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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

For fathers, there’s no rest for the weary

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Published:   |   Updated: June 15, 2014 at 04:30 PM

This whole Father’s Day business came together late on a May afternoon about 30 years ago when the nurse handed me No. 1 son — all 11 pounds, 14 ounces of him — with a look in her eye that said, “He’s all yours now, buddy. Good luck.”

If you’ve been there, I don’t have to describe the colliding emotions of joy, fear and apprehension at the realization that everything in your world has changed forever.

Marriage was supposed to have been that moment of bonding and shared goals, and it certainly was all of that. But it was nothing like that instant in the hospital room when the weight of what just had happened now was bundled up in your arms and you had absolutely no idea what to do.

I remember that later that night, when I went home alone with my wife and baby still at the hospital, I sat down to write my new son a letter.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what I wrote or what happened to the letter. It probably got tossed when sons 2 and 3 came along a few years later. Just as well. I had no clue what was coming.

Well, that’s not quite it. It’s like No. 1 son has a stack of photo albums and VCR tapes of his early years; No. 2 son has a little less and I think there are a few Polaroids of No. 3 somewhere in a drawer. But that’s life.

Fathers take it on the chin a lot in today’s culture. If you watch almost any “situation” family show on the tube, dad is pretty much a dork. I mean every once in a while you get a Ben Cartwright or that guy in “Father Knows Best,” but for the most part it’s Archie Bunker.

I suppose that’s deserved. Standing there in the hospital with our first son, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more proud — or helpless. If I’d known what it really was going to be like in the coming years, I think “panic” would have been a better word.

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Who could have known about never letting the kid out of your sight for an instant, or that they could move so fast on their hands and knees? How could I have known about the amount of baby food I was about to consume trying to convince the little booger how good that awful stuff tasted?

I was in the Scouts when I was a kid. Somehow over the years, the ground became a lot harder when he was old enough to go camping. And those potatoes we used to throw in the campfire coals that tasted so good? They now tasted burned on one side and raw on the other.

Then there were those Pinewood Derby cars, when each Scout brought home a block of wood, four plastic tires and four nails and had to construct a race car to compete against the other Scouts and their dads, all of whom apparently were mechanical engineers.

I don’t recall getting a printout when they handed me the kid in the hospital of the time schedule I now was going to be on. I think it peaked one Saturday afternoon when the three boys all had soccer games at roughly the same time on different fields ... and I was coaching one of the teams.

And if I had known about all those science projects, I might have paid more attention in my own classes. It’s not that the projects were tough; it’s just for some reason all three boys figured the last minute was the right time to get going. That might account for the night the Frau and I were up after midnight rigging up a Styrofoam replica of the solar system in the living room and trying to blow-dry the glue with a hair dryer.

There were the road trips when one of the boys tossed a shoe into the “bottomless pit” at Carlsbad Caverns, and that fireworks incident we won’t even get into.

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You might think there is some sort of statute of limitations on all of this. There isn’t. Two weeks ago we were in Washington, D.C., with a carload of stuff the Frau said No. 2 had to have. No. 3 son has holed up in our garage apartment, apparently waiting for Social Security to kick in, and No. 1 called up night before last with a dead battery wondering what I might do about it.

And who would want it any other way? Not me. Happy Father’s Day to all of you.

sotto@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7809

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