I knew it was getting late. I was leaving work, walking to my car, when I got a text message. My nephew scored two tickets to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.I texted my son, Patrick, to see if he was home. I planned to fly home, put on my Blues sweater, grab Patrick, and fly down to the Scot.
But Patrick didn’t need a ride or a ticket. He was already on his way to the game with a friend. He bought his own ticket and drove his own car.
May 24, 1993, was a cold, gray day in New London, Connecticut. The winter had been mild but damp, as had the previous summer.
My wife had an appointment with the OB/GYN at 9 am. I don’t remember if it was a routine exam or if she’d asked to see him. I assume the latter, because I stayed home to go with her. I was on shore duty, so getting a few hours off wasn’t the hassle it had been when I was attached to a submarine.
“It’s time,” the doctor said.
That day was long. Someone was watching our other three–Amie, Jack, and Benjamin. Probably Patty Fellows or the Emblidges. I wasn’t concerned about that.
The other kids had been born in shiny new hospitals, but Lawrence and Memorial Hospital was old, like the older parts of St. Mary’s where my mom used to work. Compared to those modern hospitals, this one had more wood and marble, less metal and carpet. The walls of the delivery room were hospital green, the floors institutional marble. The ceilings were high–probably twelve feet. Heavy oak framed the lone window.
The television looked out of place in this ancient room. It was a hulking Zenith from about 1979, mounted high in a corner of the room where everyone could see. Everyone except the patient, my wife. Well, she could were she in a condition to twist her body to the right and hang off the side. But not on this day.
As my wife sucked on ice chips, I looked through the window at the nondescript afternoon. Though summer was right around the corner and the school year was almost over, everything about the day looked like a winter scene in a Dickens novel. I looked down, expecting to see men in stovepipe hats and bridge coats pushing carts of coal up the cobblestone street, dodging horse dung on their way. Instead, I saw Toyota Camrys and Dodge Omnis cruising down smooth asphalt.
Another difference between this birth and the others: all the doctors were men. The OB/GYN, the anesthesiologist, the nurse assistants. Maybe one woman came into the room the whole day, but that was it. And they didn’t stay long.
Thinking back on that day, time flew. Probably not for the woman in labor. But I remember glancing at my watch and finding it was already 6:00. Julie was stuck at seven centimeters. The anesthesiologist, who looked like Dick Butkus, was administering an epidural to ease the pain in hopes of accelerating dilation and delivery. And I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
Since my wife was semi-conscious between medication, epidural, pain, and endorphins, the doctors and I decided hockey would be the best diversion to relieve some of the tension in the room. The New York Islanders vs. Montreal Canadiens in game 5 of the Wales Conference finals. I was pulling for the Canadiens, but I kept that on the down low.
After the epidural, Julie fell asleep. A nurse sat by the bed monitoring the machine that goes BEEP. The doctors and I huddled in the corner under the TV so we could hear with the volume set low. Late in the second period with the Habs pulling away, Julie woke up and the nurse beckoned us back to the bedside. The baby was on his way.
Patrick Conor Hennessy was born during the second intermission. He was big, remarkably healthy, and seemed to be happy. His mom was out like a light shortly after Patrick was born. So after he was cleaned up, APGARed, and dressed, the nurse handed him to me to hold. To bond.
I knew he’d want to watch the end of the hockey game. So I carried him over to the TV. His eyes were closed–mostly–but I knew he was listening as the Canadiens scored two goals in six seconds to ice the game and the series.
Later, as the teams shook hands after the game, Julie woke up and asked to hold the baby. I transferred the bundle. And missed him for the first time.
Then again, his brother Jack is a Petty Officer Second Class in the Navy,closing in on the age I was when Jack was born.
And Ben just got a new job. I’m so proud that he’s getting his bearings.
But the youngest. Damn.
Getting older doesn’t scare me. Seeing my hockey buddy on the verge of striking off on his own does.Our children depend on us for so much for so long that we miss the moment when we become dependent on them.
And the regret. I can’t tell you how many times I left them. “If I make more money,” I thought, “I can afford to take them all over and buy them all kinds of things.” ”If I don’t help save the country,” I rationalized, “they won’t have an opportunity.”
So fast. Those evenings I chose to work instead of reading to them. The nights I went out with friends instead of watching the game with them. They never complained, of course.
They just got in their cars and drove themselves.
It’s not fair, I know, to whine like this. We have to let them go. Let them go so they can keep making us proud as they do better than us. Jack made Second fast than I did. And we’re so happy when we do the math and realize they’ve outdone us in every way. We cheer when they finally beat us at one-on-one hoops.
But when we realize that the last one is a man or woman ready to leave our home and start their own, it’s not mortality we feel cloying at our souls–its loneliness. A loneliness no friend or spouse can fill. They’re not our kids. When they come into the world, we don’t know how we’ll find the room for another one. When they go, we don’t know what to do with the space.
Happy Birthday, Tiger. I love you. And thank you for being my friend. You’re a fine man.