Becoming a dad (again, over 40)
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WHEN I WAS A CHILD
When I was a child I wondered where the dog would sleep
and why the sky was dark at night
and what made the bed springs creek.
When I was a child I pondered on what would my mom cook,
On what my dad would work on next
and where was my brother's foot.
When I was a child I wandered across rivers that now are streams,
Mountains that now are hills
and never ending dreams.
When I was a child I played with balls and frogs and bugs and bees
In any game, the score was kept
with the scratches on my knees.
When I was a child what mattered most was that nothing mattered at all Because my dad was always there to catch me when I’d fall.
Now I’m the man from my father’s role and I have the added task
To let my children do the things that was part of my childhood past.
To let then wonder and answer
when they ask the what and why
And let them wander on their own
but keep them in my eye.
Now I’m a dad and my job has changed from swinger on the rope
To be the man my father was
and give my children hope.
Stanley W. Reese
The early days
When I was 21 and I got married like a lot of 21 year old men do. My daughter, Shanna came along later that year and blessed my life. She was a beautiful baby girl and I thought my life was complete. In 1987, at the ripe old age of 24, Bryant was born. My life was complete. A baby boy and a baby girl and mom and dad made four.
But, in December of 1988 that changed when the marriage fell apart. I couldn't afford to give her what she wanted for Christmas (a divorce) so I saved for a few months. In August, when Bryant was almost two, the divorce was finalized and I received custody. We moved a few times and struggled to get by but those were happy times. It was just me and the babies. We were happy.
Things rocked on, I dated some but not much. Shanna threw up in the back seat of the only car we had so the smell prevented too many dates, especially in the hot and muggy south. Money woes kept me from dating at other times and just a total mistrust of women made the whole marriage thing seem undesirable. Plus, I recalled the wicked step-mother from that children's book and I didn't think that would be too cool. We were fine, just the three of us. We were complete.
I moved to Alabama around 2000 and my daughter chose to stay in Georgia with her mom. It was a good choice as the schools there were a lot better. For several years, however, it was just me and Bryant. Two single men living the good life. Many times, me and Bryant would walk to the Piggly Wiggly to buy supper. Most of the times, we stood in the frozen food isle and decided on pie and ice cream. Ah, the days of pie and ice cream. Bryant would flirt with the young cashiers and I would flirt with the ones who were, I don't know, not as young.
I got Bryant a Siberian Husky for Christmas. We named her Cheyenne. She made our life complete. Shortly thereafter, Valerie came into my life. Full of life, she stole my heart and made me clean my house. Leisure weekends turned into weekend projects as she was an Interior Designer. She wanted a "woman's touch" in the house and I hadn't seen that in years. We talked about starting a family and we all but gave up after about 18 months. That's when it happened.
In April of 2006, at the age of forty-two, Granger was born. Eighteen years since the last visit to the maternity ward, Valerie went into labor the night of my oldest son's senior prom. Granger came into the world at precicely the same time his older brother was taking his college entrance exams.
Granger changed my life. Hmm, changed? Reformed? Yeah, make that for me and Val both. A reformation took place. I had raised two babies on my own for more than a dozen years. I never expected to do it all again. So many things had changed. I used to be able to catch up with Shanna and Bryant when they were babies. At the age of forty-two "catch up" was not an option.
Now, there were several good things about becoming a new dad again at forty-two. First, I had smelled all of these smells before so it didn't seem too ofensive to me. Second, I had a little bit more belly (ok, a lot more belly) to rest the baby on.
in June of 2007, Maggie came grinning into the world. Eighteen days shy of my 44th birthday and I was a Dad again. The most touching thing about this time is what happened the day after Maggie was born. Daryl, my oldest daughter's long time boyfriend called me out into the hall at the hospital. Tears filled his eyes and his voice trembled as he asked for my daughter's hand in marriage. I did the typical funny thing and told him that Maggie was just a day old and she wasn't old enough. We both laughed and then cried. I told him I would be honored to have him as my son-in-law. In the span of less than twenty-four hours, I had received a new daughter and gave away another. Still chokes me up.
