The summer of 2003 was shaping up as a typical whirlwind summer. I had spent the first part of June traveling to Australia for work. A great trip as I made several great friendships on past business trips. I had flown home and was spending 5 days getting over jet lag, saying hello to my wife, and desperately trying to find some time on the practice range as I was leaving for an 11 day golf trip with two close friends and one of my friend’s dad to play golf in Scotland. Yes, it is a blessed life that I am living. Seeing the world and getting paid to do so, golfing in Scotland for the second year in a row, and a wife that was totally supportive of both.
I came home on July 5th and was very excited to tell my wife about the trip – shooting 74 at Turnberry – my best round ever on one of the best known courses, birding the 18th hole on the Old Course on the last round we would play there that week, Fred’s dad shooting 84 on the Old Course at 79 years old, and of course I had a few gifts for my wife of 17 years. Mel, my wife, picks me up at the airport, gives me a big hug, let’s me drive home to get reacquainted with driving on the right side of the road, and listens to all my stories on the 25 minute ride up the highway. Little did I know what was about to happen.
We walk in the front door and as I reach for luggage to pull out some gifts for Mel but she has another plan. She tells me to sit on the couch. I say OK – thinking not in the door 2 minutes and I’m going to get lucky – and then she opens the door to the entertainment center and pulls out a wrapped box. I protest – but honey I’m the one that’s been gone, I have gifts, you need to open those first. She just smiles and says – no, you go first. So I do. I tear open the paper and see baby booties. Needless to say – I was speechless. I looked at her and all I could do was ask – really? And she simply nodded her head yes. Wow – 17 years of marriage, had not used birth control for over 10 years–we just figured God had other plans for us – and now this. Mel had found out for sure the 2nd day I was in Scotland, but managed to avoid telling me. I did wonder why she didn’t answer the phone much when I called – now I knew.
Now you know how I got the news that I was going to be a dad for the first time at 42 years old and the due date was right around Mel’s 43rd birthday. I knew it was going to change my life, but I had no idea how much. As Paul Harvey would say – “here is the rest of the story”.
Fatherhood for the first time at, as Mel’s OB/GYN would say, a medically advanced age. The doc always said that with a smile, but for those fathers reading this I think you know what she meant. How would I do? Will I be a good dad? How will my selfish world of work, golf, travel, and doing what I wanted to when I wanted to change? Will everything be OK with the baby – after all, Mel is 42? How will I and we handle it if everything isn’t OK? Wow – the flood of emotion and thoughts and “what ifs” was incredible. The one thing I knew was that God changed his mind and we needed to be parents.
Mel had lost her dad about 6 months before this after a very short battle with cancer. They were very close and it was a major surprise for all of us. After thinking about the news for a few minutes I looked at Mel and said, I guess your dad needed a few months to do some networking in heaven and convince God that we needed to be parents. She laughed and cried a little and agreed. I guess God can change his mind.
January 17th, 2004 at about 8 PM Mel tells me that she is having contractions and that I need to be ready to go to the hospital. I make sure our bags are ready and all we have to do is jump in the car and go. At about 11:45 PM she talks to the doctor and we head out the door on a cold, rainy evening. We get into the hospital, get our room, and they tell us – you can do whatever you want – walk around, sit in the room, watch TV – because Mel has told them she wants to wait until the last minute to get any kind an epidural or other medication – little did she know that epidural would never happen. So we walked the halls and every time Mel has a contraction I hug her, hold her hand, and tell her it will be OK – easy for me to say. January 18th, 3:00 AM her water breaks. I call the nurse, they get her in the delivery bed, I call her uncle and wake him up to ask him to go pick up her mom and head to the hospital – remember it was cold and rainy and we didn’t want to worry about Mel’s mom driving.
