Excerpt: 'Tales From The Dad Side'
Birth: Dad On Arrival
July 21, 1987, was the day I became a father. My wife Kathy had gotten pregnant nine months earlier on or around my thirtieth birthday party with things we had around the house.
My wife had been having contractions for over a month and the doctor decided to induce the labor during the hottest most humid stretch of the year, it was the kind of day when Angelina Jolie would try to adopt a kid from Antarctica. For my wife's induced delivery we showed up very early at the east door of the George Washington Hospital just a few blocks from the White House, this was the same trauma center where six years earlier they rushed President Reagan when the world discovered John Hinckley liked Jody Foster in a much stranger way than Joanie ever loved Chachi.
We have a very romantic story, I met my wife for the first time when she was five. We weren't neighbors or schoolmates or even vague acquaintances, I saw her on television where she starred as the most incredible girl in the world, Mattel's talking doll Chatty Cathy. Pull a string in her neck and without moving her lips she'd start repeating one of numerous recorded sentences, bossing around who ever was unlucky enough to be holding her.
"Please change my dress."
"May I have some tea, Mummy?"
"Will you play with me?"
A limited conversationalist, she'd incessantly repeat the same handful of demands over and over again. No wonder there was no childhood obesity back then, little girls were jumping through hoops for Chatty Cathy, one demanding hunk of rubberized plastic. At age five, I watched the commercials on our black and white Zenith in Kansas, not knowing that twenty-three years later I would not only meet Chatty Cathy but also marry her.
My future wife wound up a child television actress thanks to the confluence of geography, a persistent stage mother, and general cuteness. Their family lived in the San Fernando Valley town of Encino, which was crawling with A-listers. In my wife's cozy neighborhood, Judy Garland, Tim Conway, and Walt Disney, all had houses, as did the biggest movie star of all time. One day at the grocery check out line my future wife was making a typical five year old's demand for her mother to buy her a Hershey bar.
"Please, I want it!" she begged.
Standing her ground, her mother Lillian, said no. The kid kept begging until some impatient man in line behind cleared his throat. The mother didn't need advice on how to deal with a screaming kid, so as she turned to give the stink eye to the next man in line. The butt-insky was John Wayne.
"Give the little lady the candy, ma'am" the Duke directed.
The fear of insulting Hollywood royalty momentarily immobilized her, so he drove home his point by mouthing the word "Now." A candy purchase was immediately made.
Directly across the street from my wife's house lived the biggest TV stars in the world, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Monday through Friday they were shooting at rustlers and bad guys but by Sunday morning they were always cleaned up for services at St. Nicholas the Episcopal Church. A sign Roy Roger's front yard said Bienvenido which translates, welcome, which they did every Tuesday afternoon opening the front door to the neighborhood kids.
"Who wants to see Trigger?" Dale'd ask as the star struck children filed by the most famous horse in the world. Trigger didn't mind the attention, but why would he, he was dead. When Trigger went to that big haystack in the sky, Roy and Dale had him stuffed and then placed him in their foyer. Maybe it became a neighborhood tradition, because when their neighbor Walt Disney passed away somebody apparently liked the idea of keeping Walt around, but they didn't stuff him and put him in the hall, they just cut off his head and put it in the deep freeze.
"Okay kids when I open the door, look on the left, and you'll see the guy who invented EPCOT."
My wife's father Joe was a salesman for a New York based lingerie company. When I eventually met him I admitted I was unfamiliar with that line of work but he cleared it up by explaining, "I work in ladies underpants."
My wife's mother a one time New York model started reading the show business trades, finding open auditions and putting the kids to work. Barely knee high to a William Morris agent, they did commercials for cars, fast food joints, hair color, you name it, when they smiled and held up the product, and America bought it.
"You deserve a break today!" my future wife lip-synced Barry Manilow's jingle for McDonalds while looking really cute in a paper hat.
"Here' OJ" was her line when she tossed the Hertz keys to O. J. Simpson as he dashed through the concourse of the Palm Springs airport. Just think had my future wife not given him the rental car keys he might never have gotten back to Los Angeles, and American history could have been much different. Slow speed chases are almost impossible unless the car is turned on.
