When my first daughter was born, February 26, 1986, I was standing at my wife’s bedside. I had been there in the delivery room, since arriving home from Cleveland, where I was working and commuting home on the weekends. I’d arrived in Columbus about two hours after my wife had been admitted to the Ohio State University hospital.
It had been a long tortuous one hundred seventy five mile drive from Cleveland, since receiving the call from Trudy that evening to say that her water had broken.
From the moment I hung up the phone, I’d been seized and almost overwhelmed by fear and a terrible sense of foreboding, which made my stomach muscles tie themselves into tiny knots. My heart hammered as if it would literally burst out of my chest. My temples pound so hard, that it made my head ache, and my throat was so tight and dry, that I could hardly speak.
By the time my in-laws and I reached the hospital and hurried up to my wife’s room, I was a walking bundle of nerves. I found her lying on a narrow bed curled up in a fetal position. She was writhing in excruciating pain from labor contractions. After a few moments, the doctor said that only one person could stay in the room. Needless to say, I was the one to stay.
After donning the sanitized garb, I stepped out of the bathroom that I had been led to, which was just off the delivery room, and returned to Trudy’s bedside. I took her hand, and with my other hand I began to gently caress her greatly swollen stomach. Then I tried to comfort her with words of encouragement, and reassurance.
I knew that she was in tremendous pain, and probably frightened too, as she lay trembling in the wake of the last racking contraction. I forced myself, by shear determination of will, to mask my own fear and anxiety and smiled at her, telling her over and over, that everything was going to be just fine. I stood there desperately hoping that my face, the little bit of it that was showing, would not betray my own inner turmoil.
I was eternally grateful for my dark shades, because as I stood there silently, fervently praying to god to bring Trudy, and our baby safely through this ordeal, I felt my eyes moistening over with tears.
It is still almost impossible to describe the range and depth of my emotions that night. The paralyzing fear, the heart wrenching pity at her terrible pain, and finally, the soul transforming joy of childbirth. The baby’s first cry unleashed a flood tide of jubilation, which manifested itself in a torrent of gushing tears that washed over me like warm ocean waves and baptized me with the reality of parenthood.
My little daughter was born impatient, she didn’t wait for the customary slap on the rump, she came out shrieking to the top of her little lungs. The instant that I heard her little voice, tears of unspeakable joy flooded down my face, and my heart soared into the heavens on wings of gladness.
Immediately, the anxious fear that had seized and held me in its tenacious grip, fled from me like morning dew beneath the blazing breath of a July sun in Virginia. The doctor placed our daughter on my wife’s chest, and I heard Trudy began to coo softly through her tears in that unmistakable mother’s voice.
She’d become a mother at that very moment, because her child had tapped into the well spring of emotions deep inside of her, that deep tenderness, that heart string compassion, that rare love and exquisite sensitivity that can only be bought to the surface by the birth of a child.
When the nurse placed that little fragile bundle in my arms, I felt that same wellspring of emotions leaping up inside of me, and it was like touching the face of god.
My mother in-law had agreed to stay with Trudy until she recovered and was able to get back on her feet. During the first months of life, I didn’t have much contact with my new daughter, except on the weekends, when I came home from Cleveland where I was working.
Fortunately, by the end of that year, I was able to return to Columbus for good. Needless to say, I was ecstatic with the prospect. I didn’t work that following winter, I stayed home and took care of my daughter.
She’d just learned to walk and was trying to talk. We really got to know each other during that winter and spring. She taught me, as only a child can, how to take care of her. I realized to my astonishment, that just as I was learning about her, she was also learning about me.
She seamed to readily grasp and understand the fact that I couldn’t see. So when feeding her, she would take my hand and guide it to her little mouth. This was especially helpful when I started spoon-feeding her. I was totally amazed at her high level of hand-eye coordination and general dexterity for such a young child.
