Becoming A Father – Heads We Breed/Tails We Don’t

Becoming a Father. It’s been on my mind lately. So much to think about.

Orion in Troll Cave
Orion in a Troll Cave in Iceland (Click for full story)

It was an accident, the best kind of accident you could ever imagine happening. There was no broken glass, smashed metal and blood, only an overwhelming feeling of joy. When Marlo told me she was pregnant we never even had a conversation about terminating the pregnancy. Broken condoms were a pretty common occurrence in those days, and those betting odds finally caught up with us. When she told me she was pregnant it changed my life, but I could never have conceived how much his birth would change the very core of who I was.

I remember the day Orion was born vividly, it was the happiest day of my life. I had witnessed his growth in Marlo’s belly for months, but the reality never set it till the day he emerged. How could it? My old life was about to disappear and a new one would grow in its wake.

Things with Marlo had been on the rocks for a while, but when the day finally came we grew closer than we had ever been before. She needed love and support and I needed so much to give it to her. Our midwife Kate was amazing and she allowed me to catch Orion first when he came out of the womb. I remember when his head first stuck out how surprised I was, you expect the baby to come, but nothing can really prepare you for the emotions you go through when he finally arrives. This little creature that was the better half of me and the better half of Marlo changed my life more dramatically than anyone else ever could.

I remember holding him when he first came out, my heart swelled with joy and pride. We cleaned off the blood and amniotic fluid and handed him to Marlo and there was so much joy, so many tears. He was perfect and had all his fingers and toes. What more could we ask?

The nurse took Orion away from us and put him under a heat lamp like a McDonalds Hamburger then left the room with him crying hysterically. I promptly scooped him up and held him against my chest. When she came back in I was scolded for not letting the baby warm up. I took off my shirt and held him against my warm chest. I knew it would be warm enough with all the love I had to give.

My teenage years were such a blur, I was the wildest most reckless person I had ever met. Anything that I thought of, I would do it without thinking twice. I never thought I would make it to 21, much less 40. We took bets who would last the longest, looking back most of the friends I wagered against died from drinking, drug overdoses or suicide. I don’t know how I made it through.

Once I had Orion everything changed, it was like someone hit the delete button for all the files I had and loaded the ‘diaper changing’ and ‘bag carrying’ program. For the first 2 years I was all but useless, Orion had little to no interest in me, it was all about the boob. I was there to support and facilitate and do little else. I paid the bills and bought groceries and rocked Orion to sleep in the car carrier. As a man, I felt totally lost.

Then Marlo left me. When it was finally over we both agreed our separation was the best thing to do. Suddenly I was living the largest, nicest house I had ever been in.  All alone. I had the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect American Dream life but I was a hollow empty man. I sold the house within a month.

I bought another house that I had Marlo come and look at with me. It was out in the country and had a tiny apartment in the top of it. I asked if she liked it, she said yes. I bought it, put my name on the mortgage note and her name on the deed. Against the recommendations of everyone I knew I bought the house and gave it to her. I have never regretted that decision.

Money meant little to me, all I cared about was the welfare of my son and his mother. Everything I did I did for them, I didn’t want anything in return. Marlo dated, I kept my mouth shut even though some of the men she dated I was convinced were ax-wielding homicidal maniacs on the side. Then she found Fred Horan.

Fred was a friend of mine and was a loving, quiet, gentle man. If I had to pick an ideal father for Orion I could not have done a better job of it. He sold his house in Fall Creek and moved into our home in Willseyville. After almost a year he decided to buy another house in town, Marlo and Fred got married and she got pregnant with her second child. I was truly happy for her, it was everything I could have ever wanted. At the same time I started my own business and after 6 months of spending every day with the woman I started the business with, we started being romantically involved. I loved Jocelyn dearly and with every part of me that I could. If I had know that in 5 years she would choose to take her own life I would have run.