Maggie spent an extra few days in the hospital. We almost lost her during birth. She came out before the doctor got in the room and her cord was wrapped around her neck. They worked on her for several minutes and my world just stopped. I knew what was happening but I hoped that I was the only one. The nurses were angels as they brought life into her tiny little body. By the time the doctor did make it in, she was whimpering but not quite crying as she should be. Several days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit passed before we could hold her. After that first time holding her, I promised to never let her go....not even to someone like Daryl. I had several hospital pictures of her that I put into the video for her first birthday party and, man, I ball my eyes out when I watch the video thinking what life would have been like without Maggie.
Shanna and Daryl were married a year after Maggie was born, a week to the day after Maggie's first birthday. I walked Valerie and Granger and Maggie down the isle at the church and went back to walk Shanna down the isle. I wondered if anyone else in the church knew how lucky I was. I danced the first dance with Shanna at the reception. We danced to "My Girl". That night, I danced with the three most beautiful girls in the world: Shanna, Valerie and Maggie.
Several weeks later, Valerie and I found out we were expecting again. The only problem with that is that Valerie had complications after Maggie was born. Not long after we came home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Valerie went to the doctor with extremely bad headaches. They admitted her and she spent a couple of weeks in the hospital herself. That was tense. All I could think about was having to raise Maggie and Granger like I had to raise Shanna and Bryant. I wanted to show her how much fun parenthood could be. I didn't want her to miss this and I surely didn't want Maggie and Granger to have to miss their mom.
So here we are. I'm forty-five. I have two daughters who are 260 months apart and two sons who are 232 months apart. That makes it seem like a long time. Well, I guess it is. Wait until we add the next one in. That's gonna make it seem like a lifetime.
A lifetime? In a way, I guess it has been, twice. I have had two lifetimes. Twice as lucky as any dad ever could be. On a recent visit by my oldest son, we were walking outside and it dawned on me. Most people go through their whole life trying to find their destiny. I was carrying Maggie in my arms and walking with Bryant and it dawned on me. My destiny? I was born to be a dad. It's the most fulfilling career anyone could ever ask for.
I don't remember exactly how I did it with my oldest two kids but it somehow seemed easier.
With Granger, the task of potty training seems to have gotten away from us. Sometimes he doesn't poo-poo in his diaper. He does it in the floor. Saturday, he did it on the deck after carefully removing his daiper.
Now Maggie is trying to imitate him. They are so much alike and only seperated by 14 months. An older sibling is supposed to lead the younger sibling. I was the youngest of five boys. I thank God everyday that I didn't follow their lead.
I keep hearing people complain about how the younger generation is going to crap. Is this what they mean?
I now have two babies trying to conquer mount Gushmore. Kind of reminds me of the old book "Twenty-yards to the bathroom" by Willie Makeit.
It also reminds me of Shanna and Bryant when they were much younger. Shanna was six and Bryant was almost five. They were trying to learn how to ride a bicycle with no training wheels. Bryant, although he was younger by 22 months, was the first to master two wheels. He still remembers that and gloats. Will Maggie be the first to be potty trained and will she brag about this at some High School Pep Rally in the year 2023?
I can hear it now: "Granger can run fast but I poo-pooped first. He may be number one in the program but I was the first to number two".
What a lucky man I am! Proud Daddy!
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Shanna, Bryant, Granger, Maggie, Valerie, Nonna, Papa and me.
The Power of the Spoon
When Shanna and Bryant were toddlers, I can't really remember having to spank them that much. For Shanna, a stern look would correct any action. For Bryant, it was an occasional pinch or, if he was getting off easy, I would reach over and slap my own hand near his back side. The sound, I guess, served as a punishment. They grew up that way. Shanna may have gotten two spankings her whole life. Bryant may have accumulated two dozen at the most. I just never had to punish them that much.
As a child myself, we got the belt early and we got the belt often. I was never bad. I learned by seeing my older brothers do the "no, Daddy" dance enough. I didn't want to learn those steps.
For those unfamiliar with the "no, Daddy" dance, it involved my father holding the rule breaking brother's hand high above their head like you may see in some church services but with a lot more screaming and shoutin'. My father then, with a thin leather belt in his other hand, would commence to flail away at the accused person's back side. This would propel the aformentioned brother forward and around my father's body numerous times until the lesson was learned. Poor Davey, he danced that dance too often. It was nothing to walk in and see Daddy's left hand holding Davey's left hand high and the action of the belt looking a lot like a wood cutter with an axe. They'd go around and around. It's quite funny now to look back at, cartoonish maybe even. But, at the time, the "no, Daddy" dance was the most feared form of punishment imaginable.
