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All by self; a story about fathering.


A Story About Fathering

"LIGHT ON," -- your first words -- you whisper in your own way, as I nestle you in my arms walking from room to room. You put your hand on mine, and together we flick the light switch. Light on!

May I tell you a story as we walk this early morning, through the hallways and rooms of our home, turning on and off all the lights?

"Mommy," you say.

"Mommy is asleep," I counter.

"No! Mommy!" you insist.

I ask myself: At times like this, am I able to both father and mother you? How much can I give, and am I able to meet your needs?

"Can I be your mommy tonight?"

"Yes," you say, sinking deeper into my arms. I tell you the story:

One year ago, I carried in my arms a three-week-old baby boy through the nightlit hallways of Children's Hospital. Born at home, he seemed perfectly healthy; but, for unknown reasons, he got hot with a fever in his third week of life. When the fever left, his arm began to shake; and he had to live in the hospital for ten days. Often I spent the night there near him. And often, in the middle of the night, like tonight, he cried out as if terrible dreams lingered in his head. I picked him up and walked him through the hallways, just as I am doing tonight with you. I sang him songs as we walked, and he always went back to sleep.

"Let's walk to the window where the full moon shines, and I'll sing you the favorite song of the baby in the hospital."

There's a moon, there's a star in the sky

There's a cloud, there's a tear in my eye.

There's a light, there's a night that is long

There's a friend, there's a pain that is gone.

Long are we waiting, awakening

Long are we singing this song.

There are seeds that we plant in the earth.

We bring our lives to the process of birth.

What we do, what we think, what we feel

Becomes the grist in the turn of the wheel.

Hello moon, hello star in the sky

Hello cloud, hello tear in my eye.

Hello light, hello night that is long

Hello friend, hello pain that is gone.


Are you still awake? That baby in the hospital always fell asleep when I sang! Do you remember that baby was you? The little boy with the big diseases: encephalitis and meningitis. They gave you a big hurt, a condition called cerebral palsy, and you were changed forever. Yet, inside you are still the same bright person. I know this when you cuddle up, smile that knowing smile, and I look deep in your eyes.

Tonight we walk hallway after hallway, as we did one year ago in the hospital. It seems like one long night of hallways leading I don't know where. With the dawn comes your first birthday celebration -- a celebration tempered by a year of grieving. I will try to put the grieving in perspective and truly celebrate that today you will be ONE.

"One what?" is the question. Almost every day of this trying, emotional year I have asked myself: "What will become of you? What went wrong?" There are many people who say that nothing went wrong: that all life's happenings are lessons -- and all children, regardless of how they may differ from our expectations, are gifts. Yet, if I were to ask them, none of them wish to be so gifted.

Some say you are a blessing. Even so, I know no one who prays for such blessings. I know the blessings in your smile, your bright eyes and the radiant love that you share so joyously. But I will not call the disease that came over you like a dark cloud a blessing! I call the hurt of it a challenge that awakens me from the illusions and expectations I had created about life. I am challenged to choose the blessings of you rather than the grief that sporadically tears at my heart like daggers.

I go over in my mind what went wrong a year ago. Was it the kids with runny noses that sniveled near you the second week of your life when your mother and I thought we were protected from disease by our faith and goodwill? Protected because we worked hard to have a conscious, successful birth. Or was the mistake at your birth, when everyone thought I should welcome you to the world with a bath? Was the bathtub unclean? Did the virus that they never found wade onto your tender bellybutton? Or was it when you turned a little yellow with jaundice? Should we have avoided the hospital where the virus might have lurked in the air? In birthing class, had they forgetten to teach us that the human brain has no immune system for the first four weeks of life? And if they had said it, would we have done anything differently?

Some tell your mom and me that it is useless to search for causes or to blame anyone, especially ourselves. Yet, there is some benefit to feeling guilt -- justified or unjustified. It is an opportunity to make wanted changes in one's life. I know I was not diligent in all the events of your birth, and I know I can be more diligent in attention, care and presence with you from now on.

