Any idiot can father a child.
I should know, I was one of those idiots.
Whether or not that idiot is going to help raise that child is another matter entirely.
Because only about three in four American men stick around to raise the child they fathered.
I, too, was one of those idiots.
I say idiot because raising a child is a lot like riding a bike. It’s not something that can be taught, it’s got to be learned. Read all the books you want, watch instructional videos, ask your parents for advice … nothing really prepares you for the moment when the training wheels come off. It’s something you have to experience firsthand.
For me, the training wheels came off even before I technically became a father.
People always say the birth of your first child is the greatest moment in your life. I don’t know about that. Most of my memories of that moment are colored by a mixture of fear and panic.
When Sara’s water unexpectedly broke, we were on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. The tiny rural hospital where she was supposed to give birth was on the Illinois side. The only way across was the Keokuk river bridge, which, like many bridges in that region in that era, was a swing span. And since it was late April, and the river ice had broken up, and barge traffic was in full operation, the chances of the bridge being open or closed at any given time were approximately 50-50.
So, of course, the bridge was closed. When it finally swung open an hour and a half later, we were ready to begin our desperate 15-mile ride east to the hospital. It was only then that we realized her bug-out bag, or whatever you moms-to-be call it, was still sitting in our house, 15 minutes north of the bridge.
When we ultimately got to the hospital another hour or so later, I figured we were finally good to go. It was only then that we found out that the woman who was our obstetrician was on vacation and that some guy we’d never met and whose name we couldn’t pronounce would be filling in for her. Sara was a little wound up at this point, so they gave her a Valium. Or maybe it was a horse tranquilizer (this was really rural Illinois in the 1980s, after all).
As for me, I was told to shut up and wait. And wait. And wait.
Twenty-four hours later, Sara still hadn’t popped. It was only then that the doctor we’d never met, whose name we couldn’t pronounce, announced it was time for an emergency Caesarian section. And would I like to observe? I told him I would not, and waited with the top half of my wife behind the sheet they’d draped over her chest so she couldn’t see them slice open the bottom half.
When baby Kate was finally pulled out, they cleaned her up, put her in a blanket and handed her off to me like a tiny pink football. Which, in many ways, she was. I mean it was like being 1st and 10 on the one-yard line, with 21 years to go. So I held on for dear life.
I managed to hold on for four months before finally fumbling her. That happened on the first night I soloed. Sara was going out for the evening for a much-needed break. All I had to do was feed the baby supper and put her to bed. To this day, I don’t know how she fell out of the high chair.
Once she got cleaned up and quit screaming, I figured she was no worse for wear. Still, it was probably a good thing DCFS never found out.
Two more pink footballs and 30-some years later, I’ve managed to help raise three daughters without major injury. They’re all grown, educated, married or sort of, and still talk to me. Most of the time, anyway.
Now I get to watch Kate and her husband raise their kids. I refrain from giving my son-in-law parenting advice. Wouldn’t do him any good anyway.
Fatherhood is something you’ve got to figure out on your own.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.