Maggie and Granger will never do the "no, Daddy" dance. It was retired when my father passed away in 1980. It served it's purpose.
Maggie and Granger actually have learned a variation of the "no, Daddy" dance, however. It was inevitable. I didn't get spanked much, Shanna and Bryant didn't get spanked much. I'm having to make up for lost time now. Ahhhh, the power of the spoon.
Of course, they seldom actually get the spoon. The threat is almost as powerful. When they do something wrong (and they do something wrong quite often), me or Valerie reach for a wooden kitchen spoon. It's more noisey than painful. I know, I tried it on myself. I've been trying to get Valerie to let me use it on her but that's a good subject for a grown-up blog. The point is: Maggie or Granger does something wrong and they have to face the spoon. Handy little device. I never used one much in the kitchen but now we have them all over the house.
"Maggie, do I need to get the spoon?" "Granger, are you going to bed or do I need to get the spoon?" These questions are always followed by "Daddy, no" or "Mommy, no". Then they dance over and give us a hug or a kiss as if to say "I'm too cute to spank".
Just like disco replaced rock and then rap replaced the big hair bands, the "Daddy, no" dance has replaced the "no, Daddy" dance. I think I like this a lot better. Davey would too.
Maggie made it five generations of ladies on the porch.
Breakfast at Gramsies
Growing up, breakfast was always a boring thing. One egg, one biscuit and one glass of milk. The only variation from this would be Saturday.
Every Saturday, my mom would make bacon and grits to go along with the egg. Sometimes it was actually fat back or what mama called "strick-o-lean". It seems a bit trite to most people but to me it was a special occasion. We didn't know we were poor. I knew we had less than some people but I also knew we had more than some others.
As the years went by, I had Shanna and Bryant and I could repeat the same performance. I assume that Saturday morning breakfast was speacial to them as well. Most mornings, they had cereal but on Saturday, I would cook a big breakfast. I had learned how to make milk gravy to replace the grits on occasion.
I learned how to make banana pancakes to replace it all if I felt the urge. I was proud to get up and make that Saturday morning breakfast for the kids. I was carrying on a tradition.
Now, with Granger and Maggie, the tradition continues. But, there's a twist. I'm not the only one who likes to make breakfast special. Valerie's grandmother is one of the best cooks around and she had the tradition going long before me. Valerie talks about going to Gramsie's for apple pancakes with much the same gleam that I speak of Saturday mornings back in Georgia.
My parents and grandparents have been gone for years but I am lucky because Valerie has plenty of family to pass around.
I had to work last Saturday so Valerie took the kids to Gramsie's. I don't like working on Saturday for several reasons, the biggest reason being that I miss Saturday morning breakfast. When Valerie called me from Gramsie's and told me about breakfast and how much Maggie and Granger enjoyed the treat (Valerie enjoyed it too, I am sure), I have to admit that I was a bit jealous. But i was also proud. I was proud that I was now in a family that has the same traditions I grew up with.
As a child, our family traditions didn't center around going to the country club on Saturday. Our vacations were never spent at the gulf in a condo. We didn't have horses or four-wheelers. We had dogs and cats. We had bicycles. And we had love. The kind of love that sticks to your ribs late into the day on Saturday when we played ball in the front yard or played "fort" in the woods. The kind of love that makes you smile when your eyes open and you smell the bacon. The kind of love that can be passed down from one generation to the other.
And, in the case of Gramsie's breakfast, the kind of love that can be passed from family to family.
I still look forward to cooking Saturday morning breakfast but I think I can share that duty with Gramsie as long as she'll let me.
I think my parents would be proud.
Choose success at work or success at home?
For most of my first twenty years in the work force, I was constantly attempting to scale that corporate ladder that would lead to money. I tried making it in media. I tried making it in law enforcement and I finally made it about three years ago in the finance industry..Then Granger came.
