Good Friday morning ...
During these days of adjusted living requirements due to COVID-19, it gives time for reflections on the past. My screened porch, overlooking Holy Oaks Lake, is where I do my best reflecting and this is what came upon me this week. I guess since my first-born turned fifty this past February ... my mind paused and took me back to reflect upon that day.
When a man walks into a hospital with his wife as she is about to give birth for the first time ... he is nowhere else. There is nothing else he can think about .... because his purpose in life has suddenly become clearer ... and it doesn't extend beyond the now. He exists to get his wife from the car to the delivery room and then to be available for whatever she needs. That's it. This is the moment. This is what counts. This is all that's important.
I was that man on Sunday morning, February 8, 1970. I was awakened early that morning with a push from Sandy as we lay together in bed. Her voice was clear and strong and perhaps a bit loud for a dark bedroom where I was lying right next to her: "I think my water just broke!"
With that, an organized but mad rush began to get to Glen Cove Hospital as quickly as possible. I hastily dressed, grabbed the bag that had been packed in anticipation of this morning, raced down the stairs of our three-room apartment above my father-in-law's clinical laboratory, and started the car to get it warmed up. It was dark and snowing lightly, causing this father-to-be to become even more nervous.
I raced back up to the apartment to guide Sandy down the stairs and into the car while she began to have some mild contractions. We headed out toward Glen Cove. We called no one. We said little. Our intent was to get to the hospital quickly and thankfully there was little traffic on that snowy Sunday so early in the morning. While the Long Island world slept, we made our way to the birthing room.
Once the automatic swinging doors of the hospital closed behind me, the world outside disappeared. The parking lot, the snow-covered roads, the rent payment due, the ticking sound I had heard in the engine, the job at Liberty Mutual, the NASA space project that was in the news, the upcoming mid-term elections ... it all peeled away, totally unimportant. There was no room for any of it.
I was nervous and dutiful, alert yet in a fog. The time had come. I watched my wife breathing deeply, catching her breath, wiping sweat from her forehead. It pained me to watch. There was nothing I could do. I had known in the abstract for many months that this day would come, but now that it was here was worried I had forgotten something, some responsibility, some duty I was to perform.
And then a nurse beckoned from an open doorway. We rose together, Sandy with my assistance, me with wobbly knees. I helped her to the waiting nurse, anxious for her expertise, her knowledge of what happens next, not wanting to be responsible for making sure things go smoothly.
At the door, I was rebuffed ... left alone ... my wife disappearing into some inner sanctum where fathers were not yet allowed, at least not by her attending physician, Dr. Millen, who by the way, birthed Sandy twenty-three years earlier. After a few minutes, the attending nurse reappeared at the door and beckoned me to take a brown paper shopping bag containing my wife's personal belongings. So, there I was ... left all alone in a small waiting area sitting with a bag of my wife's clothing on my lap. I did what was expected: I waited. No one else joined me. No other couples arrived. There was no other activity on that particular February morning. Just me, my thoughts and a prayer.
After a ninety-minute-or-so wait, the door to the inner sanctum opened and another nurse came toward me holding a bundle in her arms and introduced me to my son. It was an odd moment, not exactly as you expect it to be with a stranger making the introduction rather than your own wife. Stranger still in that this tiny infant didn't look anything like I had expected (but really what could I have expected?). He was dark complexed, very unlike his father, had a head of dark straight hair, again very unlike his father, and would have surely been a mistake in my mind, if it were not for the fact that he was the ONLY birth taking place in the hospital at the time.
And so, I met my first-born, Christopher James Engel. There was this overwhelming emotion in the air, a sudden realization that this was a momentous event that heralded big changes in our lives. To me, Chris was a miracle the way every baby is a miracle to every mother and father. He wasn't a prince or a king. He wasn't a whiz kid born for the ages. He wasn't the next Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan. He was our baby boy.
It was that boy that brought me not only happiness but purpose. Most new fathers feel something like this, a new and permanent sense of duty that comes with being responsible for a person's life, health and happiness. I saw that this tiny person I brought into the world was a gift of God's creation and could not live without me. Suddenly my days at work had a clearer goal and weekends and early mornings became sacred for a new reason. I became dimly aware of men I knew who also had children and that those children were the center of their universe as this one had become the center of mine. But in the end, and certainly at that moment, all that really mattered was my own child.
If you could have seen me that morning, you would have seen a man's silent, smiling face ... a picture of peace and pleasure as he held on to the tiny gift of life God had placed in his hands. But it was only for a moment ... for that little bundle was quickly taken back to his mother where he nestled ... waiting for the reunion of his three-person family a half hour later.
That was the beginning of my fatherhood now stretching out fifty years and still bringing pride, admiration and joy to this aging heart over the birth of not just one, but four children and twelve grandchildren. Talk about peace and pleasure! Nothing brings me more!
"Children make your life important" [Erma Bombeck, American humorist]
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." [III John 1:4]
Have a blessed weekend … perhaps taking time to reflect upon some special time in your life …