How did becoming a parent change you?
When I found out that Karen was pregnant with Lance, my whole world utterly and irrevocably changed. My easy going, somewhat irresponsible, and fairly uncommitted life came to a screeching halt. To add to the complexity of the situation, I had dropped out of college which blew my student draft deferment and meant I would probably be called up in a very short period of time. And since the Viet Nam War was at its height, there was a good chance that I would go into combat. Not a good situation for a new father-to-be to be in.
I started looking for a job and found one at Collins Radio as a draftsman. My folks let us make a little apartment in their basement so our most pressing needs were met. It was also removed enough from the rest of the household that we could have some privacy if we needed it. By about April of the year after we got married we thought we could rent a house of our own. We signed a year long lease on the house at 125 Bowling Street and set up shop as an independent family.
This is when the reality of existing as a family really set in. We, Karen and I, were responsible to pay for everything now. Not an easy task on a $2.75 hourly wage. I did get a raise to $2.87 ½ at my first performance review because they had classified me too low when I first started, but that was not enough to let us have lobster or anything.
Because I worked all day, Karen took on the major responsibility of doing the child rearing. I did change diapers and such, but I’m sure my part was way less than it should have been even in those times. The whole domestic division of labor was at a cusp around then. Men of my age were sensitized that they should assume a greater role in family responsibilities, but just what that percentage should be was an evolving process.
As I became more accustomed to family life, the requirements it demanded just seemed reasonable to me and I did what I needed to do to make things work for Karen, the kids, and myself. We got Karen through school first so she could earn the amount her efforts deserved. She ended up with a Masters. After that I went back to school and earned an Associates, a Bachelors, and a Masters degree. We bought a house and then later moved to another one and we proceeded with a pretty good life.
Becoming a parent was the difference between being a relative child and becoming an adult. I was only nineteen when I got pregnant and knew pretty much nothing about babies and young children. I had never had a babysitting job as a teen. Our parents did not have young friends who had little children and there were no young families in our neighborhood who were just starting families.
During my pregnancy, I was just getting used to being married and being a wife. I didn’t even think to read up on pregnancy and the birth process. I relied on my mom and Butch’s mom for any information about taking care of myself and what I could expect. As the time for birth drew nearer, I enjoyed receiving small gifts and preparing the things we would need. Butch built a cradle and I sewed little gowns and blankets to prepare.
When Lance was actually born everything suddenly became very real. On the day I was to come home from the hospital the nurse brought him into my room and told me to dress him to go home. It was the first time I was actually alone with him and I knew that I had no idea how to take care of him. I clumsily put on his diaper and the gown I had made for him. I realized just how tiny and helpless he was and I was very afraid. I felt tears fill my eyes and then, I decided that tears would do me no good. I dried my eyes and got him dressed. As I held him, a deep wave of love swept over me and I knew that it was my job to take care of him forever more. Of course we had those same feelings of love and responsibility when Wendy was born as well.
Being a parent meant that you have to put everything you do into the context of the needs of others. Butch and I often talked about how we grew up right along with our kids. I was so grateful that our parents were supportive and that we had two good examples of how to be a family and how to parent our kids. We also had to put many of our plans on hold. Finishing college and our career goals had to be delayed and our interactions with our friends changed too since we were the only ones with a family.
One thing about our approach that seems different than families today was that even though our kids were very important to us and we loved them dearly, they were not the most important members in our family. We as parents were most important. We needed to do what had to be done to create a stable family and take care of all our needs. We had to think of feeding our married relationship in order to be good leaders of our family. We had to feed our aspirations in order to support all of us and create stability and provide for everyone. Butch and I became a strong team.
This post is part of the StoryWorth project that I am participating in.
At the ButchieBoy main page click the Storyworth catagory to see all the entries