From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

This Magic Moment

A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.

Carl Sandburg

I never imagined myself as a parent until the moment, twenty-four years ago, that my son was born. But then, I never believed in magic either. I knew that my wife wanted children, but I couldn’t quite understand why. She wanted four or five, I seem to remember. I do know that it was a big number—big enough that I didn’t take her seriously.

Eventually, my wife prevailed and I agreed to try one, like we were considering potato chips. Once the decision was made, I pushed it aside. After all, nothing is certain. One of us could be sterile. If not, it still might take years to conceive. Why borrow trouble? Why, indeed?

Talk about miscalculation. It took us no time at all—a couple of months at most from decision to conception. When my wife became ill in the middle of Das Boot and rushed out of the theater, I experienced a sinking feeling. And it had nothing to do with the fate of the German sub-marine. I guess I slipped into denial after that. Throughout her pregnancy, even when fatherhood was imminent, the idea remained far-fetched—at best, abstract. But isn’t magic always that way?

My denial notwithstanding, things were different around our place. My wife cast an ever larger and more awkward shadow when she stood outside with the dogs. Early every Saturday morning for weeks, we stumbled off to Lamaze class, where we dutifully sat on the floor, surrounded by pillows, and breathed together. I silently hoped that I didn’t look as silly as I felt. Every time I checked, there was something new (and miniature) in the spare bedroom. The evidence was piling up, but I was trying hard not to notice.

On February 21, 1983, my wife made her final scheduled visit to the doctor. He assured her that the baby would arrive in two weeks—right on schedule. Yeah, right. At 5:00 the next morning, my wife awoke with a start. On those rare occasions when I had faced reality, however fleetingly, it always happened this way—late in the night when the fog of sleep was thickest. Even as it dawned on me what was happening, I tried to resist. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll start some coffee and call the doctor.” No, I didn’t have it backward. I couldn’t have a baby without caffeine. The doctor told me what I wanted to hear. No rush. Have your coffee, get dressed, and get to the hospital.

We left for the hospital by 6:00. It was still dark, and a cold rain was falling. It made for a gloomy drive, but things could have been much worse. This was February in Iowa. We were lucky it wasn’t snowing. Then I remembered: it was February 22—Washington’s birthday. I wondered out loud that if we had a boy, perhaps we should name him George. I was only teasing, but my wife wasn’t the least bit amused. We had long ago agreed upon David Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth as names and that was that. I was about to protest when I remembered the two words my best man had told me always worked with wives, and I repeated them. “Yes, dear.”

At the hospital, someone whisked my wife off to a room while I stayed behind to check her in. It was early, and the reception area and adjacent waiting room were nearly deserted. As I filled out form after form, each repeating the same questions, I made a mental list of things I needed to do. I couldn’t believe I was thinking so clearly—and after a single cup of coffee. I still didn’t get it!

By the time I had finished with the forms, my wife was settled into a room upstairs. I hurried up to find that there was no need to hurry. The contractions had just begun and were far apart. I wouldn’t be a father for a while. Things moved slowly through the morning, and I wondered if this wasn’t a false alarm. But misdirection is the magician’s ally. Then in the early afternoon, my wife’s blood pressure spiked. It was obvious in the way the nurses unceremoniously shooed me away that they were alarmed. Shortly, the doctor hurried into the room. As I stood helplessly off to the side, a small drama unfolded in the cramped room.

The doctor gave my wife a shot to speed things along, and the nurses wheeled her away, with me trailing anxiously behind. A fifth wheel, I thought. Inside the delivery room, I stood beside my wife, holding her hand and encouraging her. The birth was over in no time, its quickness startling me after long hours of prelude. I looked up at a clock mounted on the far wall. It was 3:30—and in that precise moment, I became a believer. In magic. A nurse had wrapped our new son in a blanket and passed him to me. Our son! Our. Son. I wanted to prolong the moment, fearing that the magic, like time, was ephemeral. I shouldn’t have worried. I kissed him gently on the forehead. Over the years, I must have repeated that ritual fifty thousand times: when he woke up in the morning, at odd times during the day, and before I tucked him in at night.

In that instant, I was transformed so suddenly and so completely that nothing could explain it except magic. This little person I held had been in the world only a precious few minutes, but I already loved him in a way I didn’t know was possible—that I could scarcely comprehend. What was that if not magic? There could be no other explanation.

Twenty-four years later, nothing has happened to change my mind. If anything, I am even more convinced. Our son has grown up and moved away, but the magic remains my constant companion. It’s homesteaded in my heart, you see.

Tom Miller

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