These are my thoughts and the sounds of the last three months. The audio track link below has more substance than the text on this page.
Special thanks to friends and family who were recorded and not aware as I documented our life for a few months.
To those who know me, I may appear to know a little about a lot. Usually, I read voraciously to understand a subject, but reading about this is of little use. Certainly, people write about it, endlessly in fact, but I cannot learn this skill from ink on a page. I’m placing my faith in the people around me. The people I trust. Those who have made me. My friends, my family, my wife. Those who have placed their faith in me.
Looking Back to See Forward
I’m waiting to meet my first child. Jamie is pregnant.
In five months I’ll be a father. It’s going to happen whether I am ready or not. I have claimed for several years to be ready to start a family, but finding out Jamie was pregnant was a jolt. Not a lightning bolt, but an earthquake. News you cannot be ready for. The ground on which we had been standing for years, so solid, so predictable, was shaking. On the evening of January 15, I came home after a day that can only be described as normal. Jamie, dark and beautiful, was standing in the living room holding a pee stick. I didn’t know what else to call it. She stood there, staring up at me with her big, round, Disney character eyes. She had been waiting. I knew immediately.
For the last month I have been thinking. A lot. Not about one thing, but about many things. Of course, the baby, but also about parenting. I’m going to be a father. I haven’t a clue what that means; to be responsible for another life. Had I learned anything from my parents? Sure, I thought they were great, but I never took any notes. What did they have? Will I have whatever it was? Will I someday give my own child the same admiration I have for my own mom and dad?
I feel as though I had, and still have, great parents. This notion has been reinforced by my sister, Cassie. Soon-to-be Aunt Cassie. For the past couple months I have failed to identify why we feel this way. In my head I’ve tried to somehow calculate what makes a good parent, but my mental list never adds up to a great parent. Not automatically anyway. Mom has always been so patient. Impossibly patient. That one always comes to mind first because I am painfully aware it is one of my own weaknesses. I’ve always known mom would be there. So dependable it would be impossible not to take for granted. So reliable it’s boring. She has always been selfless to a fault and we love her more for it.
Jamie stood there in the living room, pee stick in hand.
“So this is interesting,” is all she said as she looked up at me.
A smile come across my face. I remember a fair amount of silence as neither of us could really believe the news. It was not expected nor was it surprising. We hadn’t been like some other couples with apps tracking cycles and having sex based on a calendar. I’m not saying we wouldn’t, I just hoped it would not be necessary. We had decided to spend a year letting what would be – be. Then it just happened.
News like this sinks in quickly, and slowly, simultaneously. The sobering reality that life as you know it is about to change is not lost in the first moments. The small fears crept into the corners of my mind in seconds. Is it healthy? Are we ready for this? The more subtle realizations come slowly over days and weeks. Thoughts about economics, sleeplessness, responsibilities set in. In those first moments however, none of it was instant for Jamie. She needed more proof. As if the plus sign on the stick wasn’t proof enough. With news of this gravity, it’s okay to ask for more. Doubt is natural. Jamie did not want to wait until tomorrow, or next week. Minutes after getting the news of one positive pee-stick we were headed to the local grocery store. After four positives there was no denying. We were pregnant. The news settled over us like a heavy blanket and we laughed at the pile of pee-sticks now sitting on our kitchen island. Where we make dinner. Gross we thought. We laughed again because we were excited, nervous, and mostly clueless at what to do next. So we cleaned the counter-top.
With my mother it was easy to identify characteristics that place her firmly in the good-parent category. I could listen to anyone describe an excellent parent and just shake my head thinking about my own mother. She would have all the attributes anyone could possibly list. With dad it’s less apparent. Fatherhood is on my mind for obvious reasons. That will be my role. What made dad a great parent is subtle. He was a ‘lead by example’ kind of parent. He never pretended. Just being who he was, who he is; that was his technique. I’m excited that Dad and I will now share this experience; the experience of fatherhood. I can’t help but wonder how I’ll be a different father than he has been. In what ways will I be better or worse? Dad certainly never read the baby books if there were any. He never consulted a how-to manual. I don’t ever picture my father worrying too much about parenting because mom was there.
The way I see it, Dad was set in his ways long before I arrived. The mornings have always been his domain. He wakes like he lives two time zones to the east. He is hopelessly unhip. He doesn’t care about what other people think. At a young age it might have been embarrassing on occasion; when he’d drop me off in a beat up old truck or be covered from head to toe in paint splatters to meet another parent. It would be years before I’d learn a lesson about perception. Before I would find pride in my fathers’ work. Years before I’d appreciate the power of manual labor. It would be even longer before I’d see the freedom in what he chose to do. The lesson was there, to always take pride in what you do and I was left to come to it on my own. Dad worked so hard, often late, then he’d eat dinner and melt into the couch. But he always found the energy, even if for a minute to chase us around the house, to horse play, to tickle. Just enough energy to eat dinner, always around the table, as a family, as directed and prepared by mom. Then, almost nightly, he’d fall asleep on the couch.
