Twenty years ago today, (as of 11:11 AM), my wife and I had our first and only kid. he was a couple weeks past due, so we had to go in and get him. For various reasons, we opted for a C-section. “Grande!” A nurse said during the operation. He was a big kid. I don’t remember how big, cuz I’m bad with numbers, but pretty big. Ten pounds? That sounds right. The doctor’s first comment was, “It’s a linebacker!” We were very happy.
My wife got an infection, so they decided to make us stay overnight an extra night in the maternity wing, and then he crashed. SIDS. Fortunately we were in the hospital, and they caught it, but if my wife hadn’t gotten sick, if they’d let us go home, he would have died.
They rushed us by ambulance to All Childrens in St. Pete, and he spent a week in the NICU while we stayed in the Ronald McDonald House a block away (seriously: give them money. They do great things)
For various reasons, only one of us was allowed in the NICU at a time, so the wife and I took shifts. I talked to him constantly, sang him The Might Be Giants songs, and told him how strong he was and how much fun he’d have if he’d just get well and come home with us. I held his tiny little hand and prayed pretty much every moment I wasn’t talking or singing. My folks came down to see him in his little Lucite crib with all the IVs sticking in him and monitors attached to him and so forth. The four of us looked at him for a couple minutes and cried, then the nurses told us that they’d already looked the other way as long as they could, and three of us would have to leave. I took my folks out.
“I don’t see why we had to leave,” one of them said, “that other kid had six people visiting.”
“that other kid is dying,” I said. “that’s the family saying goodbye.”
“Oh,” the folks said, chagrined. They knew how bad off we were, they didn’t realize how bad off everyone else in there was.
All the other kids died. All of them. Mine lived. I attribute that to God, but you can say it was just dumb luck if you like. I won’t argue with you. This isn’t a sermon.
What this is, I guess, is me ruminating on that time. I’d like to say it was a fairly tale after that, but in fact it’s been a pretty hard couple of decades for all concerned. Additional medical conditions, awful, awful, awful schools that have no idea how to work with special needs kids, poverty, my own ineptitude as a parent, the list goes on and on. It really wasn’t until a little over three years ago, maybe four, when it finally began to settle down, and feel like the train might actually stay on the track.
Through it all, though, my kid has been a treasure. He is the reason I am alive, the reason I keep on going. With all the odds repeatedly stacked against him, he’s kept fighting and, well, I suppose nothing’s going to change there. The fighting continues. Some people get a normal life, others have to claw and scrape for it. But the important thing is that we’re all still here, the three of us, we all still love each other, which is better than most people in our predicaments.
I could brag about that, I suppose, but I’m humble. I’m fully aware and ashamed of how outclassed I am. if I was twice the man I am, I wouldn’t be a quarter of what my father was, and it pains me that I haven’t been able to be nearly as good a dad to my son as he was to me. He was superhuman, that one. And my son is superhuman, too. All the times he’s faced death and made it back off…well, a hero is someone who keeps on fighting, right? someone who doesn’t give up, and just keeps slugging away when the odds are frankly abysmal?
There’s a moral dimension to heroism, too: like my dad before me, my son has always done the right thing, if he’s been aware of what it is. He is that rare person for whom there is no difference between what he should do, and what he does. He’s moral, he’s smart, he’s ethical, and he’s braver than anyone I’ve ever met in that there are times when he’s abjectly terrified, but he just keeps on going, fighting, striving, winning less often than he loses; but then “victory” isn’t the measure of heroism. A willingness to risk defeat is. I could see all that in his eyes the very first instant after his birth. He was born with them open expression was like someone desperately trying to make sense of the situation, and figuring out what to do next.
(am I reading too much in to that instant? Of course I am. I was overwhelmed then, and now. Just the same…it’s real to me, and it feels real to my wife and him.)
If those qualities aren’t the universal hallmarks of heroism, well, they should be. There is no one in this world that I am prouder of, no one I love more, no one I know who cares more, who feels more, who tries harder. despite all he’s had to fight against, he was, is, and evermore shall be the bravest, most noble person I know.
There’s a reason I named him Beyowulf.