January 10, 1988…


We left our little duplex a little late in the evening. I may have left work early that evening. It was a Saturday and I was working second shift, 3 pm to 1am, in a juvenile detention in Olathe, Kansas. The duplex we were renting was also in Olathe, and although it was just a five to ten minute drive from work, when you are a young couple expecting your first child close to the expected delivery date, you don’t want to take chances. The HMO we were on from my work, only would allow us to deliver in a hospital they prescribed, and that was Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, a 30 minute drive from Olathe. When she started to feel pretty uncomfortable, she called the HMO nurse-line, to see what we should do. They suggested we go ahead to the hospital.

I remember it being a clear, bitterly cold night, which isn’t surprising, because that is the rule in Kansas City in January. As we drove through the night, there was a calm coziness between the two of us. This should have been our first hint that the baby wasn’t ready to be born yet. Calm and labor do not generally hold hands as we were doing as we drove. Labor kicks calm aside and demands urgency. It shouts its intentions, and gives orders like a Marine drill sergeant, with pointed direction and not a little cursing. Upon arrival at the hospital, Greta’s pains were growing, and we approached the emergency room arrival desk not in a state of panic, but of annoyance about the usual bureaucracy. We should have known by our relative patience that we would eventually be sent back home to wait for sharper labor pains. Hospital staff must know the signs of real labor by how loudly the parents yell at them.

Even though we didn’t show the signs of real labor, she was admitted, and taken to an examining room. When the attending physician checked her cervix, he reported that although her body was getting ready, she still had a long way to go. The physician suggested that she start walking around the hospital corridors to try and encourage the process. So we began to walk…and walk…and walk… When they check her again, they suggested that she be released to go home and get some rest. “The pains will wake you up!” A nurse told us. Well…actually, the pain wouldn’t let her GO to sleep… although the fact that we had a water bed with the lack of support couldn’t have helped…let alone the effort it took a VERY pregnant woman AND her young husband to get her out of the bed exacerbated her discomfort, as well…we eventually found what should have been a comforting panic. We were persuading the nurse-line staff, too. Our repeated calls signified that our suburban politeness was cracking, and we were entering the primal evolutionary state of reproducing, social-skill Neanderthals, that all first-time parents devolve into with their first child. We were eventually “invited” back to the hospital.

The second trip was much less calm, and exponentially quicker. However, once she was examined, we learned that her cervix had only dilated to a 3. We needed to get to 10.

Crap….

It was as if her body didn’t want to expel this new person she’d been protecting for nine months into the world. Her body became schizophrenic, with one set of natural urges providing a courageous push, while another set providing a protective pull. So we waited for the push-urge to win out…and I did what any new husband and father does: whatever she says. I remember massaging her back as she turned on her side, with the regular amount of assorted cords attached to her body. My hands and arms began to ache from the kneading of her muscles. Wisely, I decided to keep this discomfort a secret… I think most fathers know to keep their mouths shut in such an occasion, while watching the physical travail of the mother of their child. The idiots who do not, deserve whatever they receive…

Several other pictures are captured within the recesses of my mind:

Her family standing in the hallway of the hospital…

The pushing…

The crowning of the baby’s head…

The late arrival of the HMO physician, who almost had to dive to catch the kid…

Her mother, who we agreed could watch the birth because she had never seen one, who had to quickly sit down because she got light-headed due to the excitement…

Holding the baby boy for the first time…

Excitedly calling my family with the news…

The sight in the hallway of Greta’s best friend and her husband with his stupid sunglasses perched on top of his head…

The naming: Baird Conrad Williams. The first name chosen in honor of my childhood friend, and best man in our wedding; and the second taken from my paternal grandfather: Eli Conrad Williams.

Eventually taking the baby home snuggled in his yellow, arctic onesie covered by layers of blankets in the HMO, borrowed car seat…

…and the melancholy reminder that my father would never know this child and this child would never know his wonderful grandfather. I would be his only tie to his heritage from my side of his family. Although I couldn’t have known it then, we would have only a hand-full of opportunities for him to be in contact with my side of the family over the next twenty-five years. At the time, I mourned a loss that he would never fully understand: the loss of his knowing the patient, gentle presence of my father. At the time, I was unsettled as to my own ability to model this important relationship to him.

As to the other concerns over raising a child, neither of us felt burdened with the expectation that we had to be perfect parents. We realized, probably for the first time, that all parents will screw up, and the next generation will have to find their way through the maze of these faults. What did concern me, was the capability to financially provide for this child. And to live out my values in such a way as to invite him into them.

While he might have missed the opportunity to experience my family, he was granted a wonderful opportunity to develop the traditions of his mother’s side of the family. Many of these traditions and values were shared by both sides:

Learning that continues throughout a lifetime…

Loving each other during hard times…

Caring about issues, and acting in ways to support the community…

Courage to take risks…

The love of music…

The adrenaline-rich joy of performance…

As I have watched him grow, I have seen these values play themselves out in his life. But I have also seen wisdom grow within him that is his own. He shares with me, and the men of my family, a propensity to be quiet about difficulty, and to just take on the responsibility himself to figure things out, then take action. As I think about it, I see the same quality in Loy, his maternal grandfather, and Scott, his step-father. Maybe this is a quality that is especially embraced by masculine culture:

The masculine demand to keep your mouth shut when it hurts, and don’t ask for help…

Oh…

wait…

that probably is the dysfunctional side of self-reliance, against which every man must guard, lest he become isolated in the toxic mix of shame and pride. The more positive side is: don’t shrink from, nor side-step necessary pain, but take responsibility for your actions, ask for help when needed, and give it to others when asked. Although these are not JUST masculine values, they are certainly ones that I have seen in the men surrounding Baird as he grew up, and notice a lack of in many men of younger generations.

My son has become a man…a good man.

A loving husband.

A gifted scholar and musician.

A trustworthy employee.

A wise steward of his finances.

An astute judge of priorities.

Not only am I proud of him, I am impressed by him.

Happy birthday, Baird Conrad Williams!

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