it turns out, was apropos. She was delivered by cesarean after 19 hours of labor (and three hours of pushing). When I was rushed to surgery due to excessive bleeding, and faced hours of recovery before being able to breastfeed, even hold, my new baby, he was forced to jump in — way before he was ready. It seemed to be a running theme in our foray into parenthood.
He didn’t know how to hold a newborn, much less a bottle to its rooting, screeching mouth. But as I lay there, sore, exhausted and disappointed that I couldn’t nurse, and looked over at him — at his big, craggy hands, themselves tired and bruised from hours, years, of swinging drumsticks — gently cradling and feeding our little girl as if he’d done it all his life, I thought my heart would burst out of my chest. And this time, I was the one who was relieved.
This man who didn’t know if he was ready to be a father, was being a Dad within the first few hours. And seems a pretty good one.
I could never have known that this was just the beginning of the kind of Dad he would be.
Ironically this Dad, the one who’d been on the road with a band for most of his adult life, wasn’t ready for all the late hours. He didn’t know he’d be awakened 30 times a night and have to share his wife’s bed, and body, with another. And then another. He didn’t know after getting home from a gig at 4 am that he’d be up at 6 am for things like croupe or a panicked trip to the pediatrician.
Now he’s the first to notice when she’s running a fever. And the one I find the next morning in a different bed — called in by another night terror — still laying by his son’s side.
Back then, he didn’t know if he could handle the caretaking. What does he know of diapering, bathing, dressing a kid and nursing a myriad of boo-boos?
Now we laugh that he’s the only one brave enough to clip their fingernails since that first time I nicked a little finger and drew blood.
And I still thank God to this day that he was there to hold our daughter’s head steady while the ER doctor stitched up her chin.
He knew for certain that he wasn’t ready for the responsibilities. The daily grind. The early mornings, getting ready for school. Now, the man who will forever be a night owl, the last one to bed, is always the first one up, making breakfast and washing dishes from the night before because he knows it’s his wife’s least favorite chore in the world.
And he definitely wasn’t ready for the commitment. How could he be there, in the way he wanted? Emotionally, financially, logistically … when he was usually running on fumes, and miles from home?
The choice was hard and easy at the same time.
Brought on by untold circumstances and a dream that took a new direction, as they often do. But when shared, can be all the sweeter to chase.
Now he works two part-time jobs, then stays up half the night online, pursuing a new career he loves — one closer to home.
Now he’s one of the few dads at the school meetings. The dad who will move mountains to make it to a baseball game or theatre performance. The kind of dad who can turn a boring afternoon into an acoustic silly songwriting session and knows how to talk his nine-year-old daughter off the latest fashion emergency ledge. And who, along with his children, schemes an entire week of birthday surprises for his wife, “though he wishes he could do more.”
No, he wasn’t ready for this life. He didn’t know if it would make him happy. Being a round-the-clock, hands-on Dad who’s always there for his family. He wasn’t so sure back then.
But now he knows — we both do — that nothing could make him happier.