Dad’s fashion was comedic. I think my sister thought he was trying to torture her as he wore knee-high white socks with sandals or bright white shoes with hundred dollar bills printed on them. Getting dad to wear pants around the house was a necessary chore when company would visit. Another lesson perhaps. Dad was tall, wiry, with skinny legs and crazy hair. His teachable moments were ndirect but every bit as powerful. Dad reminded us, perhaps not even on purpose, to love life and to have fun. In that, he led by example. He loved his job and showed us how to work hard. It’s cliche, but it came easy to him, the work-hard, play-hard lifestyle was constant. He loved work. Still does too. I also love what I do. I too love to work. I’m not certain if that’s because of him, but I’d like to think so. At the very least he always let me, encouraged me, to pursue my own interests – even when he didn’t understand them.
The first trimester was rough for Jamie for all the obvious reasons. Yes, morning sickness, but also every night. We live in a small apartment. I would hear her in the bathroom getting sick before and after work almost daily. There was nothing I could do and I hated that – probably because I was partly responsible. The first trimester was rough for another reason I had not considered. There’s a cruel irony that you aren’t supposed to tell anyone that you’re pregnant. It’s all you want to do. It’s big news, the kind you want to share, but you can’t.
There’s a cruel irony that you aren’t supposed to tell anyone that you’re pregnant. It’s all you want to do. It’s big news, the kind you want to share, but you can’t. Starting pregnancy with a secret is strange.
Starting pregnancy with a secret is strange. I understand it, but I’m still not sure I agree with the concept. Jamie felt like shit, bloated, and nauseous, but she had to continue acting like non-pregnant people do. Socializing like non-pregnant people do. Talking like non-pregnant people do. She felt alien with an alien growing inside her and I was the only one who knew. For the whole of the first trimester I was happy and excited and I felt great! The same could not be said for Jamie.
We all know that life is going to change when the baby arrives. What I didn’t know is that my life would change as soon as I heard the heartbeat. The baby is coming. The thoughts about where we will live, how we can continue working, what we need to buy, and how mom and baby are doing, are all-consuming. It’s hard to think about anything else. The medical profession wants you to worry. Or it would seem that way. So many questions and discussions of potential problems and risks. These early months are stressful and a bit frightening. Doctors start sentences, “Let me tell you about the risks,” and end conversations with advisements of additional testing and frequent visits to make sure everything is going ‘okay.’ The second trimester does seem to slow down and be less scary. Ultrasounds are less stressful and more enjoyable. It’s exciting to see the growth. Appointments are short and almost fun. Our baby was rarely cooperative when it came time to for an ultrasound, always hiding in the womb, rotating in just the wrong way. We laughed at the idea of this trouble maker; could this be indicative of personality?
Going into pregnancy I thought nine months was nothing. I thought the pregnancy would fly by and I’d be holding my child before I knew it. I was wrong. When you’re waiting for a major life event and your partner is often sick and uncomfortable, nine months feels longer. The to-do list feels as long as the wait. We haven’t registered or taking any requisite classes. Haven’t read the baby books. We don’t even know where we’re going to live, where Jamosh will come home to when we leave the hostpital. One month ago a sonographer was rubbing gel on Jamie’s abdomen. We were looking at the big screen. You know the fuzzy black and white images are going to look just like any you have ever seen. It’s still exciting. A shape emerges like a little sea horse. Then the thumping, rapid echo like a signal picked up from deep space. The heartbeat. We smile together and share a moment; a whole conversation with just our eyes. A privilege reserved for spouses and best of friends. Then our Jamosh shifted. The tech struggled to keep the wand in place joking that, “This is very indicative of personality.” Great we thought, not even three months old and already misbehaving.
Dad likes fishing. I did too from a very young age. It was one of the ways we spent quality time together. Early mornings on quiet lakes. Neither of us were particularly good at expressing emotion, especially fifteen years ago. But let me clarify before I continue: He’s not one of those parents that never said ‘I love you.’ He said it often and I always knew it. Perhaps my father didn’t realize how obvious it was Many times when I was young, my Uncle Ed would tell me how my father felt. I always assumed that my dad had asked my uncle to say those things for him. The words of love and support were never a secret but always felt good.
Now, back to fishing, fifteen years ago we were fishing in Canada. We had just gotten to the lake and we were excited to get on the water. We rushed out, leaving the tackle box behind. Before long we caught a large Northern Pike. We looked into the mouth full of teeth to see the lure. We were without pliers.
Dad said, “I’ll hold the fish, tight, you reach down there and unhook the lure.”
It was a ‘just trust me’ moment. Now, I have always been averse to pain, so I didn’t love this plan, but he convinced me that he wouldn’t let fish make a move. I believed him. I made my fingers small as possible and began the descent past the teeth. Right then, the fish shifted violently and raked its teeth along my hand. There was nothing dad could do. Fish are as strong as they are slippery. My hand was bloodied and we headed for shore.
