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Friday, June 17, 2005

I love the father in you

When you meet and start dating someone, you really have no idea what kind of mother or father he or she will be. Maybe that’s the farthest thing from your mind. But at some point, the question will start to seep into your brain.

So you learn as much as you can about that person, you find out what makes their motor run and what they value in life and if it matches what you value. Then you roll the dice on marriage and pray really hard for the best. In essence, it’s a crapshoot.

I’m sure in my college naiveté, I had all manner of preconceived notions about what the father of my children would be like. But when I met Danny, I knew from the first moment he asked me if his ice cream smelled funny and then shoved it in my nose that his playfulness was always going to be an important part of my children's life.

He endeared himself to me when as we sat on our first date eating burgers at The Pub in Athens, he asked, “Do you get nervous eating in front of someone for the first time?” I laughed, and said, “No,” but clearly he did. Just as he was terrified of giving the best man’s toast at his brother, Jimmy’s wedding. I was there, and he did fine with a little writerly help from his new girlfriend. He and I went on to compose many more best man toasts over the course of our marriage, with me helping less and less each time.

But all the young-woman dreams never fully prepare you for the first time you see your firstborn in your husband’s arms. The moment Ryan was born I was exhilarated by the accomplishment. Never had I done anything so difficult. But seeing my Danny, with his very broad shoulders and strong arms, cuddling this tiny (okay, he wasn’t that small, almost 10 pounds!) baby boy made my heart sing! This is what love is all about — the family unit.

Ryan spent a few days in the NICU when he was born. As I sat rocking and admiring him one morning, a nurse asked me where he got his size. At that moment, Danny walked through the door and she said, “Oh, from dad!” All three boys have his very broad shoulders and, as my pediatrician says, “the big Irish head.”

Danny wasn’t always hands-on with the little ones, though he was the master at getting them to nap. He wasn’t the guy to bath them (“it hurts my back”), though I could get him to feed them and even change his share of diapers. (“Wen! I need some backup!”)

He’s not a late-night guy and so we had a system for those middle-of-the-night feedings. He’d go to bed early, I’d stay up for the midnight or so feeding. He’d get up and do the three or four o’clock feeding and let me sleep until seven or so.

It worked well, except for Mikey. I was nursing him and had slept so poorly during the end of my pregnancy that I would sleep near unconscious after he was born. I’d awake to a crying baby and Danny standing next to me holding him saying, “He’s hungry.”

We used to tease each other about who would get to hold little Patrick in church because he loved to put his soft little face up against ours. He was our cuddler. Though when Danny held him, I used to laugh out loud because Patrick would put his little blanket over Danny’s face. We never did that with Mikey because he was always so darned heavy and fidgety.

They all resemble him quite strongly. I’m often asked what I had to do with their making. But Mikey, of them all, is Danny’s twin, his mini-me as Ryan says. He has the same deep dimple, cowlick and smile that my boyish-faced hubby has. Ryan has his playfulness in spades and Patrick has his compassion and sensitivity.

I may be the one to help with homework and teach them to read, but I’ve noticed that as the boys get older, he’s so much more in tune with them and their needs.

And quite frankly, if the boys have a choice of who will make dinner, they vote for dad every time. Why? Because he makes GUY food — chili, ribs, steak, wings, burgers. I make chic food and use too many green foods. Danny appreciates it though, and someday the boys will also.

He loves to sing stupid songs and recite inane comments, but the kids love him for this. Even Ryan, who is rapidly approaching teenager-dom can’t help but laugh when dad gets in his grill and asks him if he wants a piece of him.

Danny’s better at handling Mikey’s meltdowns and Patrick’s insecurity than I am. He has this ritual at dinner of asking everyone how their day was and what they learned at school. He's a natural-born teacher and has ingrained himself in the lives of many other boys through coaching baseball and baskteball.

He’s taught our guys to value the opportunities they receive, the importance of hard work and to never take anything — or anyone — for granted.

Danny lost his own dad to a heart attack a few weeks after he turned 14. He wishes he could have known his dad as an adult, wishes he could ask him questions — about being a father, about his career, about being a husband. But he can’t. And so he’s found his own wonderful way.

He always tells the boys that he hopes they are smart like me. I hate when he says that because he is very smart in one of the most important ways — he’s people smart. He understands the value of nurturing relationships, whether it’s lifelong friendships or work relationships.

I call Danny “Ed.” Not sure why exactly. It started in college when he used to compare himself to the infamous rotund car dealer, Ed Stinn. His middle name is Edward and his dad’s name was Ed. Just all seems to work.

So Happy Father’s Day, Ed. We love you very much!

(And by the way, what’s for dinner?)

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