I had a job making around $80,000 per year, a company car, company credit cards, you name it. I was on the road five nights a week but it was okay with the wife and me until that day in labor and delivery in Auburn, Alabama. I looked at my wife and said "this is gonna make it hard to go back on the road". I had a choice to make.
Do I work to make tons of money and never see my new baby or Do I see my new baby and take a lesser paying job?
What choice would you make?
We unloaded our five bedroom house on Main Street and opted for a very modest three bedroom with about half the space. I took a lesser job and went from making about 80K down to about 30k and now even less than that. We cut back and we tried to harness our spending. That's easier said that done.
I see the kids every night now versus Saturday and part of Sunday the way it would have been. The job is worse, the pay is worse, the home is cramped and the fridge is bare more often. But, I can hug my babies almost anytime I want to.
Granger gives me my wake up call now every morning instead of a front desk clerk. The little bugger chimes in by 6am at the latest. He comes sprinting out of his bedroom to find me as I yell "Superman". He jumps into my arms and a bit further into my heart every time.
Our actual riches; the worth that we will be judged by in the years after we are gone, is in the faces and the hearts of our children. I count my riches everytime I see Maggie, Granger, Bryant or Shanna smile. And I have another one on the way. I truly am a rich man.
My middle daughter bakes a mean cake
I don't take a lot of time off from work. It's just not something I have ever done. This week, however, I took four days off and just enjoyed the family.
Bryant was supposed to come down but his Army Reserve obligations got in the way so it was just me and Val and Granger and Maggie.
Vacation is supposed to be a time when one can relax, sleep late and just do nothing. With the exception of sleeping late, I think I accomplished all of the above.
Granger and Maggie have been moved to the same room now in anticipation of the baby. We figured we'd get them accustomed to this sleeping arrangement before we spring a new baby on them. It's been a trial to say the least. Well, for Val and I it has been a trial. For Maggie and Granger it's been a party. I think this is the preview of many sleepovers the two will have in the coming years.
Last night, after I wrestled with them for over an hour, I passed out watching CNN. It's a ritual that Valerie has gotten used to. Granger has too, I guess. It was around 2:30AM when I felt someone kissing on me. Knowing that there is no way Val would be up at that time, I knew right away it was my Superman. I reached down and pulled him up onto the couch with me. He snuggled and kissed my cheek and went back to sleep again. I smiled and followed suit.
It's really amazing. I went to sleep watching all of the bad news about Wall Street and hearing the presidential candidates swap jabs at one another. I woke up to Granger, in the middle of the night, on my vacation and I couldn't have been happier.
Even in the midst of turmoil, there is always Granger.
Hey, order my Dad's book. OK?
Growing up Stanley
This is the story of my growing up. It's probably why I am the way I am today. The story may be sad but it's true. I tried not to hold anything back as I wrote.
Once upon a time in a land called Georgia, there lived a little boy named Stanley. Stanley had four older brothers. Their names were Goldilocks, Hemlocks, Headlocks and Hamhocks.
Growing up, the boys learned how to fight for what they wanted. If they wanted the last biscuit, they had to fight for it. If they wanted to go to sleep, they had to battle for it. The last word? Well, little Stanley always seemed to get that because he had a really bad speach impediment. He always got the last word because it took soooo long for the words to come out all the way.
Growing up, Stanley spent most of his time outside playing football or baseball or doing yard work with his dad. Stanley had several dogs and several cats. They were the only ones who understood him (a speach impediment can be tough on communication skills). He and his dad didn't talk a whole lot but they seemed to understand each other.
One night, while Stanley was playing high school football and his father was at home listening on the radio, his dad died as Stanley scored. It's funny how putting your team ahead can set you back so far. Stanley's mom died that night too but it took another seven years for her to stop breathing.
When he grew up, Stantley wanted to be a racecar driver or a football player. Being a dad himself was not a career option.
As it turned out, racecars and football coaches had a lot in common. They both make a lot of noise especially when they are stuck in low gear. Stanley dropped the speach impediment. Believe it or not, he got a job in broadcasting. And then a job in Law Enforcement. And then a job in Finance. Then one day when he was a stronger man than he ever thought he would be, Stanley realized that he had the best job in the world all along. He was a Father.