Eventually she wound up at ESPN, as one of that networks' first on-air women, and later at NBC in Washington, where I spotted her in the commissary and made it my life's mission to get a date with her. After a series of awkward encounters I eventually wore her down, for a mercy date. As I left her apartment that night I told her we'd be married. She presumed I was mentally unbalanced but real life never lets you down, we were married five months later, and fourteen months after that, she was begging to have a word with the nurse who controlled her pain medicine as the real life Chatty Cathy was about to birth a baby. Somebody please alert Mary Hart.
Back to that delivery day, after the hospital admission she was escorted to a bleak labor room with very unflattering fluorescent lighting, and changed into what they called a gown but in reality with the back side never fastened it was more of a labor and delivery apron. Asking what to expect, they explained that sometimes a first pregnancy delivery went fast, other times it dragged on, so to be on the safe side, her doctor was inducing the labor by injecting her a potent mix of pharmaceuticals that trigger some sort of hood release on her southernmost parts. That was the theory, however the powerful drug pictocin did nothing to her, she had some immunity to it, and instead we just sat there waiting, think Amy Winehouse in stirrups.
"When should we start a college fund?" she sounded like a Morgan Stanley commercial.
"Why bother?" I said in flippantly unaware of the power of compound interest over twenty years, instead I turned my attention momentarily to pressing matters. "Pass me the PEOPLE magazine, I want to do the crossword."
A five-letter word that means review word for a successful show?
BOFFO I carefully print perpendicular to BORK, waiting for nature to take its course.
Killing time later I walked past the nursery with all of the bassinettes lined up in rows with screaming strangers, and at that moment I wondered what my parents had gone through on my birthday almost exactly thirty years earlier. Family historians remember my mother had contractions for thirty-six excruciating hours, a labor any longer and they'd have made her an honorary Teamster.
Eighteen months after my mom and dad's wedding and honeymoon in the Wisconsin Dells, where they memorialized their big trip by keeping every menu from every restaurant they visited, it was time for my world premiere. In the two o'clock hour the morning of October nineteenth, my mother was in the delivery room of the town's only hospital, when her attending physician made the shocking announcement that my birth was delayed because I was essentially stuck somewhere between the Panama and birth canal. My heart rate was slowing to the red zone so the doctor quickly gave nature a helping hand and dragged me into this world with a set of stainless steel forceps that looked like jumbo salad tongs.
And where was my dad? He was not in the room, he was not in the state, he was not even in the country. Eight months before I was born my father had entertained a hard to resist employment opportunity. The job promised exciting travel opportunities, accommodations and a fantastic new wardrobe if you liked camouflage, he was drafted. After a basic training that made sure he understood the correct end of a rifle to point at the bad guys, the army lickety-split dispatched him to Stuttgart, Germany, to make sure disgruntled Mercedes Benz employees didn't take over the world on their lunch hours.
"Put down the cluster bomb Dieter and go rivet some diesels."
My father saw me for the first time when I was eighteen months old. Despite missing hundreds of diaper changes, crying jags, and a near deadly whooping cough, I was by his account still adorable.
The stern draft notice from the Pentagon was the reason my father was not in attendance for my birth, but back then few guys were in the delivery room for the actual birth. Generally men would drive their wives to the hospital, park the car and wait for an announcement. Fast forward a generation and I was not only in the same room with my wife, but I was her labor and delivery coach, having spent at least half a dozen evenings in various community center basements learning Lamaze breathing, to help my wife during the miracle of birth. Here's a news flash, that breathing is a scam, it doesn't work. I prompted Kathy to pant and blow exactly as we'd been taught and yet during several raving intervals she informed me that it felt like she was trying to pass a Hyundai Sonata.
The cynic in me wonders whether the whole breathing exercises were developed by nurses and doctors who had grown tired of the expectant father asking "Is it time?" and wanted to give both the man and woman something to do while they waited for the baby to squirt out. It did nothing to ease my wife's pain, but if it was simply a distraction to give her something to concentrate upon, may I suggest they abandon Lamaze and install a Guitar Hero 3. That way she has something with which to pass the time, that'll distract her from her contractions and if she can score seventy five thousand points before the baby is born, she should get free parking.