I didn’t think twice about that night for almost fifteen years. That is until recently, when a similar scenario arrived this year. Dad asked me trust him.
I only joked, “Yeah, like when we were fishing in Canada and…”
That’s when my dad interrupted and finished my sentence. He had remembered that evening all this time. It was not a memory that I expected him to have. We have so many other fishing memories – great ones. But there it was; a moment when he asked his son to trust him and failed. I never saw it that way, but I think maybe he had. I tell this story because the truth is, I cannot think of one instance where he let me down.
It’s hard for me to imagine, hope as I may, my child at 31 years of age saying, “My dad, Josh, he never me let me down.”
Jamie is a petite girl. She’s gaining weight and I love catering to her every craving. It’s the least I can do for my wife; the woman uncomfortably carrying our child. The question everyone asks me on the phone is, “Well, is she showing?” Yes, we both are. She wants coconut ice cream with fudge and I can’t very well let her enjoy it alone. The word “bump” in now a part of my weekly nomenclature. Since the pregnancy I have fallen for my wife anew. I never put much stock in the term ‘pregnancy-glow’ before, but I now see it, completely and beautifully in my Jamie. I know she’s uncomfortable often and unfortunately for both of us, empathy is another department where I’m lacking. I see the beauty, the miracle, and have a hard time remembering it’s not ALL glamorous for her.
In order to look forward at what kind of parent I might be, I have been forced to look back at what kind of parents I have had.
If it’s not obvious, I am extremely excited Jamie is pregnant. I’m exuberant about the arrival of a baby boy or girl who I can dote on and smother with love, who I can lift into the air like the little Lion King, and show off as the proud papa I surely will be. We are working on a name. It was he/she or it, and for now it’s Jamosh. An unclever moniker coined by my sister. I must admit – it has caught on. My dad even thought it might be the name we’ve actually chosen. We like Jackson for a boy. We’ve lived on Jackson street for five years and it’s where Jamosh was conceived. It’s going to take us more time to agree on a name if Jamosh is a girl. Naming is more difficult than I expected. It’s so permanent. Can a name really shape who they become? I don’t know. Add it to the list of things to worry about.
My mother, she is the calming voice in my head. She reminds to, “breathe.” She reminds me to do better. To be better. A number of years ago when the WWJD bracelets were popular I did not have one. Never needed one. When confronted with a problem that feels too big for me to face, I ask myself WWMD – what would mom do? I can hear her voice, guiding me, helping me to choose the tougher choice, the one on sturdy moral ground. The one I know is right. The one I know is right already; because of her.
For the most part I’ll be taking parenting cues from my mother. Hopefully whatever she taught me I can pass along. I’ve been called many things in my life, but wise has never been among them. But I know trying to be a parent half as good as my mother is a smart thing to do.
Like dad, mom embarrassed us too. The difference was that she seemed to know it. That made it all the more heedful. Mom would come to class dressed up.
Kids would turn to my sister or me, “…is that your mom?”
Under the mask, we knew it was her. Other kids may have thought it was cool. My sister and I were generally mortified, shrinking into our desks denying any relation. This kind of thing happened on holidays, birthdays and any day she wanted to ruin. That’s how we saw it. Only much later would we appreciate these visits. If she had done these things today they’d probably be filmed by classmates and put on YouTube. It wasn’t what other parents did. That’s why I now know how amazing it was. How amazing she was. How amazing she is. She taught us life-lessons actively and thoughtfully. I think she was deliberate, attentive, and careful. Always teaching. Probably still teaching.
She entertained us. Gave us dance parties and good hugs. We would play games, always. We did a lot of crafts. It likely led me into a career of being creative. We didn’t have a video game console. She wouldn’t allow it. Too much TV. When we would complain about being bored I can remember her telling us, “…people who are bored are boring people to be with.” I hated it. I still kind of hate it. I’m sure I’ll say it to my child someday, bite my tongue and smile. She’d tell us to go outside. We did. We learned how to make up games. We rode our bikes. When we were thirsty, we drank from the hose. She didn’t even know where we were half the time. Does that make a good parent? We never felt smothered or inhibited. She made us feel independent but never neglected. We were not fragile. We got dirty. We ate hostess cupcakes from the freezer. We stayed out past dark, chewed candy cigarettes and we lived to tell.
So to my future child; this is what our world was like before you arrived. Crazy, emotional, filled with joy and love. so much love.
Tonight I will lay down next to you and my wife, your mother. I will feel the weight of the future on my shoulders and I’ll think of you, floating weightless, in a world I could never remember. I’ll hope you’re doing well, that you are comfortable, that you are safe. I’ll realize just before I go to sleep that these new thoughts are the ones I’m going to have for the rest of my life. Sleep well.