Looking back I see how Marlo made such good choices and my choices were so bad. I don’t know what caused such poor judgement on my part, I thought I could help Jocelyn, I thought I could fix her. I was wrong, but I would not know how wrong I was for many years to come.

Meanwhile Orion grew up, he was the perfect child in every way. He started out as the perfect baby and only cried when he wanted the boob. He even changed his own dirty diapers willingly. Well, maybe he wasn’t THAT perfect. He grew into the perfect Toddler then at 4 years old our lives shifted again when Orion got sick and almost died.

Orion was in the car and it was cold and he started shaking. I didn’t know what was happening so I took him to Marlo’s house. The next thing I knew Marlo called and said simply ‘His urine is black, meet us at the hospital’. I had been an EMT for 5 years and I had never seen nor heard of black urine so I said ‘Are you sure it’s black?’. She said ‘Yes it’s black’.

When I saw Orion at the hospital I was sick with worry, his skin was yellow and Jaundice and he could barely hold his head up. His Urine was indeed black, it was full of dead red blood cells that his kidneys could no longer filter. Orion’s kidneys and liver had completely shut down as his blood stream was overloaded with dead blood cells.  His immune system had gotten confused and it was attacking and systematically killing all his red blood cells. The condition was known as Idiopathic Cold-Activated Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia  There was little to nothing we could do but watch and wait. He was transferred to the Syracuse Children’s Chemo ward without delay.

They had taken 2 vials of blood at Cayuga Medical Center and when we got to Syracuse a young  female doctor from India wanted to take 6 more vials for tests. I said ‘No’. The strangest conversation I’ve ever had in my entire life ensued. This woman was yelling at me in the hallway and insisting that if I didn’t get the blood taken that my child was going to die. I calmly told her that I was an EMT for 5 years and that I understood the condition and the risks and I also knew my rights as a patient. They were not getting any more blood. If they wanted blood they could take one small vial the next morning. For 15 minutes this woman berated me, and I did not budge. I have never regretted that decision, although I am still flabbergasted by her complete lack of professionalism.

I went to the closest toy store and bought the most expensive and nicest Lego sets I could find. I spent $1000 that day on Lego. I decided that I would give him one set every day for as long as we were in the hospital or until he died. He loved the Lego sets and although he could barely move he still used what little energy he had to put them together. One set was a large technic car that was thousands of pieces and was for ages 14 and up. I found each of the pieces and he patiently put them together. It took us 4 days of constant play to finish it. I remember being at the hospital on Christmas when Santa came and brought toys and cheer for all the children in the cancer ward. I remember the young girl suffering from cancer we shared a room with whose daddy had to work and could hardly ever come and visit. I couldn’t care less about work, from the moment I arrived at the hospital till the moment we left the hospital I never left Orion’s side.

I stayed up all night researching his sickness online. The prognosis was poor, the only thing they could really do was give him immune suppressant drugs which 50% of the people who took them would die from some other sickness while their immune system was disabled. Everything in my life just fell away and all I focused on was one simple thing. Having my son get well again. The more I researched the more hopeless the situation looked. I remember praying for the first time since I was 13 and had quit going to church. I made up for those lost prayer-less years with a vengeance. I remember being so strong when Orion was awake, then crying constantly when he slept. I don’t know how I made it through those 2 weeks, I didn’t think I was strong enough. My parents just went through 5 years of the same thing with their son as he died of chronic lung cancer from smoking. Their strength and fortitude makes my minor accomplishments seem paltry by comparison.

After 2 weeks his body stopped attacking itself, he made a full recovery and within 2 more weeks he was back to normal. In some ways I think his sickness affected me more than it affected him. I stopped working all the time and started spending more and more time with him. Before long I was hardly working at all and spending what seemed like every spare moment focused on supporting his path in life. Yet another decision that I have never regretted.

Through my love and kindness I managed to raise one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, but that love was not enough to save another. Jocelyn Wanagel committed suicide several years later. After that loss I stayed single for a very, very long time. I blamed myself deeply and intensely for her choices and I felt that anyone else I loved would take the same path. I couldn’t live with the guilt and shame of having that ever happen again. I resigned myself to a lifetime of romantic solitude.