Thirteen hours after our pre-dawn arrival a nurse noticed that our baby's heartbeat had slowed down considerably, and there was some worry that he was stuck, which could mean the ultimate disaster; a lawsuit. A brief conversation in hushed tones and a flurry of activity, as something was pulled out of a sterile drawer and just as I was delivered three decades earlier, my son arrived courtesy of a set of giant salad tongs. Peter James, the most beautiful child the world had ever seen made his debut with a handsome complexion the same color as Superman's hair, blue.
That event marked the greatest single moment of my life, my legacy weighed seven pounds eleven ounces and stood twenty two inches tall, if he were old enough to stand, which that first day I wasn't going to demand. The only thing he could do at that moment was lay there in a blue knit stocking cap like the neighborhood's youngest felon waiting to knock over a 7-11.
"We'll just wrap him up like a tater and put him under the lamp" one of the reliable nurses said, as she placed him under the cozy glow of what looked exactly like the heat bulb at McDonalds that keeps the fries warm, the only thing missing was the shaker of salt. Daydreaming about how my life had changed in that instant and how I finally had someone to watch wrestling with, I overheard the nurse querying the delivery team members, filling out his APGAR score, which I learned was how one evaluates a newborns physical condition, the closer to ten the better.
"He's a nine, very good." the nurse announced.
His first test, and already he's an A student! Later by the vending machines I met a new dad who proudly articulated his son's grade, "He's a seven" he bragged.
"That's a great score," I said, which was a lie. Already so far behind my son I should have just told that father to forget about Harvard and send an early admission application to Clown College.
There was a further wrinkle to our delivery day, one week earlier, a baby was snatched at a suburban hospital, and now that we could stop being worried about a healthy baby, we could advance to non-stop parental hysteria and worry that our only child was about to be kidnapped by some slug of the earth who craved what we had, a Smurf-blue baby. Ergo we made a pact that the our baby Peter James would stay in my wife's room the entire time and not the public nursery, that meant one of us would have to be awake around the clock eyeballing the baby. We did not consider ourselves overtly paranoid, and the voices in my head reassured me of that, but my wife was positive a direct Bruno Hauptman descendant was circulating nearby with a minivan and an extension ladder on the roof.
"You go home and get some rest," Kathy told me, as I kissed my only legal tax deductions goodbye. Amped up on adrenalin I intended to go directly to sleep but I was too keyed up and so I started calling friends and family members to tell them the good news. First our parents, then our siblings, followed by miscellaneous family members, lifelong pals, our Lamaze coach, and finally people at work.
"What are you doing home? We need to celebrate," said one of my best friends who just like me also had a new son at home. My own father had told me that the night I was born, the guys from his army unit took him to one of Stuttgart's finest beer gardens and served up what they did best, a large hangover.
"I really can't, at six I'm on kidnapping duty" I told him, which seemed like an easy dodge, despite something in my craw that made me want to celebrate the greatest day in my life.
"One drink" he pleaded. In fact an adult beverage would actually help me relax. Besides when somebody wins an Oscar or the Superbowl, do you think they go home and fall asleep with the rich chocolate taste of Ovaltine?
"Alright, but I've got to be home by midnight."
On the way to my house, he picked up my boss, who would give me political cover with my wife if she ever found out about my cocktail guzzling while she was standing shotgun over our son, the future president of the United States. For my extra special single celebratory drink, my friends had selected a very popular spot, which I'd read was a watering hole for celebrities, lobbyists, U. S. Senators and Congressmen and even the mayor of Washington.
"Lets go" my buddy announced as he and my boss handed the valet the keys. Suddenly paralyzed I could not in good conscience party with my pals while the mother of my child was two miles away in a lonely semi-private hospital room with bad lighting strung out on intravenous drugs and delusional that the bogey man was going to stop by after visiting hours. There was one other major reason I was uneasy getting out of the car they'd brought me to a strip joint.
"I came here when my son was born" my friend divulged as he paid whatever it cost to see people naked "When they find out you're a new dad, lap dances are half price!"
The way he said it, it sounded like an unbeatable deal for the value conscious porn addict, which I was not. However it was the end of a very long day and while my wife rode the storm with the benefit of an epidural, I was thirsty, and there was absolutely positively no way she would ever find out. I thanked my boss for paying the cover, which knowing him he'd eventually expense as a business lunch with the sports guy.