Another switch. "Light on!" you say. Together we reach for the light. And then you reach for my glasses. One year ago, you reached for the reflections in my glasses and knocked them to the hospital floor. They almost broke! Is it the reflections that attract you? Do you want to tease me by holding them out over the floor and laughing? Or, is it that you want to see my eyes without the glare?


There, you have the glasses in your hand. Now, without reflection, I can see you better too.

Wrapped to my chest this morning of your second birthday, I carried you into the bay, where the low tide had bared an underwater beach. I had to balance my steps, adjusting to each gully, hill, ravine, pile of debris. Every step required that I remember and practice the yoga lessons of long ago. Only now, you are my teacher, riding my back giving quiet, singsong instructions (in my ear).

Clouds dampened our walk out to where the deep, dark water had been only hours before. As I was your feet, you were my eyes. Our hearts were one. Pacing myself as I often do for endurance when I walk with you, I sang this song, and you hummed along:

My boy Micah sure is fine

When he smiles, he sure does shine

When we walk we feel real fine

Yes, my boy Micah sure is fine.

My boy Jonah sure is fine

When he smiles, he sure does shine

Both boys give love most the time

Yes, my boy Jonah sure is fine.

Your older brother walked ahead, looking for the ripples in the sand that mark the memory of clams digging in. If your brother digs some up, we'll have clams for dinner. Stuck in the mud, the luckier clams wait for the tide to return.

You and I explored more slowly the underwater world now exposed, with all its bounty laid before us like gifts from the universe. If Darwin's stories are true, our ancestors crawled this sandy bottom millions of years ago. I only wish you could crawl here now.

A blanket of crushed shells suddenly spread before us like a brightly speckled galaxy of many colors. They lay in a swirl, as if a tornado had gently touched down and arranged them there. I bent over so that your hands could sift through the sea's debris. You were delighted!

Unwrapping you and sitting you down in the center of the wet shells, I wondered why these broken bits of life's discarding seemed so precious to you. From your hand, I took the small plastic pail you had carried our long journey all by your self. "Will you stay sitting while I fetch water from the tide pool?" I asked.

"All by self!" you said, sitting straight and not falling over. I walked to the pool, filled the pail and returned to you. A small miracle had occurred: You were still sitting up! I sat down behind you like an old familiar chairback, and together we dug a pit in front of us and poured a small pond into it. I put my hand on top of yours, and together we picked up handfuls of sand and shells and dripped the contents on a tower rising slowly before us. We were strongly connected -- as friends who have one aim in common.

Of course, not every drip had the same success, and some drips knocked parts of the tower down. We knew that eventually the tide would take the tower and all the drips away. But, eventually was not our concern. In that moment, we were totally engrossed, bonded to enjoying the play.

I looked out over the bay to see other people digging for clams, chasing snipes, chasing each other -- and I was envious. I yearned for you to be running along behind your brother doing the same things! Instead, my plight seemed a great burden, and at first I felt hollow inside. But as I let myself be still, sitting with you, a gentle serenity grew in me as it must in one who finds the joy of being alive in the stillness of the eye of a hurricane.

"All by self," came your still, small voice into my thoughts. Though you were not like the others, in your own way you took great leaps. Then you spoke your words for the waterfall we had seen the day before: "Up and down shower," you said, as you let drip before me, all by yourself, a rainbow waterfall of shattered shells.

The clouds parted, and our world lit up as if flashed with color film. It seemed as if paint had dripped onto this newly-revealed seascape -- into the fragments of shell -- into our legs and clothes and faces. Everywhere, everything warmed as we became one with the teeming life around us. It was all there for us to take up or discard as we chose. As if all prior creation had been for the purpose of our coming to this moment, sitting still together.

PHOTO : Micah Taylor playing in the sand.

PHOTO : Ron Taylor and his son, Micah, 5, sharing a special moment under the summer sun.

Ron Taylor works as a freelance writer and producer of educational films and videos. He holds a bachelor of arts in humanities and a master's degree in photography and cinema from Illinois Institute of Technology. Taylor lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife, Judith Bea, and children, Jonah, 9, and Micah, 5.
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Author:Taylor, R. W.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Play is important.
Next Article:Looking at the past and the future; a message from our new Assistant Secretary of Education.

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