Then after 7 years of mostly being single something remarkable changed in me. I decided I wanted to have more children. There was a young child by the name or Arrabella that often went to Contra dances Fri night at Bethel Grove. There was something about her energy and her love that made me want to move through my fear, take risks and create more life. When I danced with her the joy and the glee that emanated from her spoke to my heart and sung sweet songs of possibility for the future. I started looking for a partner again.

I found that partner in the most unlikely of places, sledding with my friend Scott one winter evening. I was trapped on the bottom of a plastic sled rocketing down a hill with Scott laying on top of me and Elise laying on top of both of us, screaming the whole way down. I knew that I had found someone truly special. It was an amazing year I spent with Elise, the ups were so up, the downs were the lowest low I could ever imagine. To write about our experiences and my love for her would fill volumes that I am not willing or ready to fill. Suffice to say that I didn’t realize how much I cared, until I finally asked her to leave.

Then the darkness began. 10 months of my own person hell custom crafted and made just for me. Out of that personal hell came a lot of self-growth and light. After endless months of dating I met a woman who spoke directly to my heart again. Thilde was everything I could ever want in a woman and more, and most importantly, she was ready and possibly willing to have children.  Her best friend had just had a baby and something about being around her friend’s child set off a ticking time bomb in her Uterus. I made 180 degree turn. I went from wanting desperately to have more children to desperately wanting to get my life back again.

I had become the dreaded soccer mom. The Honda minivan, the constant appointments shuttling Orion from playdate to Cornell Programming night, then to Game night at the Enchanted Badger. I had gone from being the coolest, most bad-ass guy in town to being a glorified taxi driver. I felt like I was in prison, doing time with only 4 years left till Orion hit college. It seemed like I might be getting out on Parole early for all my good behavior.

How did this happen? How could I fall this far? The light is finally at the end of the tunnel and here I am thinking about running the whole race again. Parenting is like that, there is nothing else in the world that holds the allure and joy of being a father that I have found. The commitment you have to make to your offspring is complete. There is no room for selfishness or solitude in parenting. You are, you become, you exist for you child. Yet I am an introvert at my very core. I crave time to myself, I want to walk alone in the woods, or bike, or kite with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company.

Now again I am lost. I don’t know what direction to turn. The most important decision in my life and I am confused. There is no GPS telling me where I am going, all I know where I have been.

It was a glorious trip and a wonderful ride, but I don’t know if I could ever do it again.

Love is like that. When you have a child you make a choice. You put your life into their hands or you just walk away.

If you walk away it haunts you till your dying day. Knowing that you could have changed your own offspring’s life, but you weren’t man enough to face up to the task.

When I do something I want to do it right or not do it at all. When I became a father I set out to be the very best father I could ever imagine being. There were times where I got stuck, misdirected and lost. Sometimes I was unkind, hurt, confused and neglectful. Looking back I feel like I did the best possible job I could, given what I had. Mistakes were made, I learned, I  cleaned it up, I moved on.

As painful as somethings were in my life I kept moving forward and when it came time to deal with my shit, I didn’t project it onto everyone else like I did when I was young. I faced up and owned my issues and worked on myself. The world didn’t change to suit me and my needs.

I changed so that I could better serve the world.

Maybe that is what maturity is.

One thought on “Becoming A Father – Heads We Breed/Tails We Don’t

  1. A beautiful story of the typical life of an extraordinary person! So many of us have struggled with such extraordinary circumstances — some have survived to one degree or another, others have lost! I’m not quite sure where I am on that scale!

    My second daughter died of a cerebral aneurism 41 years ago this week! She was an exceptional student and loved by all her peers. She had an incredible future ahead of her. I was devastated and never really recovered!

    Thank you for sharing your story. Hope to catch you out dancing again!

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