When I found that I was about to become a father in 1977, I embraced fatherhood. I read books about babies, mothers and fathers, and I attended a series of Lamaze classes with my wife designed to help me be an active and equal partner in the process. When Chris started having contractions on September 3, 1977, I was there with her throughout the twelve hours of labor. I held her hand and comforted her, massaged her back, and read to her from Peter Beagles‚Äô fantasy novel, The Last Unicorn.
The whole notion of fathers being allowed in the delivery room was fairly new at the time, but I had been through my training and the hospital delivery staff was ready for me to join them. When the time came, they wheeled Chris into the delivery room while I got dressed up in my green pajamas and little paper booties. When I started to open the door to the delivery room, I was stopped by an official-looking gentleman in a suit and tie who introduced himself as the hospital administrator. He informed me that fathers were never permitted to be in the delivery room with their partners. Apparently, the administrator hadn‚Äôt been communicating with the delivery staff.
(The photo at right shows Amber and me at Amber's first Easter.)
After a night with no sleep, I was in no condition to argue. I sat down in shock and stared at the wall for the next half hour until the nurse brought my new daughter out to lay her in my arms. I sat there with her for five minutes or so, crying and looking at her, praising every square inch of her. I then went out to the parking garage and got in my car. As I drove home from the hospital along Sixth Avenue in Birmingham, I was in a fugue state far outside of time and disconnected from any physical reality. Gradually, I became aware of a loud and annoying honking sound, and I was drawn back to the present. I looked in my rearview mirror and realized that I was driving along the street at approximately five miles per hour, and that a long line of cars behind me were all honking loudly. I sped up and the cars stopped honking.
The next day, I arrived at my job as a welder at Plantation Patterns with a box of one hundred pink bubblegum cigars, and walked around the shop floor passing them out to all of my coworkers. Proletarian revolution receded for a time from the center of my consciousness and was replaced by a sense of amazement and wonder at the fragility and beauty of life and the loveliness of my baby daughter.
Years later, I now recognize that something had shifted for me, permanently. For the first time there was something for which I was prepared to give my life other than an abstraction. For the first time in my life, I truly, deeply cared about another individual human being more than about some vast notion of saving humanity or changing the entire world. The reality of my daughter in my life, very subtly and dangerously, began to chip away at my certainty, at my absolutism, at my self righteousness. I was truly in love, and it was love that would change me forever.