Fickle. That’s the only word that comes to mind when I think of the weather, in Iowa in March. One day, you’re basking in a warm spring-like day. The next day, you’re digging out from under a blanket of wet snow.
That’s how I remember starting March 23, 1979. We were almost to April and the renewal of Spring. March Madness was behind us. So, the threat of another spring Blizzard was lessening every day. Still, it was warming up to the 40’s with about 2” of snow waiting to melt off.
My Bride, Kayleen and I were living in the house where I grew up, four years after being married in the Rose Garden at a local park. Kayleen was nine months into her first pregnancy. While everything around me seemed familiar; the house, the neighborhood, friends and neighbors. I’m sure for Kayleen, she wasn’t quite as comfortable. With all the unfamiliar surroundings, she was Huge. Carrying her first child, this beautiful, petite, girl must have felt like she tripled in size.
There we were. Not much more than two kids ourselves. Expecting our first born.
Gone were the early days of fear, euphoria and anticipation when we first found out that we were expecting. Now, the feeling of “can we just get this over?” seemed to dominate every day.
In the 70’s, in Iowa, things were radically different than today. The medical community was still steeped in the traditions of early, modern medicine. Pregnancy and Labor were a “Women’s” thing. There were no Ultrasounds to herald whether it was a Boy or a Girl. Husbands were typically regulated to stand on the side-lines for nine months while their wives prepared the “Nest”. All Husbands had to do was wait outside of the labor room and pass out cigars when the cries of a newborn were heard. Fortunately, Kayleen and I were following my sister, Martha, and husband Gene, who had just had their first born a year earlier.
They had found a wonderful Hospital in the small city where we all grew up. For the 70’s, the Hospital was very progressive. And offered “Natural” child birth, not common for hospitals at the time. Especially in Iowa.
Soon after finding out Kayleen and I were expecting our first-born, we enrolled in the Lamaze program at the hospital. Lamaze was a radical change for the birthing process. Not just for Women, but for Men as well. Lamaze included a series of classes to help pregnant women understand how to cope with pain in ways that would ease labor, and promote comfort, including relaxation techniques, breathing, movement and massage. A vital part of the technique was enlisting the Men as coaches.
Going through the classes with Kayleen, I truly learned a lot. Most of the method was designed to help women manage the pain of birth. Throughout my life, I’ve called on those lessons frequently and know them to be very effective.
Here we were. Nine months into breathing exercises and belly rubs, still petrified. As frightened as I was at the prospect of being a Father, I can only imagine what Kayleen was going through; not only with becoming a Mother, but the expected pain that had been so articulately defined in those classes. There was no turning back.
Two weeks earlier, on a frigid, 12° night, complete with a new sheet of thin Ice on the roads. We had the legendary “False Alarm”. Kayleen was sure that this was it! So, we piled into the car and headed for the hospital. The trip that would normally take 30-40 minutes, seemed to last forever on this night. Both us full of anxiety and anticipation, sliding to the hospital as fast and as slow as possible. After a few hours of tests, prodding and consoling we were sent home. The good thing about “false alarms” is the preparation they provide for the real thing.
This day started like most. The wondering if this was it. Trying to keep busy and focused, with the metaphoric elephant in the room. It was Friday though. On the news they’d mentioned that the record high was 86°. Fickle!
Today, the forecast was for light rain. No Snow until later in the night. Typical cloudy grey Iowa morning. Little did I know; our world was about change forever, in a wondrous way.
Not sure if I went to work that day, nevertheless I’m certain Kay was busy picking stuff up in the house. A habit that I would come to recognize as “Nesting” over the years. Sometime around eight that night, Kay exclaimed “This is really it”. Thanks to the “false alarm” a few weeks prior, there was little anxiety or chaos. Just a methodical march to the car and then the hospital.
Arriving at the hospital, we felt like pros and even recognized some faces from our earlier trip. The staff quickly confirmed that this was indeed it!
Off to the delivery room. Because of the new Lamaze practice, the room was designed to start as a regular patient room and when needed, convert to the birthing room for delivery, then back to normal. Cool. Everything was hectic for the first couple of hours. I could see the fear and uncertainty in Kay’s eyes and couldn’t seem to calm her down.
You know that feeling you get sometimes when a big change is coming. Not sure if it will be good or bad? A storm brewing kind of feeling. That’s how I was feeling when I heard it. All the chatter and noisy chaos had stopped instantly. Then I heard it through the stark silence. Thud, thud, thud. Thinking about it now makes me think of the T. Rex in Jurassic Park. Thud, thud, thud. Getting louder and quicker each time.
The door to our room bursts open with a shout of “Is this where we’re having a Baby!” There in the doorway was our Night Nurse. An almost 6-foot-tall, rotund, 50’ish nurse in an impeccably detailed uniform. She was shouting orders to everyone in the room, including Kay and me. “Move This!”, “Sit Here!”, “that Can’t Be In Here!”
I took one look at Kay and saw the fear in her eyes and could only imagine how I looked to her. Calm was not the mood that night.
