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Boomer Bytes #23: Becoming a Dad

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
  • See sixth column – Death – here.
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
  • See 10th column – ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here.
  • See 11th column – Volunteeering – here.
  • See 12th column – Duck and Cover – here.
  • See 13th column –  Providing for the Future – here.
  • See 14th column – Here We Go Wandering… – here.
  • See 15th column – State of Schools – here.
  • See 16th column – Our War – here.
  • See 17th column – Behind the Curtain – here.
  • See 18th column: Our Mind
  • See 19th column: Change
  • See 20th column: Memorials
  • See 21th: When is Old? 
  • See 22nd: Roles

Becoming a Dad

By Steve Canipe

June 20, 2014.  Editor’s Note: this is not an X-rated column about the physical process of becoming a dad!! It is safe for all to read.


Being a Dad last weekend was nice. Many businesses treated us to desserts and maybe our children remembered us with calls and presents and perhaps our wives honored us as well. It was actually a really nice time. This column is really focused on male boomers but it is relevant, I hope, to those who love us. This is my story of becoming first a father and then a dad.


But what did we do to deserve the name and the honor? Well, we provided one-half of the genes to those we call our children. But beyond the genetic material (DNA) we provided, what does it mean to be a dad? We’ve all had Dads of our own. In some cases, maybe we modeled our behavior after them and in other cases we have used them as examples of what we did not want to be like.


Do you boomers out there remember when you became a father? Notice I say a father not a dad – I distinguish between the two names. I’ll explain later in the column.


When my wife and I became pregnant, I was in the midst of finishing up my master’s degree at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI operating on a National Science Foundation Fellowship. I was teaching in Charlotte at East Mecklenburg High School during the school year and going to graduate school in Michigan during the summers.


My last summer, when I was to complete my degree, I had to go to MSU alone since the doctor did not think it was good for my wife to travel that far away from her OB/GYN. My mother-in-law came to stay with her during my absence during which I would fold all my remaining courses and thesis into a half quarter. The doctor said our child would be born sometime in August, probably the first week. This was before easily knowing the sex of the child and we had picked out both boy’s and girl’s names depending on what it was.


You’ve heard of the best laid plans going awry? Well it happened in spades for me. On 19 July, I successfully defended my master’s thesis. I was very excited to be nearly finished – all I had left after that were three final exams all in the next three days and then I would get to go home to be with my very pregnant wife. I was excited about that too. I called my wife with the good news that I had passed my oral exams and how excited I was about seeing her in just a couple of days. We talked awhile and then I went to bed after studying for the last course before exams started.


The next day was a blur as my classmates congratulated me on passing my orals. After returning to my dorm room, there was a message from my mother-in-law. When I called her she broke the good news about my new baby daughter having arrived at about 2 PM that very day. WOW – I was speechless. What to do – I needed and wanted to go home NOW. But I had exams coming up.


A friend, who was also a nun, suggested that I contact my professors; she thought that since they were all fathers they would probably help. Boy did they – they either said forget the exam go home or in one case he said he would send it to the testing center at UNCC so I could take it there. So then came a whirlwind of packing and getting ready to leave. Saying good bye to some of my classmates was possible but others just merged into nothing in the excitement of seeing my wife and baby girl!! I did tell my friends I saw to tell people bye for me.


Leaving about 5:30 PM, I drove all night with only one short stop on the West Virginia Turnpike to have about a 30 minute nap. When I got to the apartment to take a shower before going to the hospital, my father-in-law, mother-in-law, my wife’s uncle, his wife, and two kids were there!! Oh my goodness what a crowd in a small apartment.


In those days since I was not present, the Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte allowed my wife to designate “visitors” to come in. No being in the delivery room in those days. My mother-in-law and father-in-law were the designees in my absence. I will forever be grateful for what my father-in-law did then…he said since I was now there, they could all go home (they lived near Raleigh). So my apartment rapidly became quiet as they all departed.


I went to the hospital thinking they would not let me in as I was not the “designated” one — I was prepared to raise such a loud ruckus that they would let me in. Actually it was smooth and I got to see my wife – she was radiant; and my daughter – so beautiful.


For those of you who remember seeing your child for the first time and maybe especially a daughter, you will understand that I have trouble finding the words that can translate the love that flows out from you to that little creature that is part you and part of the woman you love so much. Now even 42 years later, just remembering that feeling creates an all-enveloping feeling – just indescribable for me to say more. In those days it was not allowed for the father to be in the room with the baby and even on the day when she was discharged and coming home I did not get to touch her until I was holding her and handing her to my wife in the car.


Bytes1The touch and feel and smell of that little one…my heart just about exploded from happiness. I don’t have any photos of that first encounter but the one below shows me with my daughter soon after we got home. I hope the feelings of love and devotion I felt can be seen in the photo – they were so strong!


It may have been then that I understood the difference between being only a father, who provided some germplasm to help create that baby and a dad, who would move heaven and earth to protect, care, and provide for my child!!


Last week I saw a Facebook post from my daughter, who is now a PhD candidate in science education at the University of Arizona. It was a picture of us crawling through a tree in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. In her FB post, she was thanking me for getting her interested in the natural world.


Bytes2She and I loved being outdoors and doing “nature” stuff – from rooting around in the dirt and finding bugs and slugs to hunting crayfish in a creek in our back yard. She was not a pampered child that we kept sheltered from getting dirty. Since she was first born, she got to be daddy’s girl in all the stuff I loved doing. And I loved the out-of-doors.


One of her favorite expressions, which she first used when I came home from a trip with my high school students, I first heard when I asked how she was. She spread her little hands and answered that she was “All the World Happy.” Oh my goodness – I was too – definitely all the world and the “entire universe happy” that she was my sweet baby girl.


As she has grown into a competent and intelligent adult, we continue to enjoy the same kinds of things. She is no longer just my child, she will always be that, but she is an adult with whom I can carry on an intelligent conversation. She is like her Mom in that regard. She has strong opinions on many topics and sometimes I suspect that I display some of the old male chauvinism in our discussions; although that is not my intent.


As my first born, she is so special in different ways even had I had a dozen more children – there can only be one first born. I am so proud that she was the one who came into this world and made me a father and I hope a good dad. We men are lucky in some ways to have been chosen by loving women who selected us to be their partners helping bring beautiful and precious life into being. We need to always be good role models for our children—we show what it means to be a dad and Father’s Day was a perfect time to remember it. But every day we should be remembering father’s day and what it means.


Do you have stories of having your first child that you can share?   Happy late Father’s Day to each of the men reading this article and to each of the women who love us – thank you.   Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.