The Last of the Firsts

My first birthday

For me, May 18 is the last of the firsts. It is my birthday. Twelve days from now, it will be May 30, the first anniversary of the death of my father. It is my first birthday without my Dad.

This is a milestone all of my other family members have already reached — including my husband, whose first birthday without my Dad after my Dad’s death was the day before his funeral. While my birthday is a happy day, it — just like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter all before this day — will feel a little hollow this year.

Thirty-five years ago, my Daddy became a dad.

Through personal experience, I realize Moms become Moms over the course of their pregnancy, more so than actually birthing the baby: you realize your additional responsibility to eat healthfully, exercise and reduce stress; you feel the flutterings and movements and hiccups and rib-shots which cause you to already appreciate the life you are growing (and shaping and molding, to eventually set free). You already worry about baby’s future, you over-research and over-analyze every decision: from BPA-free bottles, to crib mattresses to car seats. Becoming a mother is a gradual, but definite, process. The birth is “just” the curtain-call, if you will.

This isn’t to say expectant Dads don’t have concerns or worries, or that they don’t plan for the future and try (as best one can, as an expectant parent) to realize what the future entails. They do. It is just to say that becoming a parent, from my perspective, is more active for the pregnant mama than it is for the “pregnant” daddy.

Even though expectant Dads can feel the baby’s kicks by touching their partner’s swollen belly, or see baby’s foot move across Mom’s belly in response to Dad’s voice … Dads don’t really “become” Dads until the baby arrives. Until the baby looks like him. After Dad cuts the cord, holds the baby, changes the first diaper, spends his first sleepless night, and then drives home from the hospital with his baby and his wife sitting in the backseat, that is when the reality of becoming a father hits.

I have heard my Mom’s side of my birth story many, many times. I would love to hear my Dad’s side of my birth story, or “when he knew” he was a Dad just one more time. (Who am I kidding? Thousands of times.) Though I know his rendition would probably be shorter than the paragraph I just typed.

I was a C-section, and I know in the 70s, Dads weren’t allowed in the OR. Even my Dad (she says possessively and proudly) as an EMT and firefighter, had to wait for the news second-hand. (I remember thinking at a young age: That is ridiculous!)

I wonder what he was thinking, 35 years ago today. Was he worried? Did he secretly yearn for a boy, an heir to his name? Did he ruminate about “being ready” to be a Daddy? Did he hope I’d follow in the family tradition and join the fire department? Was he excited to one day teach me to sail? What were his dreams for me? His hopes? His fears?

My first boat ride?

In truth, he was probably quietly and calmly waiting: smoking his Salem regulars, drinking a few Pepsi-colas. Maybe the Reds were playing. Maybe not.

In the end, I am certain I lived up to some of his expectations. I am quite certain I surpassed others, those he couldn’t possibly have foreseen. (By that, I mean the tattoo, the piercings, and taking nearly a dozen years to earn my bachelor’s degree. Sorry, Dad!)

My Dad didn’t offer unsolicited advice. He didn’t scold, lecture, or try to talk you (me) out of doing something stupid. Perhaps because he grew up with four sisters, three daughters (and later, three grand-daughters) he knew not to engage in a losing battle.

But he was a quiet, calming force. His praise was infrequent, but solid. His sense of humor was predictable, yet alarming. His hugs were awkward, but … they are sorely missed.

I have tried (and failed) to live this year without regretting the past. I miss him more than I ever thought possible. Losing him at such a young age, and to such a ferocious disease, has forced me to look hard at the decisions I make and how they impact my family, particularly my husband and our daughters.

Matt and I met almost by chance. He didn’t have to move to Cincinnati. I didn’t have to introduce myself at the company Red’s game. Considering we had never met during the previous four months of working for the same company, it’s unusual that the very next morning, we (almost literally) ran into each other walking into work. (He swears he didn’t plan it. I know I didn’t — I am far from punctual.)

But my Dad died of cancer almost certainly by choice. Or, rather, a series of choices.

I have spent many of the last 353 days talking to our daughters about making smart decisions. It seems that’s the only ability we have: to make informed, smart decisions about the things we can control. And then leave the rest to chance.

If you knew my Dad and you have a few moments, my birthday wish is for you to share a happy memory you have of him. And my wish for you, is that you live your life understanding your decisions impact those who love you most.

I’ll start. In my parents’ room hangs a cross-stitch, that says something like this:

Any man can be a father; It takes someone special to be a Daddy.

I never doubted that my sisters and I were some of the lucky ones. And I don’t doubt it for my children, either.

I love you, Daddy. Happy Becoming-a-Daddy-Day.

And Mom — none of this is to discredit you or the amazing job you have done. Thank you for everything, from morning sickness, to C-section and beyond. Happy Becoming-a-Mommy-Day, too. I love you.

“Daddy and his girls” — though the subjects differed as time went on.

Daddy’s Girls: We were pretty darned cute, if I do say so, myself.

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About Kara G

SAHM to two wonderful daughters, wife, woman, freelance writer. View all posts by Kara G

6 responses to “The Last of the Firsts

  • Therese C. Benken

    Nicely done Kara. Your Daddy was VERY Proud of his girls, though as you mentioned he often hid it from you 3. Because of the C-section, he changed your diaper before I did. I think the new one was soaked before he finished getting it on. Happy Birthday! Love you, Mom

    • Kara G

      Thank you, Mom. I think reserving his praise made it that much more meaningful when we did hear it. But it always helped when you said it for him/including him, too, i.e. “your Dad and I are so proud of you!”

  • Katie

    Do you realize that you and your sisters look the same then as you do now in that picture?

    • Kara G

      So you’re saying we are still pretty darned cute? Thanks, Katie. I love this one of us since we are all smiling and looking at the camera. As a parent, I can more fully appreciate all the hard work that goes into that end result!

  • Bethany

    Kara, this is beautiful. My Dad dodged cancer’s bullet 8 years ago. It changed him mentally. He was larger than life pre-cancer. He’s dependent on my Mom for everything post-cancer. I wrote a piece on my blog for him this week…for the man he was to me for the 30 years before the cancer. And the man I still see when I look at him. The man I hope my 4 boys see when they look at him. I just got a tattoo as well. He won’t approve. But he’ll be less inclined to chastise me since he’s read the nice tribute I wrote him for Father’s Day…fingers crossed. Even as a 38 year old wife and mother 4 times over, what my parents think matters.

    • Kara G

      Bethany,
      Thank you! I’m so happy you told your father how much he means to you. Of course their opinion matters! After all, they are our first loves. I find ways to talk about my Dad with our children nearly every day — the bad with the good — partially so they have a chance to “know him” but selfishly because I get to acknowledge him and how much love I have for him out loud, each time. Hugs to you and yours, and thanks for reading!
      K-

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