Together, Kay and I spent the night in anxious anticipation. Utilizing all my new skills from Lamaze, I worked to make Kay as comfortable as possible. Belly rubs, Ice chips and the monotonous breathing sessions. Our systematic practice of Lamaze was oft interrupted by a loud “What’s Going On In Here!?” Or, “Is That Baby Here Yet!?” from our bellicose night nurse. We have since nicknamed her the “Army Nurse”, or “Nurse Ratchet”. In looking back, I’m sure she was a sweetheart. Anyone that devotes their life in the service of others, usually has a heart of Gold.
For us two Doe-Eyed, soon to be parents, our nurse was both an extreme disciplinarian and our comic relief. Kay never did relax, and more importantly, never dilated. The hours and minutes ticked by sluggishly. What was only a few hours, seemed like an eternity with us both huddled in a dark, cold hospital room. Whispering to each other as if anyone could hear of us over the droning sounds of beeps and PA announcements of a Hospital. Like clockwork, every Hour on the Hour, the “Army Nurse” would burst in with some exclamation, ensuring Kay would stay sufficiently anxious.
Around 7 that morning, the door opened… flooding the room with warm sunshine. It seemed that I could hear a choir and I’m sure I even saw a few white doves. Through it all, an angel appeared in the form of our morning nurse. Immersed in a golden glow, dressed in white from head to toe, and not saying a word. Instantly, Kay and I knew everything was going to be fine. Almost whispering, our Angel floated around the room checking everything out while accessing Kay’s condition in-depth.
Holding Kay’s hand to calm her down, the Angel looked at me and with a calm, loving voice said, “You need to leave now”. Without question, I gave Kay a kiss and left.
As Kay tells the story, our Angel helped her out of bed and into a warm shower. Kay often says she was glad that no one else saw the sight of a nine month, very pregnant, naked lady in the shower. Disconcerting or not, the shower did the trick. What seemed almost instantly, the room was a buzz with nurses, technicians and Doctors. The room was quickly converted to a birthing room and at 9:01 a.m. our wonderful Son, Jason Alan made his entrance.
They had brought me back into the room and were very attentive to make sure I was by Kay’s side during the delivery. For a twenty-four-year-old, soon to be Dad, I was in awe. Never did I think something as clinical as childbirth, could be such a miraculous experience. They coached me and held my hands while I nervously cut the umbilical cord, formally making Jason an individual. An experience that will always be one of my best memories.
Well, there we were, New Parents. Now what?
Kay and I spent the next few years in what I can only describe as euphoria. The three Musketeers, Kayleen, Jason and me. Inseparable. Jason was always a happy and inquisitive baby. Everyone he met loved him and fawned over him insatiably.
While we were really struggling financially in a very tough economy, I always remember those days as a very joyous time filled with love and the new adventure of becoming a family.
Today, Jason celebrates his 39th birthday. Yesterday in his adopted Australia. A Husband and Father of two remarkable boys. Kayleen and I are so proud of the Man he has become. Watching him grow as a husband and father over the years has brought back so many wonderful memories of those first days as Parents.
Jason will always have that special place as our “first born”. For a while, an only child. I will always cherish my early times with Jason. We did so many firsts together.
An early Soccer star that we nicknamed “Thunder Thighs”, a talented, dependable baseball player that hit the ball every time he stepped up to the plate. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of coaching him in both, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Like I always tell all our kids. “I learned more from you, than I ever taught you”.
We also share a strong love for Music. Albeit, Jason would eventually venture into the uncharted waters of Guns & Roses and Metallica, he truly, always loved “good music”. As did all our family. Some of our best times together were going to concerts. While most families were off to Disneyland, we would stand in the rain all day to see Ringo. Or, climb to the top of the Metro Dome, sitting in “nose bleed” seats watching McCartney through binoculars.
As the “first-born”, Jason and I shared a lot of special memories, just the two of us. With music, it always centered around concerts with phenomenal guitarist. The two of us were fortunate to see artists like Stephen Stills in small intimate venues. Probably, my favorite was the night Jason and I went to see Eric Clapton. Prior to his resurgence with “Tears in Heaven” and the “Un-Plugged” album, Clapton was touring in relatively small venues, instead of the arenas he would soon be filling nightly.
It was around this time that I first heard Clapton’s song “My Father’s Eyes”. One of my all-time favorites. A new father, Clapton wrote about the uncertainty of the road ahead as a father. Sadly, this was his lyrical introduction to his son Conor, who’s tragic death was immortalized by Eric in the song “Tears In Heaven”.
My Father’s Eyes…
“Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I´ve realized
That´s when I need them,
That´s when I need my father´s eyes.”
Every time I hear this song, I think of Jason. Remembering the anxious anticipation of being a first-time father. Like Clapton, I turned it all over to our Heavenly Father and He continues to watch over and Bless us all.
Happy Birthday Jason! All Our Love, All Ways! Mom & Dad
“My Father’s Eyes” by Eric Clapton
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