Sunday, January 03, 2021

Fatherhood at Fifty-One

One year ago last night, as my spouse and I were getting ready for bed, she complained that her waistbands were feeling tight although she hadn't gained any visible weight.

"Could you be pregnant?" I asked, and she told me that was ridiculous. She was probably right. We were too old. We had missed the window for having children and reconciled ourselves to growing old together as a childless couple. So I went to sleep.

One year ago today I woke at 5:30 in the morning and found my wife had already been awake for hours. My question had nagged at her until she dug an old home-pregnancy test out of the bathroom closet. Positive. A baby was coming.

But was that right? The test was so old it had expired. So off to the drugstore for another (inconclusive) and another (positive) and then a hurried call to her ob/gyn and a trip to the nearest emergency room for an ultrasound. And there was our daughter on the screen, wriggling happily away.

"I can't take a picture for you," the ultrasound technician said. "I'm only trained for the first trimester, and we're obviously past that."

As Gomer Pyle used to put it: surprise, surprise.

My spouse and I met late and married late, when I was already past forty, and spent our first years of marriage commuting between jobs hundreds of miles apart. There was no responsible way to start a family when I spent the work week two states away. By the time we'd landed jobs in the same city I was very distinctly middle-aged. Could we start a family so late? Should we? We decided to let nature take its course and then accept its verdict: no IVF or other medical interventions, no adoption. We'd just see what happened, and nothing did. We thought that was that. And then it wasn't.

So in this worst of years, filled with calamities, we were also given an enormous, unexpected gift of joy. Our daughter was born in the Pandemic Summer of 2020 and we've been home with her ever since. I mean, where else would we go?

Being older parents means getting warned about every possible complication or grisly birth defect. The testing was constant. But the baby is healthy. Being pregnant during the pandemic meant worrying that there won't be a hospital room at all when the time comes, but the line held. Being an expectant father during the pandemic meant I had to live in the hospital room with my wife and newborn; if I left the hospital, I wouldn't be allowed back in. But I wouldn't have had it any other way. I began fatherhood as I meant to go forward, and living together is the point. Having a newborn in a pandemic means you never go out or see anybody; in some ways the two parts cancel each other out. 

Working from home with a newborn when both parents teach at the same university, means that the fact of the newborn cannot be hidden. She has sat on my lap through Zoom meetings and through online teaching videos. I wouldn't recommend it as standard practice, but I also wouldn't have it any other way. And why should the work of raising a child be hidden, except to keep employers from recognizing that work?

And Christmas came to our small family at home, the first time I've celebrated Christmas without traveling since before I left home for college and I think the same for my spouse. But all I wanted for Christmas I had, here under my own roof. 

I'm old to be a first-time father: as old as my own grandfather was when I was born. I don't have the physical energy I had in my twenties or my thirties, but I have a little more cunning and much more patience. I will worry about my daughter every day for the rest of our lives, but that's the job description. 

Being half a century older than your child brings home mortality like nothing else, not even a global pandemic. If I'd forgotten how fragile everything is, I'm never going to have that luxury again.

And I know what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life. Happy New Year. I hope yours is joyful and safe.

cross-posted from Dagblog