January 18th, 8:20 AM after a lot work on Mel’s part, the doctor tells me we have a baby girl. I leave Mel to the care of a nurse, the doctor and her mom and follow the other nurse into the part of the room where they give my daughter a vitamin K shot – welcome to the world –, weigh her, measure her, and wrap her in a blanket and hand her to me. WOW – I look into the blue eyes of my first child and know that in that instant that I have never loved anything in this particular way. My child, our child, part me, part Mel, part my family, part her family, and then it hits me all over again – all those questions, the fear of not being a good father, of something happening to her. It is unreal, surreal, and certainly one of the greatest moments in my life.
I walk over to Mel and her mom and give her to Mel. I introduce Shelby Rae to her mamaw – giddy happiness, tears of joy (that come to my eye as I write this), what a special moment. Then I’m asked to sit in the chair so the doctor can do her job with Mel.
As I look back at that day I know I was I right about one thing – my life had changed and would never be exactly the same again.
Shelby is now 4 years old and is growing up so quickly. Looking back, I realized that I had to change how I got balance in my life. Golf with the buddies had to take a bit of a back seat. I needed to see if I could shape my career so I’d be home a little more. Mel and I would have to find ways to keep connected while also being attentive and loving parents. Balance – tough to find in this overly connected, overly visual, often excessively driven world we live in today.
Many of you know that the first few years are at times so fast and at times so slow. Will they sleep through the night, when will they walk and talk, when will they learn to use the potty, when will they realize that falling in the lake can be deadly thing, – these things either come very quickly or they come slowly. I’m learning that I can influence many things, can affect a few directly, and that some things just are going to happen when the child is ready for them to happen. That is a tough lesson for me as I’m the typical guy – how can I just fix it. But I’m learning there are times to push, prod, and cajole and there are times to simply hug your child or your wife and that is enough to move forward.
There are many lessons that I’m taking in, but one that keeps coming back to me is that if we did not have the church? We would be missing out on a key element that brings balance. Shelby is learning that you go to church for much more than an hour each Sunday. You go for education, you go for music, you go for fellowship, you go because people share values that make you feel comfortable your child is going to have friends that know there is more to life than what they see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. I have to say that the church is an absolute key place for my family and I to find some balance, build lasting and deep relationships, and get equipped with the tools we need to face life’s daily challenges. Hopefully Shelby is learning these things as well.
I’m also learning there is a difference between being a father and being a daddy. Both roles are needed – be responsible, go to work everyday, be serious about critical aspects of life is the role of the father; the play and wrestle on the floor, go to the park, make daddycakes (our version of pancakes) on a Saturday morning, ride a rollercoaster, teach them how to fish, play in the ocean, play in the pool, hug them when they are sick or hurt—that’s the role of the daddy. The challenge to me is knowing when to play what role. I’m learning – but also have to make sure that I don’t fall into the trap of spending more time as a father and not enough as a daddy. I think that is a real challenge for older first time dads as we spent a lot of time focused on those “grownup” aspects of life, so it is easy to miss those chances to be a daddy –even if it is only for a few minutes – and when you miss those chances you can’t get them back. Balance between these constructs is something to think and pray about because it won’t be too long before the chances to be a daddy will be far and few between.
So in four years I’ve learned some lessons, learned that I have many more to experience and learn from, and know that fatherhood and being a daddy – at whatever age – is a blessing. I’m so thankful that God changed his mind and gave me this opportunity. Oh I still wonder if I will be a great father, if my daughter will grow up learning to love life and God, and if we are instilling values that will guide her to a long and happy life. I get the feeling that will never change – whether she is 4, 14, or 34. Those blue eyes still look at me and I still get the feeling I got about 8:30 AM on January 18th, 2004 – but now I also see a sparkle in them when she runs to me when I walk in from a business trip or even running a brief errand. WOW – what could be better than that while I’m in my earthly body?
My final thoughts are – if you are a first time dad at an advanced medical age – embrace it, love it, and always strive to find the balance between being a father, a daddy, a husband, and your career – it is essential. Also not a bad idea to try to stay in shape – chasing soccer balls, playing softball, and playing in the pool or ocean do require energy.