She would delicately take my hand as I lifted a spoon full of serial, or some other baby food, and gently direct the spoon to her opened mouth without wasting a drop. I also noticed how she would stick her little arms and legs out, and push them into her clothes trying to help me dress her. She amazed and fascinated me as the months drifted by as she grew and developed.
My daughter would often pick up small objects from the floor and bring them to me, putting them in my hand as if she under stood that seeing for her dad, meant touching. To check the observations and conclusions that I’d drawn about my daughter, I began to observe her interaction with her mother who was normally sighted.
I asked Trudy if Candace took her hand and guided it to her mouth when she fed her? The answer was no. Then I asked her if Candace had found things on the floor and brought them to her, placing them in her hand? Again, the answer was no. Finally, I asked, if our daughter helped when she was dressing her, and she said, yes, sometimes she did try to thrust her little arms and legs into her clothes.
Now I was reasonably certain, that as young as our daughter was, just under twelve months, she actually understood, and could appreciate the difference between her parents. As she got older and began to talk, I knew beyond any doubt, that she understood that seeing for her dad, meant touching things. Whenever she got new shoes, a new dress, hair bows, or some new toy that she knew I hadn’t touched, she would invariably bring them to me and say, “Look daddy,” as she put them in my hands.
Similarly, whenever her mother braided her hair and adorned her little head with bows, she’d run to me and say, “Look daddy, mom fixed me real pretty!” and then place my hand on her head.
When our next daughter, Patrice was born, on March 24, 1990, I experienced the same jubilation as I had felt with the birth of Candace. However, the heart pounding anxiety and paralyzing fear that had seized me during the first go around was now only a distant memory. I chalked that bit of good fortune up to the fact that this time, we knew what to expect. I participated in the care of Patrice from the moment she got home from the hospital.
As she grew and developed, I noticed the same traits and tendencies with regard to her response to me as I’d seen in my first daughter. She would assist me with the feeding, dressing, and also brought objects to me, just as C
andace had done.
She too, seamed to understand and appreciate the differences between her mom and dad. Consequently, she responded to those differences accordingly. Finally, when she learned to talk, just as with her sister, I found that my tentative assumptions of her understanding of my blindness were indeed valid.
Of all the good things that have happened to me in this life, I rank the birth of my children at the very top of the list. My experiences with those two little girls have brought me countless moments of unspeakable joy. I’ve felt my heart dance to the music of their laughter. I’ve felt my blood sing through my veins like wine; the first time they called me daddy.
I’ve even felt my throat tighten with tears when I’ve had to leave them crying many a morning, as I went off to work. Conversely, I’ve felt my heart thump with gladness as the tension and fatigue of a hard day fled from me when they hurled themselves into my arms and smothered me with their wet kisses as I arrived home from work.
One day, not too long ago, I was sitting in my living room watching music videos with my daughters. “I can dance dad!” Patrice, my four year old said excitedly. “You want to see me?” “He can’t see you,” Candace, my nine year old broke in before I could answer, “Because he’s blind.”
“Yes he can,” Patrice countered, “Look,” she said, getting up and coming over to where I was sitting on the couch. “Here dad,” she said, taking my hand and placing it on her shoulder. “You just put your hand on my shoulder, and you can see what I’m doing.” then she started dancing. I laughed despite myself and struggled to hold back the tears that were stinging the corners of my eyes.
Once again, I was thankful for my dark shades. This incredibly fantastic little girl had never forgotten that seeing for her dad, meant touching. Candace sat in silence, watching her sister dance for a moment, and then she sprang up and ran over to me.
Grabbing my hand from her sister’s shoulder, she cried gleefully, as she put my hand on her own shoulder, “Here dad, look at me!” Then they took terms dancing in front of me with my hand on their shoulders, dancing to the music of the videos, both of them laughing happily. I felt my heart dancing too, but it was dancing to the music of their ethereal laughter, which could only come from that rare and divine innocence of a child’s heart.
When my own laughter bubbled up from somewhere deep inside of me, it brought with it a stream of tears, and once again, I was eternally grateful for my dark shades.