Inside it was very dark, and the music volume was set to melt eardrums. Aside from our new father fiesta, there were guys at three or four other tables aimed in the direction of an abandoned stage. The waitress stopped by to take our drink order, an amiable girl who wore a junior college cheerleader uniform that was three sizes too tight and way past anything comfortable. The only one who could pull off wearing it in public would be Polly Pocket.
"What are you drinking guys?" she screamed over the music in a voice at a volume one would usually associate with an airplane evacuation.
Despite my plan to have a single highball, I was told there was a two-drink minimum, so I ordered a double vodka which was actually a sensible selection as it was not only pure alcohol but it could be used as an antiseptic which could be useful in that disgusting hellhole of a club where a sane person would flush with their foot.
Just as the watered down cocktails arrived I heard the police siren.
Simultaneously a door flew open and the room was filled with red flashing lights. My first time in a strip joint, was the night of a police raid. Tomorrow the Washington Post would run a photo of me being led out with my hands over my face with the headline, "TV's Father of the Year", opposite a picture of my one day old boy being held by my future ex-wife, who'd been sitting up bug-eyed all night, with a skillet in hand waiting for the evildoers to take our baby. From the perp walk photo the new dad would appear to be sporting a skillet dent in the forehead.
When in mortal danger one either puts up their dukes, or runs, it's called fight or flight. I'm a flighter, opting for an immediate evacuation, and was surprised that my friends weren't ready to run. Instead they were instead clapping, what were they members of the Police Benevolent Association, happy the cops were about to take us downtown?
Scanning the room, nobody was leaving, and curiously there were on uniformed officers in the room. The siren was actually the intro of an Ohio Players song, and the lights were just part of the show. No police, I was momentarily convinced that karma was punishing me for being there. Add my hyperactive imagination, fueled by exhaustion and straight vodka, and my mind played a funny trick on me. I had punked myself. Thankfully that night at the strip joint there was no bust. Allow me to rephrase that, I didn't have to make bail.
In an ironic turn of events, the first performer was costumed as a registered nurse. Looking exactly like one of the two-dozen angels of mercy I'd met that day, but this Florence Nightingale one was swinging a stethoscope a la Mae West's feather boa. What a multi-tasker, she was not only an exotic performer but with her diagnostic equipment she could detect mitral valve prolapse.
As she tossed her hat with a big red cross on the front into the front row, and long before she was able to gyrate out of her hospital whites I excused myself from the table, but my companions didn't care, they were after all, devoted lovers of live theatre.
Looking for the restroom I found a deserted backroom saloon that had a couple pay phones and an odd feature for this type of business, a salad bar. Momentarily questioning who in their right mind would eat that stuff considering all of the germs and bacteria and belly button lint floating around, I spotted some of those little Chinese corns that have been a weakness of mine since college. Picking up a Styrofoam plate and a plastic fork, I loaded it up with the second pair of salad tongs I'd seen that day.
It was delicious, but then again I was starving. I nonchalantly dined on a plate and a half of salad parts, and when I returned to the room the nurse was gone and a French maid was on the catwalk. I suspected this was a maid who did not do windows, but did everything else.
"I have got to go" I barked on my return but my companions were oblivious as I left to hail a cab, they remained visitors to Silicone Valley.
The next morning I was at the hospital by six, where I found my wife rocking our baby, her head twisted uncharacteristically to the left, I estimated she had a three Tylenol stiff neck. "I haven't had a second of sleep and I'm dying for a bath," she said meticulously handing me the boy. "What did you do last night?"
"Not much, just headed home." I replied, which was technically true. I did go home, and I didn't do much else, unless you counted eating a salad teeming with e coli in the back room of a notorious burlesque theatre. Completely truthful, to a point, I had that same nauseous feeling one has after a Steven Seagal film fest.
