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I believe it’s safe to say that, as an older mother, I expected much more of a parenting performance from the father of my children—a debut above and beyond that of your average Yogi yokel.
He wasn’t just going to be the provider of the seed, like your common garden Dad of the 1950’s. As far as I was concerned, the sort of father who expected crisply starched shirts in his closet every morning, hot dinners on the table at night, along with obedient children—each appropriately bathed, powdered and dressed for bed as they lined up for a fatherly peck on the cheek—was (quite simply) extinct.
“Dad” was going to be a fully-fledged member of the child rearing program—make no mistake. And, from what I’ve heard from my over-40 mom peers, those expectations are common to our age group. There is a minimum standard for Dad-hood.
We hadn’t waited this long to ‘leave it to Beaver’ when it came to fathering our children.
I admit to being an early childhood idealist, however, suckled on fantasy that was fed and nourished by TV dads like Bill David (Brian Keith (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Brian_Keith)) in the 1966 series Family Affair (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Family_Affair). He was an attractive gentleman “father”—and a virtual paragon of patience—to his young orphaned niece and nephew Buffy and Jody (http://3 NULL.bp NULL.blogspot NULL.com/_7_IYpYSaCX0/ShuWyOw5SMI/AAAAAAAACfE/iud_G3lIueI/s320/buffy-jody NULL.jpg).
I sure choked on that real quick when I had my own “Buffy and Jody” to educate me on the Reality-TV-style affairs of having a family—the kind that don’t’ go home for the day with the lights on the set go down.
However, the silver lining to that deflated image was that the man I found for a husband far surpassed the 1960s line-up of TV fantasy dads. I happened upon the real thing.
Every Saturday, Frank rises at 5 o’clock in the morning, airlifts 7-year-old Alex from his loft bed and takes the long walk along the cold marble tiles to the kitchen to feed his son breakfast, while the house is still shrouded in darkness.
Then, he tucks him in the car, and drives over an hour to Sharks Ice arena in San Jose for ice hockey class and back home in time to find me and Lizzie dabbling in the early morning sun, still in our pajamas. Then, the same evening, he commits himself to another round trip for Youth League practice.
“That Alex” says Frank, shaking his head proudly, after two days of hockey commuting. “He’s got no quit in him!”
Like a faithful religious acolyte, it is only on Sunday that Frank rests. But it is not for “Jesus” he toils all week long.
It has occurred to me that little has changed in seven years since the day Alex was tucked into Frank’s cradling arms in the operating room as I was wheeled out to the recovery ward—a mandatory visit for all prize-winning C-section recipients—to pine for my newborn son for what seemed an eternity of unwanted solitude.
Recovering from birth was like going to an afternoon matinee of 1970s TV and film nostalgia. With lower abdominal stapes that glinted like the teeth of Jaws (http://upload NULL.wikimedia NULL.org/wikipedia/en/3/31/Jaws_gets_a_girl_in_Moonraker NULL.jpg) from the 1979 James Bond film, Moonraker (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Moonraker_%28film%29), I was on regulation confinement to my hospital bed for seven days, under the supervision of a head nurse with all of the social graces of Sergeant Shultz (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=hlmz7omnM-E) from the 1971 TV season of Hogan’s Heroes (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Hogan%27s_Heroes).
It was Frank who was trained by the nursing staff in all aspects of baby care except breastfeeding although, I have little doubt—he would have undertaken that too if he could, like Robert De Niro sporting his “Manary Gland” (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Meet_the_Fockers) in Meet The Fockers (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B00005JN5T?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00005JN5T).
When Frank turned up on the ward to administer baby Alex’s first bath, his bristling six foot, five inch frame filled up the doorway like the Incredible Hulk (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/File:Ferrigno_as_Hulk NULL.jpg)on a bad hair day.
After pausing to suck back a gasp, the nurses at the bathing station rolled up their sleeves and dictated orders just like they did to every other meek male on the scene—freshly popped fathers who looked as at home on the maternity ward as bullfighters at an afternoon tea party for Southern ladies.
But the stage was set for a wondrous thing. Frank, whose Bratwurst fingers were nearly the width of Alex’s pudgy baby thighs, tenderly picked up his little boy with the smitten adoration of a gentle giant, cooing, shushing and chirping like a possessive wet nurse with her new charge.
It was the beginning of an ongoing love affair between father and son. And it was a life saver for me.
Frank wore his baby harness with the same depth of emotion that sentimental old fools wear their hearts on their sleeves. In fact, it was so well worn by the time Lizzie was born three years later that we had to buy a new one.
From riding the gondola up Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver visit the “Oh…it’s Bears!”, to hiking the snow trails together in winter, to lunches for two in Honey’s Café—the dynamic duo of Frank and Alex were a common fixture around town. Frank called it “doing the Alex Cha Cha“.
And on the day Lizzie was born in 2005, I saw Frank fall in love all over again.
Then I knew, Frank had trumped Bill David from Family Affair. Why?
For the unique concerns of a midlife mother, his fully hands-on embracing of fatherhood, was the perfect complement.
Despite the fact that, mothers over 40 are more likely to have had C-sections (http://www NULL.docguide NULL.com/news/content NULL.nsf/news/852571020057CCF68525729800703C52) and require more support (at least initially) after giving birth, I think too much of a meal is made out of this by detractors.
The irony is that—despite all of our wisdom and experience—being an older mother doesn’t make us exempt from a new mother’s baby-jitters. In fact, I think that age makes us more prone to it. After all, we’ve waited so long to be a mother.
According to Michelle LaRowe (http://www NULL.michellelarowe NULL.com/), professional nanny, parenting expert and author of many books including Nanny To The Rescue!, (http://www NULL.michellelarowe NULL.com/books NULL.html#ntr) “it seems older mothers haven’t handled babies in years until they have had their own. For a mom in her 20s, all their friends are having babies so they seem to have more exposure.”
LaRowe, however, goes on to point out there was little difference in parenting skills between younger and older moms. “A new mom is a new mom”, she says.
It seems to me that walking the long hard road of the chain-gang of over-40-wannabe-moms has taught us humility, gratitude and great expectations. We’ve worked hard, we’ve waited long and now we want it all—including a father who is going to be a true partner, not only in the business of baby-making, but baby-raising too.
Yet, sometimes I worry about Frank. I wonder if he isn’t growing a bit of “hen” in his cuckoo cock’s tail.
During hockey practice on Saturday night, I cocked a Spock-eyebrow and asked him “Are you sure you’re not becoming a Hockey Dad and living through your children?”
Frank turned his full bulk on me and loomed large in a traditional football defensive pose, as I basked in his formidable shadow.
“I’m not a Hockey Dad!” boomed Frank.
I blinked, stumped for words.
Then, he grinned toothily.
“I’m just a Cheerleader Dad!”
The cheerful riposte had been up his sleeve the whole time.
Note to readers: For guidance on how to encourage husbands and fathers to be more involved with the parenting process, read Fathers Gain Respect From Experts (And Mothers), (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2009/11/03/health/03dads NULL.html?_r=2) a recent feature by Laurie Tarkan, writer for the New York Times.
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