Around noon our friend Tommy Jacamo from the Palm restaurant where we'd gotten engaged, brought my wife a lobster that was exactly the same weight as my son, seven pounds, eleven ounces, which at that place would have cost eighteen thousand dollars, plus parking. By the time the lobster carcass was sucked clean, I was helping the new mom remove the napkins I'd festooned around her neck when my friend who I'd left at the strip joint twelve hours earlier, materialized at her door with a wrapper full of grocery store flowers. A lovely thought he then sweetly offered an unparalleled compliment to a mother who'd just gone through over a dozen torturous hours of delivery and a sleepless night in a scary metropolitan trauma center.
"What's with the kid's hair? You're both blonds, he looks Cambodian."
A wonderful bedside manner, he was the kind of person who really needed to sometime edit his conversation but did not, which was evidenced by the next thing to spill out of his yap trap.
"Did you tell her about the strip joint?'
"He's kidding" I guffawed, knowing that he would instantly gauge from the nervous yet brazen tone of my voice that this was a third rail topic that must be derailed at that exact moment.
"The fancy one up from the social Safeway."
Luckily for him we were in a hospital, so in a few moments after I'd choked the life out of him and left his body near a Dumpster outback somebody in a white coat could revive him, as long as he had a valid Blue Cross card in his pocket.
"Are you telling me..." I could tell by the tone of my wife's voice, this would be the mother of all butt chewings. "While I was here after fifteen hours of labor on the hottest day of the year staying conscious so nobody would kidnap our baby, you were at a topless joint?"
"It was bottomless too" my soon to be ex friend chimed in. "But he didn't stay for that."
What was he doing? Was this a hidden camera segment for Montel? This must have been what it was like on that mountain with the Donner party at the moment they realized that they had limited buffet options. "If you're not using your fingers...can I snack on your index?"
An unhealthy period of quiet swept across the maternity ward as he tried to change the subject rapping his fingernail on the side of the plastic see-thru bassinette trying to wake him up. Luckily our blue baby with the thick black hair was a very sound sleeper, sensing his work destroying our family was done, my friend left for work.
"She wasn't really mad, was she?" he asked a week later.
"Not at all" I snapped back as I stared at his ribcage trying to use mind control to stop his beating heart. In reality she was hurt, but she had a seven-pound baby to tend to, and a one hundred seventy pound bigger baby to train. For that next year, I always wondered whether she'd memorized Raul Felder's eight hundred number, occasionally dialing it for practice.
Regarding my foolhardy trip to the strip joint, I would like to say that I had simply lost all mental capacity for a few hours, but no jury would buy the insanity defense so instead your Honor, I'd like to plead it down to a gross misdemeanor.
While it's easy to become a dad, the simple act of a birth does not make you a father, that is something that is learned along the way. Intelligence does not equal wisdom. It's been twenty some years since that night and considering the emotional blowback I can honestly say I have not been to a strip joint since, and I've got the single dollar bills to prove it.
My friend was never invited to share the miracle of my two daughters births. Mary was born the day after Halloween, which I have a feeling God had a hand in, because according to what I've read on Craigslist, November first, All Saints Day, is one of the hardest of the calendar year to book a lap dancer.
Our final child Sally was also born in July and within an hour of her arrival, her brother Peter and sister Mary were in the room, singing Happy Birthday. Mary was a typical three year old who was mesmerized paying rapt attention to the new baby for almost a minute, and then bored silly, must have thought she was at a restaurant, "Me use potty?"
She excused herself to the private bath, and a few minutes later, after some suspicious giggling, the door swung open, and there she stood naked. We knew it was an attention getting reaction to the new baby, but it was also really cute. That was around the time US House republicans had something called the Contract with America. "Look at the nudie" my wife laughed, "She's a regular Nudie Gingrich."
I automatically felt obligated to add on to her joke "And you know what Nudie Gingrich's Contract with America is...a chicken in every pot and a pole in every bedroom." My wife guffawed momentarily until she made the connection that this was not the first time her husband had been in the presence of a naked person on the birthday of one of their children.
Suddenly angry for the nineteen thousand three hundredth over of the infamous strip joint incident of 1986, she launched into an uncomfortable resuscitation of the facts.
I am never going to live this down, I thought to myself when a light bulb went on over my head and I realized that having your wife repeat the same thing over and over again, is exactly what happens when a guy marries Chatty Cathy.
Tales from the Dad Side LP Misadventures in Fatherhood. Copyright © by Steve Doocy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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